CAMPAIGNS: Professional Services PR - Cherie offers advice over Rights Act

Client: Matrix Chambers

PR Team: Shandwick Public Affairs

Campaign: Launch of barristers' chambers

Timescale: January-February 2000

Budget: pounds 6,000

In her letter to The Daily Telegraph last month, Cherie Booth wrote that no one knows how the Human Rights Act will effect British law.

The measure, which comes into force on 2 October this year, incorporates into British law the content of the European Convention on Human Rights, to which Britain has been a signatory for over 40 years.

The Act means citizens can keep their cases in the UK court system, rather than travelling to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. But the Act, which enshrines general rights such as 'life', 'security of persons' and 'privacy', could dramatically affect trials, public services, the police and schools.

A flurry of litigation is looming and the Government has already set aside an extra pounds 60 million for the expected higher court costs and legal aid bills.

A group of 22 barristers decided to create niche chambers to provide advice on how the new Act will change British law. Publicity surrounded Cherie Booth, one of the founding members of the new chambers. The challenge to Shandwick was to manage the intense media interest.



Objectives

To create a strong brand name for the chambers as having expert knowledge in human rights law, but ensure the media give coverage to the chambers' other specialisations in the follow-up to the launch. Also, to direct media attention to the other barristers involved besides Cherie Booth.



Strategy and Plan

Jon McLeod, senior director of Shandwick Public Affairs and legal practice expert, managed the campaign along with two barristers from the chambers.

The launch was two weeks after McLeod's appointment in early January.

The name Matrix was created by the barristers to suggest the intersection of different types of law practised by the set. Special care was taken to promote Matrix as a corporation rather than as the traditional barristers' chambers made up of individually practising lawyers.

It was important the launch happened when the barristers were prepared and armed with a business strategy. McLeod organised a set piece press launch for all members of the Matrix to attend.

The story was contained up to the day before the launch when the political editor of the Evening Standard reported the event.

Matrix was subsequently launched to a larger-than-expected crowd of national and specialist-press journalists and photographers.

McLeod filtered requests for interviews and prioritised journalists from media most cosely interested in Matrix's business concerns.

Matrix was launched as human rights chambers and the brochures emphasised its expertise in the field. It was also important to promote the individual barrister's specialisations in anticipation of the Act's broad impact in all fields of law.



Measurement and Evaluation

The media crowd were successfully kept under control. Attacks, directed at the chamber from members of the legal profession, were percieved by the specialist legal press to spring from jealous feelings. The Times' law supplement covered the launch with a double page spread which reported on all the barristers concerned. The Lawyer and Legal Week continue to closely follow the chambers' progress.



Results

Matrix scored positively under intense media scrutiny and is now widely recognised by the legal profession as dedicated to human rights. The barristers moved into their chambers in June and Cherie Booth's letter to the Daily Telegraph has further consolidated the brand. The claim made by John Bercow, a junior Conservative home affairs spokesman, that Booth was a Lady MacBeth appears to have had no negative impact on the initial press run of the story.





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