ARTS CAMPAIGN: 'Loss of youth' survey creates bestseller

One of Britain's best-loved children's authors, Dame Jacqueline Wilson, has sold more than 25 million books in the UK.

Dame Jacqueline Wilson
Dame Jacqueline Wilson

Campaign: Dame Jacqueline Wilson - My Sister Jodie
Client: Random House Children's Books (RHCB)
PR team: Van Communications
Timescale: February - March 2008
Budget: £15,000

The 62-year-old author has been writing for more than 35 years, and the BBC's 'The Big Read' survey in 2003 revealed four of her books - Double Act, Girls In Love, Vicky Angel, and The Story of Tracy Beaker - made the list of the top 100 popular British books.

When her publisher Random House was planning the 7 March release of her latest novel My Sister Jodie, it brought in Van Communications to raise Dame Jacqueline's media profile.

Objectives
To obtain widespread coverage for Dame Jacqueline and RHCB across national and regional media. To position her as the leading figure in children's fiction. To drive pre-orders of My Sister Jodie ahead of the launch date and generate title sales.

Strategy and plan
Drawing on the central themes of My Sister Jodie, the Van team capitalised on Dame Jacqueline's popularity and social credence among young readers for a campaign to preserve childhood.

Jacqueline WilsonThe agency commissioned Omnibus to target parents of under-18s and identify a growing gulf between the traditional parenting codes of a generation ago and the lenient approach of modern parents.

The research confirmed that parents considered childhood 'over' by the age of 11 and revealed an array of adult privileges - such as underage drinking.

The agency issued a press release revealing the findings, and included contrasting case studies and a call to preserve childhood from Dame Jacqueline. 'I think children act like adults at an alarmingly early age,' she told journalists.

Measurement and evaluation
The story achieved 47 items of national coverage across print, television and radio, with page leads including The Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent. Wilson gave interviews to BBC Breakfast, ITV Lunchtime News, Newsround, The Today Programme and Five Live Breakfast among others.

In addition, Van secured 164 items of regional coverage and 47 online articles. The story sparked media debate, with commentary and opinion pieces appearing throughout the week.

Although she admitted many of her fictional teenagers want to 'stay out as late as possible and drink alcohol', Dame Jacqueline explained she was 'actually pretty old-fashioned'.

'I know girls are desperate to look cool,' she told the BBC, 'but I wish they didn't all wear high heels and inappropriately tight, trendy clothes.'

Results
The campaign reached a potential audience in excess of 133 million, according to in-house evaluation.

Before the story broke, My Sister Jodie had an Amazon sales rank of 108. Within 48 hours it had jumped 88 places to number 20, ending up ranked number one in pre-order sales on Amazon.com.

RHCB marketing director, Barry O'Donovan, said: 'The campaign met the objectives we set and surpassed the editorial results we had hoped for.'

SECOND OPINION
Dotti Irving is CEO of culture and campaigning consultancy, Colman Getty

Surveys are a bit like charity awareness weeks and inebriated minor royals falling out of Mahiki at 3am. There are far too many of them but they still continue to create headlines and stir up debate.

Dotti IrvingBut they are a brilliant way of putting a story on the top of the news agenda. Not only that, but they can generate coverage at the front of newspapers where they will be read by many more people than ever make it to the review sections further back.

That, and the woefully small space normally allocated to children's books in any national media outlet, explain Van's decision to launch Jacqueline Wilson's book in this way.

If I am at all critical, it would be that I felt a slight mis-match between some of the comments made by Dame Jacqueline - who is legendary for her ability to read the minds of 11-year-olds - and the results of the actual survey.

Dame Jacqueline takes her responsibilities to her fans very seriously. I once saw her sign books at the Cheltenham Literary Festival for eight hours without even a loo break.

So while it was a good idea to create a controversial news story, the survey findings went against her characters and the fact that she is so popular precisely because she has her finger on the pulse of younger girls.

But I am nit-picking. It was a very effective campaign and really well executed.

It was also clever timing on Random House's part to publish My Sister Jodie in the week of World Book Day, adding yet more excitement to the biggest annual celebration of books for young people in the UK today.

Finally, as anyone who works in publishing will tell you, anything that sees books shooting up the bestseller lists on that scale deserves to be applauded.

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