CAMPAIGNS: Triumph for Madonna in sales quest - Consumer PR

Client: Puffin Books PR Team: Colman Getty Public Relations Campaign: Madonna's English Roses books Timescale: April-September 2003 Budget: Four figures

She may well have sold nearly 200 million albums, had 25 top ten hits, starred in five films, and even snogged Britney Spears live on TV, but this year Madonna embarked on a career as a children's author, too.

The pop star has signed a five-book deal with Puffin Books and the first of her series, The English Roses, was published in September.

It was the first book ever to be published in 100 countries simultaneously - this meant a strict ban was imposed on the release of any content to the press before publication.

Colman Getty PR, which also handles PR for Harry Potter author JK Rowling, was brought on board by Puffin books to launch The English Roses in the UK.

Objectives

To promote Madonna as a children's author, so that her reputation as a novelist is established by the time the following four books in the series are published. To make The English Roses a bestseller.

Strategy and Plan

The embargo on access to the material about the novel made it difficult to promote The English Roses in press releases, because even information about the storyline and book jacket could not be released to the press.

How-ever, Colman Getty associate Nicky Stonehill turned the embargo into an advantage. The book had created such hype and speculation that the PR team managed to negotiate exclusive rights with The Times to publish extracts from the book and to interview Madonna two days before its publication.

The PR team opted to launch The English Roses to the press at a tea party on the day before publication at London's Kensington Roof Gardens, and Madonna was asked to read out extracts from the story to a group of local schoolchildren. This meant the press first gained access to the book from Madonna herself, and were able to write about the reaction of the children in their reviews.

Although news and music media were invited to the tea-party element of the launch, only the literary press were permitted to hear Madonna read the book. This was designed to put emphasis on the fact that Madonna was there in her capacity as a children's author, rather than as a singer or a celebrity.

Nevertheless, Madonna's fame was capitalised on by setting up a 'red carpet' media presence outside the venue, so she arrived to a crowd of journalists wanting on-the-spot interviews. Inside the venue, only one photographer and one film crew from the BBC's children's news programme Newsround were allowed to film the event, to maintain its exclusive children-centred atmosphere. To stress this element further, the party invitations were extended to the children of the journalists and celebrities who attended the event, and the children were given gifts of hand-embroidered bags illustrating The English Roses.

A major challenge of the campaign was the limited amount of time the PR team had with Madonna.

'We only had an hour with her so I built the whole campaign around that hour,' said Stonehill.

Since the press who came to the party were not allowed to read the book before the launch, the world of The English Roses was created within the venue during the event. Tall flower girls in head-dresses threw rose petals across the floors, colours and music from the story were used to evoke the atmosphere of the book, and local primary schoolchildren were asked to design scenes from the book, under the direction of party designer Nelly Shepherd.

The time of the book's publication the next day was 8am, so couriers were on hand to deliver the book to GMTV and Rise at that time precisely, so it could reviewed during the shows. The book was also on offer to reviewers, who could receive it via courier service, so that they could get access to the material as soon as possible on the day of publication.

Measurement and Evaluation

The book launch was covered by all the major national news channels, two morning TV shows, international news agencies including Reuters and all the national press, including the front page of The Independent.

The English Roses was also reviewed by the Daily Mail, The Observer, The Sunday Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent on Sunday.

Programmes such as The Des and Mel Show, The Terry & Gaby Show and The Wright Stuff gave coverage to the launch, as did several BBC radio programmes.

Women's titles Vogue, Glamour, Hello, Tatler and Harpers & Queen all picked up on the story.

Interviews with Madonna also appeared on every terrestrial TV channel.

Stonehill claims the coverage was 80 per cent positive, although some journalists chose to ridicule Madonna's ambitions, after she admitted on the red carpet outside the venue that she did not know who famous children's author Enid Blyton was.

Results

The English Roses broke records as the fastest selling children's picture book in the UK. It sold over 150,000 copies and reached the number two slot in the children's bestseller list, only 220 books behind Harry Potter.

'My children loved it,' said Independent assistant editor John Walsh. 'The flower girls were charming and the event was very well put together.'

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