Client: Collins English Dictionary
PR team: Deliberate PR
Timescale: September 2008-March 2009
Budget: In the region of £15,000
Harper Collins wanted to publicise the 2009 edition of the Collins English Dictionary, to be published later this year. Coverage of new editions of dictionaries has traditionally been limited to short articles about new words formally recognised by their inclusion in the dictionary, such as 'Facebook' and 'celebutante'. The publisher wanted a change in the news coverage given to new editions of dictionaries.
- To achieve a step-shift in the news coverage afforded to new editions of dictionaries
- To create an interactive project to show the public how the dictionary is put together
- To encourage people to consider the changing nature of the English language
- To show that language is in the hands of the public, not academics, and the compiling of the dictionary simply reflects words that are already in general use.
STRATEGY AND PLAN
Deliberate PR approached the editors for a list of words that were at risk of being dropped from the new edition of the dictionary, as happens every year in order to keep the size of the dictionary manageable and allow space for new words to enter.
The editors sent back a list that included some highly colourful words such as 'niddering', meaning cowardly, 'embrangle', meaning to confuse or entangle, 'oppugnant', meaning combative, and 'fubsy', meaning short or stout. In total 24 words were provided, along with their meanings.
The PR team then approached a number of public figures, celebrities and politicians, and asked them to 'adopt' a word and use it as much as possible in their public appearances and media work over the next few months.
The public figures who agreed to adopt words were: Andrew Motion, Poet Laureate, who took 'skirr', meaning the sound made by a bird's wings in flight; Stephen Fry, who adopted 'fubsy'; Vince Cable, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, who took 'niddering'; MP Stephen Pound, who took 'caliginosity', meaning dimness or darkness; Christine Bleakley of The One Show, who took 'oppugnant', and Philip Howard of The Times, who took 'fatidical', meaning prophetic.
Measurement and evaluation
The campaign was partnered by The Times, which ran an initial print exclusive of a full page plus a comment article. The launch day also saw coverage on the Today programme, BBC News 24, The One Show and The Telegraph online. The project also featured internationally in Canada, South Africa, Australia, India and south east Asia. A full-page article also appeared in Time magazine.
The words were used frequently by their champions, including on TV and radio and twice in the chamber of the House of Commons.
The Times Online ran a poll asking readers which words they would like saved, and 11,225 people voted. The favourite word to be saved was 'embrangle', followed by 'fubsy'. However, 'fatidical' was not popular, and 'nitid', meaning bright or glistening, secured less than five per cent of the vote.
Collins has agreed to monitor use of the words with a view to saving them in the 2009 edition, to be published later this year, and the endangered words will be retained in the dictionary's online version.
An art exhibition based on the endangered words ran at the German Gallery opposite St Pancras station in London until 9 March, with proceeds going to the National Literacy Trust.
The exhibition featured pieces of work from 41 artists, each of whom chose a lost or endangered word, and then created a piece of art around it. Exhibits included art based on 'caliginosity', 'inergetical' and 'morsicant'.
Liz Sich, Managing director, Colman Getty
The dictionary business is hugely competitive and the publication of a new edition represents a large investment for the publisher. Each year dictionary publishers compete for media space with 'new word' stories, so it is refreshing to see Deliberate PR take a different approach.
It is also good to see the publishers focus the campaign on endangered words. The parameters were essential - Collins bases its corpus on word usage and to influence this artificially could damage the brand.
The Times partnership obviously worked well, though my gut feeling tells me that, with the right timing and a bit of luck, this story could have worked across all of the national press. It's the type of quirky story journalists love and an initial burst of coverage could have been built on with comment pieces, the letters' pages and diaries. It's also a perfect subject for blogs, in addition to The Times online activity.
It was terrific to get both the Today programme and The One Show but it would have been a gift of a story for local radio - and maybe there were some regional words that might need saving?
It's good to see international coverage too, particularly for Collins as they are market leaders in English and foreign-language dictionaries overseas.
So in spite of my hippopoto-monstrosesquipedaliophobia*, I shall look forward to the publication of the new Collins English Dictionary.
* A fear of long words (source: Foyle's Further Philavery).