CAMPAIGNS: Pre-event PR boost for comedy awards - Entertainment PR

Client: Michael Hurll TV/ITV/One.Tel PR team: Taylor Herring Communications Campaign: The British Comedy Awards Timescale: August-December 2003 Budget: Undisclosed

The British Comedy Awards - the Oscars of the comedy world - are arguably the last 'rock 'n' roll' awards where celebrities and booze mix to often unpredictable effect on live TV.

Taylor Herring Communications was briefed to achieve widespread coverage of the event on 10 December, as well as extensive coverage beforehand, at a time when the schedules are swamped with good programmes and awards ceremonies.

Objectives

To provide full PR management of the awards, focusing on three key stages: the release of the nominees list in November and the build-up towards the event; the night itself; the aftermath. To promote sponsor One.Tel's association with the event. To create positive media coverage in national press, TV and radio - particularly in the run-up to the event - and secure interviews with nominees. To drive tune-in on the night and maximise the programme's ratings.

Strategy and Plan

The comedy awards were already an established event, but Taylor Herring wanted to get people talking about it more, especially the One.Tel People's Choice Award, for which members of the public could vote for the five highest rated comedy shows on TV.

It teamed up with The Sun and Heat magazine as media partners; pre-event articles featured voting details for the People's Choice award.

A press launch at the Savoy Hotel in London involved 15 award nominees, recruited after some serious lobbying through one-to-one briefings of their managers and agents. They included actors Martin Freeman from The Office, Sarah Alexander from Coupling, Felicity Montagu, who plays the long-suffering Lynn in I'm Alan Partridge, and Marc Wootton from My New Best Friend. Host Jonathan Ross proved particularly tough to grab for pre-publicity, but the PR team managed to get a five-minute photo shoot.

Taylor Herring also drummed up media interest by creating an analysis of previous winners' birthplaces and star signs, and put together an auction of comedy memorabilia, held on the night. David Brent's leather jacket from The Office, a Vivienne Westwood suit donated by Jonathan Ross and merchandise signed by the Osbournes and Rowan Atkinson were sold off.

Other inventive tactics saw the team use Photoshop to create pictures of comedy stars as historic figures, displayed around the venue on the night.

The media covering the December event were given three areas in which to access celebrities, including a room sited next to the cloakroom through which attendees were filtered.

Taylor Herring played on the fact that the show was live and unpredictable, and reminded journalists that anything could happen by giving examples of previous years' antics. Memorable moments included the 1995 awards, when Michael Barrymore threw Jonathan Ross's autocue off the back of the stage, then spent the next five minutes hanging off parts of the set.

Twelve agency staff were on site on the night just in case anything went wrong.

Measurement and Evaluation

Although the agency is still collating statistics, media coverage before the event was increased from 20 per cent of the total in 2002 to 60 per cent.

Coverage was positive. There were 400 articles in the press, including all the tabloids, 25 pieces appeared on TV and there were 25 national radio pieces.

Online pieces appeared on Guardian Unlimited, Ananova, bbc.co.uk, virgin.net, Reuters and scotsman.com.

Results

ITV scored its highest Tuesday ratings for more than two years. The British Comedy Awards was watched by an average of 11.8 million (a 50 per cent share), with the programme peaking at 13.8 million (57.9 per cent).

One.Tel got 150 direct mentions in the media as a result of the campaign, more than double the mentions it got as sponsor last year.

'The awards are always good for us because someone usually does something outrageous,' says The Sun's TV editor Emily Smith.

Smith says Taylor Herring made it easy for journalists to get access to the nominees beforehand. 'Generally, we have to put in interview requests through agents,' she says. 'Through this event we could get easy access to people such as John Sullivan and John Culshaw.'

Daily Mirror 3am column editor Jessica Callan says: 'I think we all got what we wanted. The press room was small, but we all squeezed in. They brought a lot of the winners out; they were good because they were getting quite drunk. I think it was one of the best press rooms of the year.'

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