Client: Hodder and Stoughton
PR Team: Countrywide Porter Novelli
Campaign: Launch of foreign language course CD/cassette range
Timescale: March-May 2000
Budget: pounds 30,000
Veteran foreign language tutor Michel Thomas is considered a guru by
many who have paid thousands of pounds to learn his ’secret’ method of
grasping an alien vocabulary.
Woody Allen, Emma Thompson and Mel Gibson are among those celebrities,
politicians and business chiefs who have shelled out pounds 10,000 to
put a full stop to their foreign conversational faux pas using his
Thomas devised a method to instil a working knowledge of foreign
languages without books, tension, frustration and hard work.
Publisher Hodder and Stoughton, however, won carte blanche to spill
Thomas’ secret to the masses by way of affordable CDs and cassettes,
available in French, Spanish, Italian and German.
Despite Thomas’ revered reputation among those in the foreign language
teaching circles, trying to launch the brand in an already highly
competitive and crowded market provided PR company Countrywide Porter
Novelli with many challenges.
Without the use of direct advertising and mail support, to generate mass
awareness and stimulate sales across a broad spectrum of consumers with
tailored messages through the media.
Strategy and Plan
Senior consultant at Countrywide Porter Novelli, Adrian Gillan, led a
team of four in a highly targeted media campaign to win the trust of a
cynical media wary of ’just another language project’.
The team wanted to use the personality of a frail and ageing Thomas
during a sustained and intense media schedule to maintain a focus on the
product up to, and during, the early May project launch.
In early March national print journalists on respective publications
received teasers through the mail, one of which pictured a silhouette of
Thomas, announcing the ’secret’ would soon be revealed.
A week later, they received an invite to attend ’The Doubting Thomas
Eurostar Challenge’ - a day trip to Paris.
Some 15 journalists working for national publications on travel,
business, romantic, parent and educational pages, attended.
Gillan and his team booked a first-class carriage and the journalists
were handed the publishers’ products, and asked to use the Thomas method
during the journey to see if they could order a meal in Paris in one of
the four foreign tongues.
Thomas was also on board and gave interviews in a comfortable and
Additional offers of CD ’reader giveaways’ were also available.
One-on-one press briefings were arranged with Thomas for those who could
not attend the Eurostar trip.
In early May, the product hit the shelves and a general product press
release was issued to national and regional titles. Broadcast
opportunities were offered, with live and pre-recorded TV and radio
interviews with Thomas. Many were stunted and humorous.
On C4’s Big Breakfast, Thomas was billed as the world’s best language
teacher, pitted against the world’s worst language pupil. The London
Tonight TV news programme broadcast the ’London Cabbie Challenge’, where
Thomas taught drivers foreign phrases.
Measurement and Evaluation
The campaign gained substantial and positive pre-product launch coverage
in 12 publications across a broad range of media, including the Sunday
Times, Guardian, Express, Daily Star, Evening Standard, Sunday Business,
Red, Business Life, Traveller and Time Out.
During and after the launch, the campaign achieved four national and
international broadcast hits, including the Big Breakfast, Radio 5 Live
and the BBC World Service.
By the end of June, sales of the language CDs and cassettes had, in the
view of the client, ’exceeded all expectations’, and were up 50 per
cent, by point-of-sale, and on budget plan. The PR campaign was wholly
unsupported by advertising and direct mailing.