CAMPAIGNS: Prehistory brings BBC up to date - Broadcast PR

Client: BBC
Campaign: Launch of ’Walking with Dinosaurs’
PR Team: In-house
Timescale: Jan 1999 ongoing
Budget: None - part of overall marketing budget

Client: BBC

Campaign: Launch of ’Walking with Dinosaurs’

PR Team: In-house

Timescale: Jan 1999 ongoing

Budget: None - part of overall marketing budget

Three years in the making, Walking With Dinosaurs is one of the BBC’s

flagship series of the season and its most expensive documentary


The epic six-parter, which kicked off last week, uses advanced computer

animation to create an impressively credible natural history documentary


The BBC is betting its shirt on the series. It cost pounds 1 million to

produce each episode - twice as much as even the most crinoline-laden

period drama.

With major export potential, a small fortune rides on its success.

But its significance goes far beyond mere money. The BBC is currently

fighting disgruntlement from those who resent the licence fee, from

those who accuse it of dumbing down, and from those who would strip it

of its special status.

Programmes like Walking with Dinosaurs form a major part of the

corporation’s defence strategy, which is to emphasise the quality that,

it says, only the BBC can produce.


The campaign had firstly to show licence-fee payers that the BBC’s

high-quality programming offers good value for money.

Secondly, to show that, despite this being a potentially dry topic for a

handful of palaeontologists, Walking with Dinosaurs has mainstream


And, lastly, to show that as well as being cracking entertainment, the

series has significant educational merit and real scientific worth.

Strategy and Plan

The potential of this programme was first identified well over a year

ago. In January this year, the nitty-gritty of the campaign was hammered

out as timing plans were drawn up and key audiences - science journals,

family titles, children’s media, national newspapers, the broadcast

trade press and computer graphics press - identified .

In February, the BBC’s Science Desk started selling-in stories to

magazines with long lead times. A 31-page press pack was prepared and a

mailing list of 350 journalists and key opinion-formers was drawn up. In

July, the BBC held a press conference for the broadcast and technical


In mid-September, a press launch was held at the Barbican for

opinion-formers in the scientific world and press columnists. Tapes of

the programme were sent out to television and science writers.

Measurement and Evaluation

The first programme was watched by an unofficial 13.2 million viewers -

a figure more usually achieved by soaps and football matches. The BBC is

still compiling full details of its coverage, but says that it exceeded

its very high expectations. Most of the nationals and many magazines

have covered the series, particularly with ’how did they do that?’ type



By the Tuesday morning after the first episode, newspaper reports of the

programme read as if it were already a part of our cultural


General reaction was astonishment at the quality of the special


However, in some of the quality press, questions were asked about the

cost and quality of the film, and the series’ scientific and

intellectual credentials. On balance, though, it is likely that the BBC

will be able to add the series to its defensive armoury of quality


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