CAMPAIGNS: CONSUMER PR - Bookseller opens up a new chapter

Client: Waterstone’s

Client: Waterstone’s

PR Team: Colman Getty PR and in-house

Campaign: Launch of Waterstone’s Piccadilly

Timescale: January to September 1999

Budget: undisclosed

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 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.

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