In June 2012, a thousand-boat flotilla made its way down the Thames to celebrate the Queen's Diamond Jubilee. It was the first time an event of such magnitude had taken place on the river since 1662. Pagefield was brought in by the organisers to ensure everything ran smoothly. Here, partner Kate Levine offers her advice to other PR professionals who may face a similar large-scale challenge.
1. SHARE AS MUCH INFORMATION AS POSSIBLE WITH THE PUBLIC
Levine says Pagefield decided that disseminating early, transparent public information would help minimise the potential for damaging or inaccurate speculation.
As well as giving detailed press conferences and updating social media regularly, the team helped newspapers to create event guides in the run up, providing information about the river and the boats. The weekend before the pageant, several newspapers and online sites (including The Times, The Daily Telegraph, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Sunday Express, The Sunday Times, The Sunday Telegraph and BBC Online) published guides to the day, all using maps and images supplied at media briefings in mid-May.
2. INVOLVE THE MEDIA
'We knew the pageant was going to be interesting to every news outlet in the UK,' says Levine. In order to manage the huge level of interest, in November 2011, the team invited every newspaper editor and senior broadcast editor to one-on-one briefings.
It held a mix of off-the-record briefings, formal press conferences, post-press conference interviews, meetings and river trips so broadcasters and photographers could work out the logistics of covering the event.
For the broadcast commentators, it produced a 15,000 word narrative that supplied information about the boats and music in the pageant, a social history of the Thames, its bridges and the buildings lining its banks.
Despite not having images of the event itself, it created artists' impressions of how the flotilla would look and put these high resolution images online for the media to download. It also helped the media to film from boats in the run up to the event to make more interesting backgrounds for broadcast pieces.
It also made sure it gave stories to different types of media. For example it gave details of the royal barge to the Sunday newspapers first. 'Most of our meetings took place during the week, so we made sure we saved stories for the Sundays and they appreciated that,' she says.
More than 1,000 media representatives and stakeholders attended the three major press conferences. At the time of writing, the pageant has generated around 3,000 pieces of national and international coverage.
3. DO NOT FORGET SOCIAL MEDIA
Pagefield had team members dedicated to social media. On the day itself, the Twitter handle @riverpageant was updated regularly with pictures, information about good places to watch the event and crowded areas, as well as details of the Battersea Park festival, where 90,000 people were watching the event on big screens. The team also retweeted other users' pictures to create a real-time experience of the event.
During the pageant, the Facebook page reached 70,000 fans and @riverpageant experienced more than 40,000 tweets per hour. These channels reached a wide audience of middle-aged and older people: 38.5 per cent of those who liked the Facebook page were over 45.
4. USE BLUEPRINTS BUT DO NOT BE AFRAID TO ADAPT THEM
Pagefield was responsible for media accreditation for the pageant. It was a major operation that required working closely with those responsible for security.
Everyone standing on the bridges had to be accredited and checked by police. As well as the media, Pagefield made sure charity representatives and friends of the pageant were also invited.
Levine says: 'We were lucky that the royal wedding had taken place the previous year and Clarence House was kind enough to share information on the accreditation process with us.' But she advises PR professionals not to be frightened to make changes to these plans to make them work for other events: 'Get as much information as you can, but then just get on with it and do it.'
5. CREATE CROSS-ORGANISATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS
An event of this size has many stakeholders. Pagefield worked closely with key stakeholders including Buckingham Palace, Clarence House, the Cabinet Office, the Met Police, the Maritime Coastguard and the Port of London Authority (PLA).
This was crucial when putting together a crisis comms plan. 'We plotted out potential incidents with the Met Police, the Maritime Coastguard and the PLA. We asked what we would do in each situation, identified who would act as the lead spokesmen and the process of getting information out,' says Levine.
JUBILEE TIMELINE - FROM ROYAL APPOINTMENT TO FRONT-PAGE ANOINTMENT
November 2010: Pagefield is appointed by the Thames Diamond Jubilee Foundation to handle PR for the pageant.
April 2011: First press conference takes place in the Chamber at City Hall to launch the river pageant. Nearly 300 guests show up, 100 of whom are media.
June 2011: Registration goes live for boat owners. Pagefield sends out press releases and makes information available on the website.
October 2011: Registration process closes for boat owners. A big meeting is held with broadcasters and photography agencies to start talking about accreditation and discuss where they would like to film the pageant. First river trip takes place with production teams and photographers to scope out the route. This focuses on the technical side, looking at where to place cameras and lines of sight.
December 2011: Boat owners find out if they will take part in the pageant. Details are released of the royal barge - what it will look like and who is designing it. This is held back for the Sunday papers.
January 2012: Second press conference takes place at City Hall. In-depth details of the pageant are released, including the music that will be played, the layout of the flotilla and the positions of different boats. Two hours of interviews are held after the press conference with relevant spokespeople, including designer Wayne Hemingway. Sainsbury's is announced as the pageant's first corporate partner.
March 2012: Media accreditation process opens.
April 2012: Media accreditation process closes. Journalists are sent a 15,000 word document with information about the history of the river and the boats taking part.
May 2012: Second river trip takes place for media professionals, this time with a focus on the narrative of the pageant. A spokesman from the Port of London Authority and the pageant master are available to answer questions. Final press conference takes place on 17 May that gives details including road closures and where to watch the pageant. From this day on there is a detailed plan of news stories that are sent out each day in the run up.
3 June 2012: The pageant takes place. A press office is set up in London & Partners, which has a good view. This hosts many of the royal correspondents. The team is in close contact with the Port of London Authority's media centre for the latest logistical information.
4 June 2012: There is front page coverage of the pageant in every UK national newspaper.