Client: The Independent
PR team: WCommunications
Timescale: April-May 2010
Budget: Less than £50,000
Under the new ownership of Alexander Lebedev, The Independent wanted to make a statement about being free from party-political ties and proprietorial influence.
The paper believed the electorate should be able to vote in any way it wanted, with knowledge and understanding, not on the basis of spin or biased reporting.
- To place The Independent as the unbiased voice of the election
- To engage consumers across 50 target constituencies across the UK
- To support free national distribution
- To increase circulation.
Strategy and plan
The strategy was to launch a 'Campaign for Democracy' in the run-up to the 2010 general election.
An Independent Live Battle Bus visited key marginal constituencies, providing a soapbox platform for local candidates to debate issues of importance, while millions of free copies of the newspaper were distributed in 50 key constituencies. The campaign was also supported by through-the-line advertising activity created by BMB.
The PR focus was on achieving maximum impact through TV, radio, trade and online press for the free distribution, the live soapbox debates and the advertising campaign. The campaign also offered an opportunity to raise the profile of key staff at The Independent including editor Simon Kelner. The soapbox live tour took to the road to engage consumers and create a constant source of regional and national news stories for the full two weeks from launch through to election day. The national anti-spin tour, which offered a local and national platform for each candidate at key marginal constituencies, culminated in a debate between the then schools secretary Ed Balls and the BNP, which was covered by a national broadcast scrum and later featured on Newsnight.
Every day, for the two weeks running up to the election, 300,000 copies of The Independent were distributed - 50 per cent more than its usual daily circulation. The newspaper provided fresh content fronted by a different advertising cover-wrap each day to maintain and build interest among voters. Broadcast interviews across TV and radio with key Independent editorial staff, as well as news stories and trade press coverage, were secured to amplify the impact of the distribution and soapbox debates.
Measurement and evaluation
The campaign resulted in multiple TV spots covering all aspects of the campaign, broadcast on channels from regional and national BBC to Al Jazeera and Channel 4. Press coverage was secured in key national papers including the Financial Times and Daily Mirror. In total, coverage included 45 radio interviews, nine national TV pieces, seven regional and one international TV slot. There were 63 online and 27 trade pieces.
During the campaign, the paper saw a sales uplift of about ten per cent on its Q1 average and a boost of 21 per cent for its Sunday issues. Sales have remained five per cent up on pre-campaign figures.
Vicky Bacon, Head of group comms, Future
When a free copy of The Independent came through my letterbox some weeks ago, my initial reaction was: 'This looks like the last desperate act of a newspaper that is on its knees.'
But take a broader view and the PR campaign as a whole succeeded where many others have failed - it turned the general election into a news opportunity to promote its own cause.
In fact, given the negative publicity the newspaper attracted after its acquisition by Alexander Lebedev in March and the speculation about the editorship that had run for months, the general election could not have come at a better time for The Independent. It provided a fantastic chance for the newspaper to reassert an unbiased editorial stance and to draw attention to its new format under reappointed editor Simon Kelner.
By its nature, the campaign was short-lived and tightly focused, and it did a great job combining a simple, direct message with well targeted press interviews and media debate around the newspaper's revamp.
The changes to the newspaper were pretty modest, so the breadth and depth of coverage for this aspect of the campaign was particularly impressive.
However, I am still not convinced by the sampling route: The Independent is all about its discerning readership, and I struggle to see how that tallies with newspaper giveaways. But the amount of noise the campaign generated and the statistics on circulation performance during the election are compelling.