How A Pie In The Sky Idea Became Reality

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Marketing Efforts Soar When You Think Outside the Box
A prospective new client for us at EMSI had big plans for March 14 – National Pi Day.

Patrick Walsh, CEO of AirSign Aerial Advertising, had teamed up with Ben Davis, the artist known as ISHKY, to create a surprise spectacle in the skies over the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas.

One of Patrick’s skywriting teams would circle the sky with hundreds of the numbers in the infinite pi sequence that begins with 3.14 (hence, Pi Day is 3/14). Each number would be as tall as a skyscraper and the sequence would cover 100 miles of airspace. His team of five synchronized aircraft would create the numbers in dot-matrix fashion for more than 90 minutes.


The EMSI team and I listened enthralled as Patrick described “Pi in the Sky” during a visit to our offices a week before the event. He wasn’t asking us to help him promote it on such short notice – heck, he wasn’t even officially a client yet. He was just telling us about his company and some of their projects.

But we loved the Pi In The Sky plan, and we really liked AirSign. Patrick’s a youngish man who has reinvented an old marketing tool – aerial advertising – with outside-the-box thinking and fresh, new 21st century ideas. Mixing old and new to create something bigger and better is what we do; we’re always finding fun ways to synergize traditional and social media.

Our high-octane social media team immediately began tossing out ideas.

Long story short, AirSign signed on with us and on March 10, four days before Pi In The Sky, our print, TV and social media divisions kicked into high gear to lay their groundwork. The following day, we learned we had even less time to prepare – the forecast for Austin called for cloudy skies on March 14. Patrick and ISHKY switched the show to late Thursday afternoon.

Our social media team scrambled to attract Twitter followers attending South by Southwest to the Twitter handle @AirSignUSA and began using #PiInTheSky to coyly tease about a big surprise for the city.

Our print and TV departments developed and implemented plans to alert traditional media outlets while still keeping the event a surprise.

On March 13, we ordered pizza and wings and prepared for a late – but fun – night.

At 6:28 p.m. CDT the first tweets appeared from spectators in Austin: “#PiInTheSky This is amazing” wrote @BobbyCBlanchard, sharing a photo of # Pi In The Sky emblazoned across the sky.

We burst into applause and cheers.

From there, it took off – so to speak. Less than 15 minutes after the AirSign planes launched, #PiInTheSky was the No. 1 trending hashtag in Austin; a few minutes later, it was No. 2 in the United States.

The newspapers, magazines and TV stations we’d reached out to before the event came back to us for quotes from Patrick and photographs.

By morning, AirSign had exposure in local and national publications across the country, from Time magazine to Forbes and The Washington Post, and on national broadcast outlets including CBS News and NPR’s Morning Edition.

The event and campaign were a great example of what can happen when we combine old and new and add a good dose of strategy and imagination.

To see the public outpouring of gratitude to AirSign and ISHKY for their terrific air show was wonderful. Patrick had done this for free – he just thought ISHKY’s idea was very cool.

We were glad we could help him get credit for his part in it, because we thought it was really cool, too.


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