OPINION: PROs set their own New Year's Eve party targets - Nightclub PR opportunities are more downbeat than usual this year, with the country's main superclubs taking a low key approach, says Adam Hill

Party season is upon us. But in clubland, expect less bunting to be

draped over DJs' turntables than in recent years.



Although the rise in popularity of dance music over the past decade has

been a major phenomenon, New Year's Eve will be less of an event for

clubs than usual. The downturn - together with the events of 11

September - have forced the clubbing world's PROs into a more discreet

way of communicating to the media than in previous years.



Karen Young, clubs editor of Muzik magazine, explains a further reason

for the downbeat approach to clubbing PR: 'Most PR tends to happen

around Christmas or clubs' birthdays but they are more low-key this year

because they have had their fingers burned in the past two years. The

millennium was such a disaster.'



As a result, many clubs are planning the PR equivalent of a quiet night

in rather than organising the arena-style crowdfests of the past two

years.



'It's partly because promoters have had enough and partly because there

is the feeling from punters that they don't want to travel out to

Docklands,' Young says.



The Ministry of Sound, one of the club world's leading brands, which

takes in a magazine, digital operations and a thriving CD retail

business spun-off from the south London venue, will be hoping Young is

wrong. Ministry is bucking the trend by holding an extravaganza at the

Millenium Dome in Greenwich on New Year's Eve.



In PR terms this adds mainstream appeal. 'Being in the Dome is a story

in itself,' says Claire Ashman, senior PRO at music specialist PR agency

Slice, which was appointed to work for Ministry a month ago. Ashman says

much of the Slice strategy is based on the personalities involved: 'We

will use the talent playing for stories. In PR terms, we're using Radio

1 DJ Dave Pearce for interviews and features'.



For Slice, dance magazines such as Mixmag and Muzik are the important

target, but for a wider reach the listings in Time Out, London regional

papers and weekday free tabloid Metro are equally key. 'Something like

Metro is the best kind of PR you can get because everyone reads it and

there are people who make up their minds during the week. It is basic,

fundamental PR - but it's important,' she says.



Slice recently lost a large part of its work with Cream, the

Liverpool-based club founded, like Ministry, in the early Nineties.

Cream, a 3,100-capacity venue that concentrates on Friday and Saturday

nights, brought its PR operation in-house because, it says, that plays

well for its main audience.



'It's a lot better when dealing with the local press. But any magazine,

from local papers to Mixmag, always prefers to speak to somebody

in-house; they are more comfortable with a voice working within the

company,' said PR head Gillian Nightingale.



Despite cultivating its regional image, Cream, like Ministry, has

expanded into branded CD retail as well as a festival, Creamfields,

established in the UK, extended to Argentina last month and planned for

Australia next March. But its regional location gives it a point of

difference over the capital's clubs, Nightingale says. It will have club

nights on Boxing Day and New Year's Eve 'for a more local, northern

market', she adds.



London-based Fabric shuns much proactive PR, and says it will not do TV.

So how does it differentiate itself in a crowded market? Press officer

Nick Doherty says: 'Our strategy is based entirely on avoiding the noise

created by the industry. You have two choices: try and shout above it or

whisper - in the hope that people are forced to listen more closely.

We've gone for the latter.'



What slim PR activity there is has to be carefully targeted, Doherty

adds. 'We have the same set of contacts that we deal with continually.

And we only try to reach people that know about electronic music and

DJing - we only do music-based press.'



Far from increasing activity in the run-up to Christmas and New Year's

Eve as one might expect, Fabric is cutting back. 'This year I've

circulated a line-up and that's the extent of it,' Doherty said.



Even if clubs do not appear to be showing much enthusiasm for New Year's

Eve, targeted PR for the festive season is far from dead. Edinburgh, for

example, is expecting 100,000 people to flock to the area round Princes

Street for an outdoor party on New Year's Eve.



Although there is no full-time PRO on the project, special projects

managerNorman Ireland co-ordinates a website carrying information and

competitions on a Hogmanay theme. He also liaises with partners such as

Royal Bank of Scotland, which in turn are encouraged to run staff and

customer promotions for the event. Throughout the year a programme of

releases goes to the travel trade and a 'friends' scheme, the First Foot

Club for corporate and individual membership, has been set up.



It has been a successful PR initiative: while it is true that Scotland

has a well-known reputation for celebrating Hogmanay, the festival

itself has only been going since 1993: 'The population of Edinburgh

trebles in the summer with the festivals. The question was how to get

people to a relatively cold, northern, European city in winter?'



Edinburgh appears to have managed it, and seems set to repeat the trick

this year - even though elsewhere in the nightlife sector a discreet

tone is being adopted and low key PR is attempting not to ruffle too

many feathers.



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