OPINION: News Analysis - ’Tis the season to be silly, but don’t forget the story. The summer months have traditionally been the media’s silly season. But does the silly season still exist and, if so, how are PROs exploiting it?

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.

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

the brand.

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?

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