Online/finance - uSwitch counts the credit crunch costs

Campaign: People's Budget Client: uSwitch PR teams: Hill & Knowlton Timescale: March 2008 Budget : Less than £20,000

 

With the cost of living in the UK on the rise, consumers are increasingly shopping around to find the most competitive prices for their utility bills.

This is where uSwitch believes it comes in. The website is a free service, backed by telephone operators, that helps consumers compare prices. It covers a range of household services, including gas, electricity, home phone, broadband providers and personal finance products.

The site has a strong reputation among consumers and was ranked the number one website in the 'business and finance utilities' category for two years running in 2006 and 2007 by the Hitwise Number 1 Awards Programme.

Objectives

- To continue to increase brand awareness of uSwitch's products and services through key media titles, including broadcast, national and regional print, online and newswires

- To build on the website's market share

- To increase the number of unique users the website obtains.

Strategy and plan

In the campaign's early stages, staff at uSwitch sat down with the Hill & Knowlton team and decided the focus should be on driving the news agenda.

So two days before the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling, announced his 2008 budget, H&K released a story comparing the rise in costs of household bills with average salary increases.

At a time when the phrase 'credit crunch' was on everyone's lips, the relationship between wages and bills chimed with consumers.

National titles had the story under embargo one week before it was announced and H&K set about targeting opposition MPs, including deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats Vince Cable, and shadow secretary of state for work and pensions Phillip Hammond.

These ministers were identified as the ones who could spark controversy and debate around the rise of inflation. Sure enough, Cable and Hammond both released statements on the story, which H&K used to drum up interest.

As well as MPs, leading economists were brought on board to provide another angle, and the comms team worked with YouGov and Research Insight to find concrete statistical information and case studies.

Measurement and evaluation

The People's Budget campaign generated more than 15 pieces of national print coverage, including four front pages in the Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph.

Headlines from the Daily Mail included 'Families' £800 bill just to stand still' and 'The REAL rate of inflation - Daily Mail launches cost of living index'. The Daily Telegraph ran with 'Austerity Britain: families cut out luxuries'.

As for television coverage, regular news bulletins appeared on BBC Breakfast and BBC News 24 after the release of the story.

The total reach of the campaign was estimated at more than 180 million opportunities to see.

Results

The day the story broke, uSwitch saw a 64 per cent increase in sales, and the website traffic rose by 57 per cent, compared with the day before.

The statistical data used in the PR campaign, put together by YouGov and Research Insight, was described by the Daily Express' chief political commentator Patrick O'Flynn as 'one of the most important pieces of political research for months'.

The success of the campaign has persuaded uSwitch to use lifestyle issues as a hook for any future campaigns, and to act as a 'champion of the underdog' in future.

 

SECOND OPINION

Nick Rappolt, Director of planning, Bite Communications

The internet is changing how PR campaigns will be measured and judged. The problem of showing a tangible impact for our work and justifying budgets to board members can now, in part, be solved. Through the use of analytics we can track the traffic to a client's website and show the visitor increase that comes from securing coverage. For this to happen, PR firms need to show a need for its product or service and then highlight the best solution. H&K has done just that.

The team has taken into account the current political and economic environment, understood the problem that the audience needed help in solving, and as a result it highlighted a solution. The results are brilliant, both from a sales perspective and a coverage output.

The team was smart in giving the story to journalists under embargo a week in advance. This gave the journalists a chance to develop the story further. By using third party advocates they fuelled the fire and amplified the results.

It would have been interesting if H&K had pushed the internet space further by creating a small microsite that could then drive extra traffic to uSwitch at every budget and provide a commentary platform for spokespeople. This would give the site more 'Google juice' and allow for interaction with consumers through the use of UGC.

On the whole the results for this campaign seem excellent and it is refreshing to see the resulting impact.

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