Campaigns: Broadcast PR - Warwick winner in documentary

Over recent years Warwick University has established itself as one of Britain’s top five academic institutions. It is often referred to as one of the country’s most innovative universities because of its commercial nous and ability to generate around 60 per cent of its own revenue from activities such as hosting conferences.

Over recent years Warwick University has established itself as one

of Britain’s top five academic institutions. It is often referred to as

one of the country’s most innovative universities because of its

commercial nous and ability to generate around 60 per cent of its own

revenue from activities such as hosting conferences.



By the end of 1996 the Warwick University press office had already been

generating substantial press coverage about Warwick’s elevated status,

when the university was approached by Radio 4 senior producer Brian

King, a specialist in fly-on-the-wall documentaries. After some

consideration, Warwick decided to let the microphones onto campus.



Objectives



To raise awareness of Warwick University among parents and potential

students.



Tactics



The university was well aware of the damage that the fly-on-the-wall

documentary can potentially inflict on an organisation’s reputation. A

case in point was last year’s TV programme The House, a

behind-the-scenes look at the Royal Opera House.



So it talked to previous ’victims’ of Brian King’s documentaries who

came back full of praise.



’We are a risk-taking university and extend this to PR,’ says press

officer Peter Dunn, although he admits he would have been more reticent

had there been a TV crew.



The PR team negotiated with King in advance. Warwick wanted some areas

of its operation to be covered, such as the business school and

conference centre, which King refused on the grounds that it would not

make good radio.



Other areas, which the university believed to be particularly sensitive,

King agreed to respect, although he did stick to his guns on certain

areas such as covering the end-of-term rave party.



King trusted the university to undertake the recordings itself, which

Dunn said that it took for granted after a while.



Results



Warwick enjoyed the initial exposure from Radio 4’s programme, which had

an audience estimated to be around 500,000 listeners for each of the

seven episodes.



Extracts from the programme were included in Radio 4’s Pick of the Week

programme on two occasions, and there are plans to repeat the series

later this year with the additional possibility of it being broadcast on

the BBC World Service.



The programme’s content was also analysed by the Guardian, Independent

and Times Higher Education Supplement.



In terms of message content, retrospective analyses by the university

and Brian King were generally positive. Despite the usual undergraduate

mischief and dons’ disagreements, few people it seems were shocked by

any of the issues uncovered.



Verdict



When one compares The University to other fly-on-the-wall projects,

Warwick appears to have escaped lightly. Radio reveals a lot less than

television, however, so the risk was reduced.



Warwick did well to check out the producer’s credentials in advance and

to agree on the basic ground rules. In this way it was generally in

control of the process.



Whether the programme’s initial scheduling - weekday mornings - really

reached its target audience may be open to question. A future broadcast

on World Service, however, would be a real bonus.



Client: Warwick University

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: Fly-on-the-wall documentary by BBC Radio 4

Timescale: January-March 1997

Cost: Undisclosed



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