PRWEEK AWARDS 2003: Gold - The V4 Award - Private Sector Department of the Year

WINNER - SAFEWAY STORES

In January 2003, Safeway became a multiple takeover bid target. After the initial deluge of media enquiries, most journalists did not think it was worth talking about Safeway except in terms of its connection with the bid, assuming stores would close and product development would stop.

Media relations are the main communications channel for Safeway because it does very little advertising, so the PR department identified three ways in which it could convince the media that Safeway was still alive and kicking.

The press office ensured all media had open access to stores and management.

It even overturned a decision not to participate in a previously arranged edition of The Money Programme, which resulted in extremely positive coverage.

The second strand was to shout about new product ranges. This was especially important given that many consumer journalists were reluctant to feature Safeway because 'it might not be here in a few months'.

The team contacted more than 1,000 journalists and managed to overcome resistance to Safeway products: its share of the top three places in product testing actually increased to 25 per cent, from 22 per cent in 2002.

Finally, the team worked hard to keep Safeway on the news agenda with initiatives such as the Easter Egg Amnesty. The team also identified and media trained 20 experts around the business, and sought out opportunities to comment on industry issues.

In March 2003, the Office of Fair Trading referred Safeway's bidders to the Competition Commission and it soon became clear that Safeway's life would be extended. The proactive PR strategy meant the supermarket didn't risk losing valuable coverage and customers.

In May, Safeway was ranked third in the National News Index, getting more positive coverage than Marks & Spencer, Asda and Sainsbury's.

Safeway was also voted number two retailer for its press relations in the 2003 MORI survey of retail journalists.

COMMENDED - SKY PROGRAMME PUBLICITY DEPARTMENT, BSKYB

The Sky programme publicity department has had several balls to keep in the air this year, from Sky One's celebrations of the 300th episode of The Simpsons to supporting Sky News coverage of the Iraq war.

The team's remit was to drive positive media coverage for Sky channels and content, ensuring publicity would translate into digital dish sales.

Sky's publicity department used tactics such as talent campaigns, stunts, brand-building exercises, screening, sponsorships and press trips. One highlight of the year was the launch of the Sky News Awards.

The Simpsons campaign helped the 300th episode achieve ratings of 1.6 million viewers - around double the usual number - and meant multi-channel TV beat both the BBC and ITV for the first time. Digital dish customers increased by nearly a million during the year.

According to Presswatch, Sky Digital had the best press coverage of any media firm in 2002, and the fourth best of any UK company.

FINALISTS

Coca-Cola Bottlers (Ulster)

J Sainsbury

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