Campaign: Notting Hill Carnival rebuilds reputation - Event PR

Campaign: Building Unity and Trust

Client: London Notting Hill Carnival Limited

PR team: Midnight Communications

Timescale: May 2002-September 2004

Budget: £60,000

Notting Hill Carnival has run in West London since the 1960s over the August Bank Holiday weekend. Regarded as a massive street party, its reputation has been tarnished recently by murder, public spats between members of its management, overcrowded streets and an emphasis on loud sound systems. Carnival's organising body became London Notting Hill Carnival Limited (LNHCL) when it became a trust for 2003's event.

Objectives

To rebuild the damaged credibility of Carnival's management and position it as the guardian of the event. To reposition Carnival as a cultural outdoor festival that is open to all, rather than a street party. To build Carnival as a viable brand and support the search for credible sponsors.

Strategy and Plan

Midnight Communications shielded LNHCL from the press over the first two years of the account, but in 2004 it wanted the board to talk to the media about funding. At a press conference in June, the route was announced and the board presented as the organising body behind Carnival, which led the debate on key issues, particularly crowd safety - vital in repositioning Carnival as a safe, fun event.

Coverage needed to be taken away from crime, overcrowding and the organiser's problems to look at more positive aspects of Carnival. Midnight recommended a media-training programme for all board directors. A communications strategy group was set up, incorporating all eight regulatory agencies, from the Greater London Authority to the Metropolitan Police, and LNHCL worked with their PROs. Initiatives, which are still in place, included a crisis management plan.

Because the Bank Holiday Sunday was 'Children's Day', Midnight worked with kids' media and successfully pitched features to Junior and had a pre-Carnival slot on CBBC's Sunday-morning programme Smile. The PR team also wanted to boost coverage of Carnival cuisine, working with TV show Good Food Live and achieving a Carnival food page in Hello!.

Measurement and Evaluation

Profiles of board members appeared in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent. Metro and Time Out both focused on the five disciplines making up Carnival: calypso, soca, mas (the costume groups), pan (steel bands) and sound systems.

The Evening Standard ran a profile of Sister Sandra, the 'Calypso Monarch' who won a pre-Carnival competition. Red, Mizz, Elle and Party ran Carnival previews in their August issues. Midnight also facilitated 50 live interviews on Sky and the BBC with Carnival board members and participants over the weekend.

Results

In-house evaluation showed prominent key messages - safety measures; Carnival being a community-based event; LNHCL as the lead organiser; five artistic arenas; and Sunday being Children's Day - were mentioned in all coverage. Furthermore, Carnival secured a partnership with sponsorship company Earls Court &Olympia.

Smile new media researcher Matt Rene says the PR team was helpful: 'We told them what we needed and they sorted it out, which made it really easy from our point of view. It worked well.' The Evening Standard called the 2004 event a 'bigger, better and safer Carnival'.

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