PRWEEK AWARDS: Gold - The Foresight Award - Campaign of the Year

WINNER - Friends Reunited, Beatwax Communications

Launched without the celebrity backers, venture capital millions and massive marketing spend which were to be the epitaph of so many other dot.com phenomena, Friends Reunited has nevertheless imposed itself on the British popular lexicon in under two years.

Now boasting seven million registered users in the UK, the website, launched in the year 2000, has connected more Britons with lapsed friendships than the Millennium Dome had visitors.

It is difficult to overstate the role that a shrewd PR campaign played in the success of the site and the brand. From the spot-on brand positioning of the site as the family-run venture that it is, to the canny accumulation of popular interest in the provinces before attempting the national launch of the site, the attention to detail in the planning and execution of the campaign is textbook strategic PR.

That PR effort, devised and implemented by Beatwax Communications on a frugal budget, was the principle marketing device of the site, which has never advertised.

The grassroots feel to the PR campaign - aided by the back-bedroom image of the Friends Reunited operation - has enabled the site to evade the sort of media backlash that has dogged many online operations.

Inspired PR planning meant that the team built the list of people registered on the site to ensure that when journalists logged on, they would recognise some old school friends themselves.

This meant that the site achieved excellent PR capital, and the media were only too willing to carry case studies of rekindled friendships and romances attributed to the site. Visitor numbers reflected the success of TV coverage, so the PR plan was adapted to make use of this medium, building up the profile of site founders Steve and Julie Pankhurst (pictured) and Friends Reunited's family-run profile in the process.

Between August 2001 and July 2002, Friends Reunited had achieved 337 pieces of national coverage, 1,355 regional pieces and in excess of 25 and 50 TV and radio broadcast pieces respectively. The back bedroom-run site was gaining media coverage literally every day.

In May 2002, the site peaked at an astonishing 230 million page impressions in a month, up from 1.5 million impressions in April the previous year.

That the same PR team is working on an international strategy for the website comes as little surprise. At the time of writing, editions of Friends Reunited had gone live in eight countries with a further four due for imminent launch.

With a TV programme in the pipeline and the website continuing to thrive, there is much to congratulate in a brilliant PR campaign that has made an endearing concept one of the most familiar new brands of the year.

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