If you think the silly season no longer exists in our world of 24/7
news, then a quick flick through the newspapers over the past fortnight
should set you straight.
Pages of coverage appear on the Queen Mum’s birthday, interspersed with
double-page spreads on Labour’s leakage problems and image problems and
problems relating to leaks about its image.
King of the front page Max Clifford begins by saying ’I place stories
365 days a year.’
But he also says that this time of year, more than any other, he
receives calls from editors on the hunt for stories.
’I’ve had the editors of three Sunday nationals call me in the past two
days desperate for stories,’ Clifford claims. Although he reckons that
the stories he’ll give them would have made front-page news any other
week of the year.
Interestingly, the news that Clifford has been appointed by Mohamed Al
Fayed on fees of pounds 300,000 a year arrived during this period to
fairly hefty news coverage. While Clifford’s argument - ’I’m high
profile, he’s high profile, so I think it would get coverage anyway’ -
holds water, there’s no denying that the timing was good.
The majority of PR people deny that they time campaigns specifically for
this period, claiming that it is not actually any easier to win coverage
at this time of year than any other.
In fact, the logistics of reaching your regular news contact and getting
clients to sign off approval can actually make it more complicated.
Steve Leigh, an account director at Communique Public Relations, says he
thinks the true silly season is around Easter bank holidays and the
Christmas and New Year break. ’That is when journalists seem to want to
stack up stories,’ he says. ’I’d love to say it was easier to get
coverage in summer, but I don’t think so.’
Brian Hemmings, account manager at the Wright Partnership, says that
these days, clients have year-round strategies. For some products,
summer is the perfect time to go for brand awareness raising anyway.
The Wright Partnership has been terrorising innocent London commuters
with knobbly knees contests on behalf of client Orangina. Why?
Obviously, summer is a key season for cold drinks sales, and Orangina
has based its current advertising around the theme of Why go abroad?, to
experience summer and Orangina, when you can get it right here in the
Last month’s support PR campaign, based around an Orangina-branded train
on the London Underground, was designed more as a consumer awareness
raising effort than a media relations project. However, there are more
initiatives planned for later in the summer.
The message which rings out loud and clear, from ’PR guru’ Max Clifford
to lesser mortals such as Avalon Publicity account manager Sarah Booth
is that the story is still king - no matter how quiet the news is.
Booth is working on Bazal’s Big Brother. While no one is going to argue
that television channels arrange their programming around the silly
season, the fact that the show has arrived now works entirely to their
Booth says, ’Big Brother is such a perfect human interest story - ten
people who don’t know each other, appearing on TV every night.’ It would
have been a hit with the media at anytime of year.
Added to this the fact that the story provides myriad angles, from the
sitcom/soap opera aspect, the psychological side and just pure
voyeurism, means that there is a story for every different audience.
But would we have been spared the intimate details of the show’s
contestants and full page features in national newspapers on the books
they are publishing and so on? Possibly not, but again, the timing can’t
have hurt the publicity drive for the programme anyway.
Leigh, the man behind last year’s now famous campaign where Julia
Carling ’rebranded’ herself Julia Heineken for a week doesn’t like the
word ’stunt’ to describe what he does.
’A stunt is something that grabs your attention. But a true stunt should
grab your attention and have something behind it,’ he says.
The Heineken campaign is an excellent example of a humorous,
attention-grabbing story that actually achieved several objectives for
It wasn’t just that it was dubbed by Chris Evans as his favourite PR
stunt, and won loads of coverage. It also worked for the brand and
worked with the on-pack promotion running at the same time.
Contrast this with the recent story about Heinz launching green ketchup
for school children. Not only does it smack of PR Stunt of the
Weekness, it follows on from other Heinz publicity ploys such as last
year’s killing-off of salad cream.
While the story achieved some good column inches and obviously grabbed
people’s attention, what has it actually achieved for the brand?
So unless you have a crystal ball, and can guarantee your clients that
there will be no deaths in the Royal Family, no natural disasters and no
tragedies, you better make sure you have a good story to sell before you
lift the phone to that news editor.
Just as at any other time of the year, all news values shouldn’t be
discarded because there is the merest whiff of a few column inches. Yes,
light-hearted is fine. But are such stories really going to add value
for the client?