Client: Woking Borough Council
PR Team: The Focus Group
Campaign: ’The Martian’ landing
Timing: April 1998
Budget: Under pounds 10,000
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of HG Wells’
landmark novel The War of the Worlds, Woking Borough Council
commissioned a sculpture called ’the Martian’.
Wells was born in the area and the unveiling was the culmination of
events organised by the council to celebrate his life. Cambridge-based
The Focus Group’s remit was to provide PR support for the unveiling of
the potentially controversial sculpture.
To handle the unveiling of The Martian public sculpture. To place Woking
Borough Council as a forward-thinking council and deflect potential
criticism of the project.
To heighten the anticipation of the launch, an embargo was placed on
showing pictures of the entire sculpture, but bits and pieces were
revealed to allow media ’exclusives’ and to create a sense of
A hotline was set up with a message explaining the project in detail,
and the telephone number was widely publicised.
To maximise exposure by appealing to different media, the agency decided
on two launches. The first was a ’Work in Progress’ launch held on 8
On this day all the pieces of the sculpture were brought together and
assembled on site - near Horsall Common, where the Martians land in
Wells’ book. For the first time it was photographed whole, and the
sculptor, Martin Condron, was there to put the finishing touches to the
work. At least five national television networks covered the event.
Two days later, the official launch took place in the evening, and TV
presenter Carol Vorderman gave a speech praising the sculpture. This
launch was designed to appeal to the local media and was attended by all
the stakeholders- the Mayor, local councillors, business people and
It was covered by BBC Southern Counties radio, in an hour long, live
The two main criticisms of public art tend to be that it is a waste of
taxpayers’ money, and that ’a child of three’ could have created the
In order to neutralise these misconceptions before they became part of
the story, the Focus Group distributed a brochure to the council
offices, the tourist information office and libraries which explained
the whole engineering process.
Prior to the unveiling, the Focus Group also prepared a brief, outlining
common questions asked about public art, and giving some answers which
would put a positive slant on the story. These were backed up by
statistics researched by the agency and went out to all members of the
council so that everyone could stay ’on message’.
Not only did the two launches receive a great deal of media coverage,
in-house evaluation reveals that 90 per cent of the coverage was
Coverage included BBC Breakfast News, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian
and the Independent.
Even BBC vox pops, featuring local residents were mostly positive and a
local medium claimed that HG Wells had been in touch to say he liked the
Following the success of this campaign, the Focus Group has started a
new service dedicated to handling public art projects for the
A well-planned campaign from a company with expertise in the field of
public art has certainly paid dividends for Woking Borough Council,
which was very happy with the results.
Justine Stevenson, editor of the Woking News and Mail said: ’The
sculpture was much better received than expected. There was caution at
the beginning, but once people had got to grips with it they did like
it. It’s made a big impact on the town.’