CAMPAIGN: Whitehaven goes digital without a hitch

In March 2007 it was announced Whitehaven in Cumbria would become the UK's first digital switchover region, losing its terrestrial TV broadcast on 14 November 2007. The area is home to 60,000 people and 25,000 households: one per cent of the UK population.

Campaign: Digital switchover flagship project - Whitehaven in Cumbria
Client: Digital UK
PR Team: Digital UK, Fishburn Hedges nationally with Weber Shandwick in Granada region
Timescale: August-November 2007
Budget: £40,000

Digital UK, the independent body handling the UK's switch to digital television, appointed Fishburn Hedges to deliver a national stakeholder and media relations programme, with Weber Shandwick North handling regional media relations.

Objectives
To ensure nobody in the Whitehaven area was left unaware of the need to begin to switch to digital by 17 October and complete the switch by 14 November. To manage the issue that a small percentage of people might not take action in time. To ensure elderly and disabled people were aware. To be prepared for technical hitches and make retuning easier to understand.

Strategy and plan
The main points of the campaign were shaped by the two dates of the switchover. This was underpinned by a drip- feed of information between the dates.

The team liaised with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and hosted two ministerial visits to Whitehaven. The Whitehaven Communications Group was also established, bringing together Copeland Borough Council, Age Concern North West Cumbria and Arqiva (the company in charge of the transmitters). During the months leading up to phase one, the team trailed Whitehaven's switchover date by announcing key milestones such as the 100-day countdown. The switch-off of the BBC2 analogue signal in the area was presented as the 'dawn of the digital era'. A press office was established in Whitehaven harbour and held a schedule of PR briefings over a two-day period, including photo calls featuring Digit Al (the robot star of Digital UK's advertising campaign) and case studies of local people who had made the switch.

Digital UK CEO Ford Ennals was interviewed by Today and BBC News 24 live from Whitehaven and director Simon Crine appeared on GMTV. Ringing endorsement of the switchover was secured from local MP Jamie Reed.

Media relations continued in the area throughout the month, including a photo shoot on a boat in Whitehaven marina with Digit Al encouraging locals not to 'miss the boat'. As technical risks were increased for the second stage, the strategy was to offer a much more reactive press outfit.

Measurement and evaluation
In excess of 260 pieces of coverage hit the press from 14 October until 17 November, including more than 100 pieces of broadcast coverage. BBC Breakfast did a live interview with Ford Ennals in front of the Digital UK van.

Results
Nine out of 10 homes in Whitehaven bought equipment before 17 October and by 14 November fewer than 200 homes were not ready. Ofcom tracking data shortly before the switch showed 100 per cent awareness.

The official communication from Jamie Reed MP's office on 14 November said: 'Digital UK should be congratulated,' and James Purnell MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, described it as 'a success'.

Digital UK is now preparing for the next switchover at the Selkirk transmitter in the Scottish Borders on 6 November 2008. Whitehaven will act as the communications template for this project.

SECOND OPINION

DAVID CLARKE, FOUNDER OF ROCK PR

Overall the Whitehaven digital switchover campaign delivered impressive results and demonstrated a solid joint effort between the two agencies working on it.

The team was wise in its decision to implement a two-phase campaign to highlight the two key stages of the switchover. It maximised impact and kept awareness at front of mind at all times with the target audiences, including the stakeholders who sometimes get overlooked. Setting up The Whitehaven Communications Group proved successful in keeping all parties in the loop and actively involved.

David ClarkeThere was a lot of creativity around the switch-off of the BBC2 analogue signal, but maybe more could have been made of the countdown. Perhaps a giant clock in the centre of Whitehaven as a focal point in the lead up to 'D Day'? It was good to hear that caution was given to the potential technical problems during the second stage of the Whitehaven switchover, as this could have been disastrous. The case studies were great tools to showcase the 'tried and tested' and help counteract any potential issues.

While the campaign evaluation looked impressive (the generation of 260 pieces of coverage in just over a month is no mean feat) it would be useful to know how specific demographic audiences were communicated with, especially the elderly who are often less tech savvy.

Were any helplines or online support facilities set up to offer additional information and reinforce the key messages echoed across the press?

In summary, this was a well- thought-through campaign that not only delivered, but will provide a sound template for the next phase later this year.

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