James Maxwell Award: And the winner is...

Only one of four finalists could win the coveted James Maxwell Award. Mary Cowlett reveals how the winner and three runners-up wowed the judges with their presentations

WINNER: JAMES FRYER

In the end it was a unanimous decision. AG Knowledge MD Alastair Gornall says all four award finalists were good enough to secure a career in PR. 'It's just unfortunate for the other three that they came up against such a top-quality student as James Fryer,' he adds.

All seven judges felt Fryer showed the flair, care and determination that warrants winning the inaugural James Maxwell award and a one-year work placement at Maxwell's former agency, Ketchum.

This prestigious award, created in memory of one of the industry's brightest and most popular talents, who died last year, is aimed at helping students develop their careers in PR, irrespective of their area of study.

The four finalists each devised a hypothetical PR campaign aimed at promoting UK tourism to Britons and presented their ideas to a select band of Maxwell's closest colleagues and friends. The judges included Gornall, Huntsworth chief executive Lord Chadlington, Ketchum Europe chief executive Jon Higgins, Agency Insight senior partner Andrew Melsom, guardian to Maxwell's children Guy Wilkinson, and, from PRWeek, managing director Stephen Farish and editor-in-chief Kate Nicholas.

Fryer says: 'It was nerve-racking, but I soon realised I knew my stuff and enjoyed presenting to such senior PR practitioners.'

PR's top guns rated the experience highly, too. Gornall reckons an account manager with two to three years' knowledge of the business would have struggled to equal Fryer's performance. Higgins says: 'He was quick on his feet, didn't fold under hard questioning and thought of everything, even purchasing the URL for his proposed website.'

To give his all to this competition, Fryer put his postgraduate diploma in public and media relations at Cardiff University School of Journalism on hold for two weeks. The end result was a multimedia extravaganza, which included an amusing vox-pop video, a CD-Rom, a 7,500-word report, a Powerpoint presentation and a pack for each judge.

After an analysis of the UK market - including Mintel research and an interview with Wales Tourist Board marketing director Roger Pride - Fryer identified potential conflicts of interest between tourism bodies in the regions and developed the idea of peer group influencers.

Publicly owned forum

Fryer segmented his target audience by age, social grade and holiday type, then recommended creating a publicly owned forum for discussion, UltimateUK.org, to persuade people to post reviews of their UK vacations online. This strategy was tied in to a media relations campaign and celebrity endorsement.

Fryer also thought up some witty launch tactics, including placing an inflatable monster in Loch Ness and creating UltimateUK crop circles in fields around England.

'His strength was a combination of analytical skills and strategic thinking, matched to an obvious sense of fun and an ability to think up some very creative stunt ideas,' says Nicholas.

Lord Chadlington adds: 'It was very professional, with great attention to detail.' L

FINALIST: VICTORIA ASARE-ARCHER

Lord Chadlington said that Victoria Asare-Archer had 'an excellent personality for PR'.

Set to graduate from the University of Manchester this summer with a BSc in Psychology and Neuroscience, Asare-Archer says: 'I'm looking for a great job in PR. I thought the award would validate my career choice.'

She should be pleased, then, that Higgins felt she would 'really shine in a planning position'.

Asare-Archer examined the demographics of the UK travel market and segmented potential audiences by economic and social status. The judges liked her word-of-mouth influencer strategy, based on the cliche that 'hairdressers never lie'. She recommended training stylists from some of the UK's top hair salons to become 'Travel Britain' specialists.

Asare-Archer admits the experience was 'terrifying', but says she kept her cool by focusing on her experience as a transferable skills trainer for her student union.

Having spent last summer as an intern in the Strategic Policy Team at the Home Office, Asare-Archer says she would love to work in public or corporate affairs.

FINALIST: NICK HOLMES

Characterised by Higgins as 'likeable, with sparks of creative insight', Nick Holmes is currently a second-year history undergraduate at King's College London. He describes the experience of being an award finalist as 'terrifying', but welcomed the opportunity the competition offered to tour the Ketchum offices.

'We met the heads of different departments,' he says. 'They sat down and talked to us for a long time; it was good to meet UK chief executive David Gallagher and Jon Higgins.'

As a result of this insight, Holmes would like to work in either consumer PR, 'which looks like good fun', or healthcare PR, 'which I think would be interesting as it is so results-driven'. For his 15-minute presentation, Holmes split the UK domestic tourism market in two, targeting young people with the attractions of short city breaks while encouraging families to choose British destinations for their annual summer holiday.

Working with the strapline 'Britain: What's on Your Doorstep?', his ideas encompassed hiring pavement artists to chalk iconic UK destinations such as the London Eye on the doorsteps of publishing houses.

He also proposed packaging holidays to the media around set themes, such as celebrities' favourite get-aways and Britain's top ten film locations.

Nicholas feels Holmes had a good understanding of the interests of his target audiences and adds: 'He had a lot of fun ideas that worked well with his strapline.'

COMMENDED: REGINA YAU

Regina Yau says: 'I consider myself to have been lucky to have got this far. I thought it was a privilege to meet possibly the most influential people in the UK PR industry and have the opportunity to knock them dead.'

This sentiment is shared by the judges. 'Yau was excellent,' says Lord Chadlington. 'She presented well, parried questions expertly and was self-assured without being arrogant.'

Born in Malaysia, Yau is currently on a gap year, writing a novel and working at a Sure Start family centre in Oxford. She says she was 'gobsmacked' to have been shortlisted, but adds: 'The news came as a nice surprise.'

Yau is a former Rhodes scholar from Oxford University, where she gained two Masters degrees, in Chinese and Women's Studies. She has also studied in the US on an exchange scholarship and gained a first-class English degree from the University of London.

She is keen to work in PR because she is 'fascinated by how PR can shape public attitudes towards anything'.

Her presentation 'British Breaks: Keeping It Simple' focused on making UK holiday planning easy and straightforward. She says: 'I believe there is a gap between what domestic tourism marketing campaigns say about booking a holiday in the UK and the reality of being given a number to call and then having to spend hours looking around on the internet.'

Yau recommended centralising all UK holiday information into a one-stop shop website with an accompanying series of themed Big Blue Books.

She developed a strategy to publicise these sources through TV and radio spots, poster design and travel-writing competitions, plus weblogs, through which members of the public would endorse UK destinations and activities.

Nicholas says: 'It was an entire product development strategy, including detailed thinking about media channels and opportunities.'

Yau wants to work in food or entertainment PR, her ambition based on her experience as editor-in-chief of the Rhodes Centenary Charity Cookbook and organiser of the first British Intercollegiate Championship of Contemporary A Cappella.

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