PR Team: Colman Getty PR and in-house
Campaign: Launch of Waterstone’s Piccadilly
Timescale: January to September 1999
When Simpsons of Piccadilly announced its imminent closure after more
than 60 years trading, there was much speculation about the future of
its stylish Grade II listed building.
Then Waterstone’s announced that it was in negotiations to lease the
building and planned to create Europe’s largest, most unique bookstore,
featuring six miles of shelves, 265,000 titles, a bar, a restaurant and
a dedicated events space. It was a major development in the UK book
trade and retained PR agency Colman Getty PR worked on the campaign to
feed news to the publishing industry, and ensure book buyers would visit
the store once it opened.
To communicate that Waterstone’s Piccadilly is the biggest bookstore in
Europe, and emphasise its unique features and services.
Strategy and Plan
Colman Getty’s first press announcements went out to trade media, early
on in the campaign. These concerned the completion of negotiations and
staff appointments. It was not until much closer to the store’s opening
date of September 1999 that the mainstream and consumer media were
Colman Getty sent a brief diary notice to features writers, literary and
diary editors, announcing the opening date.
For the launch press pack the PR team had to co-ordinate with
Waterstone’s partners on the project - those companies involved in the
building and catering, for example. At a meeting with all the companies
involved and their respective PR people, dates were outlined for news
releases and it was agreed that Waterstone’s would have final approval
on press material.
The launch press pack ended up containing information on numerous areas
of the store - from the range of books and the experience of staff, to
the various food and drink services. This allowed for trade titles to
pick up on stories relevant to their readership, as well as the
mainstream media to highlight the areas which were of more interest to
On the launch day, a host of famous authors were on hand to witness the
opening and sign their books, including Salman Rushdie and AS Byatt.
Colman Getty issued a photocall release to publicise this.
No doubt fearing criticism that the well-loved Simpsons building had
been ruined in the redesign, the press pack also highlighted the
sensitive way the redesign was carried out, in a manner sympathetic to
the building’s style.
Measurement and Evaluation
Although Waterstone’s does not release specific sales figures or
traffic, the company reports that the store has been ’very busy every
day’ and that both traffic and sales are ’way more than expected’.
In terms of media coverage, the messages about its size and facilities
were certainly conveyed. A piece in the Express described it as ’Book
Heaven’. It also received coverage further afield, with a big feature in
the Scotsman. The Independent featured the store on its front page the
day after opening, and broadcast coverage was extensive.
On a negative note, the Twentieth Century Society is calling on
architects to boycott Waterstone’s because of certain alterations made
to the Simpsons building. Other items looked at the overall state of
bookselling at the moment, highlighting the threat to retailers from
companies such as Amazon.co.uk and the growth of the superstore.
This campaign has obviously been enormously successful in creating
interest which has translated into traffic and sales for the company.
Pundits are predicting that this will fall off after Christmas, so it
will be interesting to see what the PR team does to maintain interest.