Campaign: Environment - Amazon adventure travels the globe

Campaign: Walking The Amazon
Client: Ed Stafford
PR team: Vikki Rimmer (freelancer)
Timescale: April 2008-August 2010
Budget: Pro-bono

Explorer Ed Stafford had decided to walk the length of the Amazon River from source to sea. He wanted to create a personal brand and raise the profile of his adventure, so he contacted freelancer Vikki Rimmer after reading about her PR work for Tom Hart Dyke, the English botanist who was kidnapped in 2000 while on a plant-hunting expedition.

Objectives

- To create a brand for Stafford as an explorer

- To create a Walking The Amazon brand

- To engage schoolchildren in Stafford's adventure so they learned more about the plight of the rainforest.

Strategy and plan

Rimmer used walkingtheamazon.com as a campaign hub and all activity drove people to the site, which housed blogs, videos and photographs of the unfolding story.

She focused on providing an adventure using a blog and video. She released episodic stories via press releases, creating a living adventure to follow. Key moments included the start of the expedition, where Rimmer sent out a press release which read: 'Wanted: Partner to walk the length of the Amazon River, must like snakes, be brave and have GSOH.' Mark Barrowcliffe, The Guardian's travel writer, visited the jungle to cover the story.

Relationships were built with print and broadcast journalists in the UK and North and South America including the Daily Mail, The Sun, CNN and ABC. Rimmer contacted Reuters' Brazilian office every two months during the trip to ensure the news agency remembered the man in the jungle. Reuters sent a crew to capture the end of his journey, as did the Brazilian Associated Press.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes' charity, the Transglobe Expedition Trust, gave Stafford £3,000 when his sponsor JBS Associates pulled out to enable him continue his trip.

Rimmer also set up a relationship with The Prince's Rainforests Project. The charity hosted Stafford's blogs on its site and used his story in school initiatives, which helped spread the deforestation message.

Measurement and evaluation

In the last week of the expedition alone, the campaign generated more than 181 cuttings in 22 countries including Good Morning America, Nightline, The Diane Sawyer Show, World One (eight times), The One Show, BBC Breakfast, This Morning, BBC News, Sky News, Five News, ITN, Channel 4 News, Fox News, CBS News, French, German, Australian and Canadian TV news, and Brazilian Globo TV. Stafford appeared on the front page of the New York Times and made all the national UK papers.

Results

Stafford is now being booked as a motivational speaker around the world, and has a book coming out in March. TV production firm STV/Ginger used media coverage of the campaign to obtain a commission for a documentary Walking The Amazon, which will air on Discovery in January and then transfer to Five in March. Rimmer is in talks with American production firms to produce something for US audiences.

The website gained 34,000 unique users in July 2010. This shot up to 280,000 unique users in August 2010.

SECOND OPINION - Peter Chipchase, Director, John Doe Communications

What an unbelievable achievement by Stafford. Two and a half years is a lot of walking and as I write this at my desk, with a coffee and muffin in hand, I must say it makes me feel inadequate.

On the face of it this sort of story is PR gold, but the challenge was to maximise the coverage throughout the campaign from pre-buzz before Stafford set off, maintaining interest after the first few weeks and before the big finale. Rimmer got some amazing pieces that transcended borders and importantly engaged on-the-ground local media.

The fact she did this from London was a testament to her media skills, as was getting a Guardian travel journalist on the trip.

What would I have done to enhance the campaign?

I probably would have created a more in-depth schools engagement programme, providing active participation and online conversations.

For example, get children and teachers out of the classroom to explore their own wilderness.

This could have centred on the first anniversary start date, with the UK's school children walking an 'Amazon Mile' for the charities. Schools could then have posted content from their walks on Stafford's blog.

However, creating an explorer and the Walking The Amazon brand was a definite success.

The coverage positioned him as normal guy with an idea to do something extraordinary, rather than some sort of superhuman.

I will definitely be watching the documentary.

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