CAMPAIGN: Product Launch - Hodder tapes guru’s secret to languages

Client: Hodder and Stoughton

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

’secret’ technique.

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

relaxed environment.

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.

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