The dictionary market is highly competitive. Publishers such as
Oxford, Collins and Chambers invest much time and money producing new
editions of their dictionaries, and aim to win press coverage for their
Collins Dictionaries planned to publish a new edition of its Collins
Concise Dictionary in June 1999. Knowing that Oxford would be publishing
at a similar time, the in-house team, alongside Colman Getty, worked
hard to develop a strategy which would differentiate its product and
bring it to the public’s attention.
To publicise the launch of the Collins Concise Dictionary.
Strategy and Plan
The plan was to produce a story which would provide blanket
An effective but oft-repeated tactic to launch any English dictionary is
to release a story featuring the ’new word’ angle - such as words like
Viagra and docu-soap which have been included for the first time.
This is a story which regularly makes the news for Oxford, but obviously
the media wouldn’t be interested in running two new-word stories in a
short space of time.
The Collins Concise Dictionary PR team hit upon the idea of a survey
into the current state of English grammar and usage. With access to
writers, communicators and broadcasters, Collins had the perfect
database of candidates to question about the English language.
A survey was prepared and questionnaires were sent out in April.
Respondents were assured that their responses would be anonymous. During
May the results were collated. Over 100 replies were received, from such
luminaries as Jeremy Paxman, Janet Street-Porter and Bob Monkhouse.
The team then worked to compile a press release detailing the
It included the top five grammatical irritations; the English language’s
’worst offenders’; sections on the role of the media and political
correctness and the results of the multiple choice spelling test.
The press release was sent out on Tuesday 22 June with an embargo until
the following day - when the dictionary was due to be released. Despite
pressure from journalists following up the story to reveal those who had
done the worst in the test, the only people who were named and shamed
were those who came in the top ten list of English language manglers -
led by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and his classic ’sceptre of
The launch to the press was backed up with the biggest advertising
campaign Collins has ever undertaken.
Measurement and Evaluation
The survey received major coverage in the nationals with newspapers such
as the Daily Telegraph featuring a half-page news feature which quoted
extensively from the press release and mentioning Collins Concise
the Daily Mail and the Times also ran news features.
It was featured as the subject in the Guardian’s Pass Notes column and
Ann Widdecombe commented on the survey in her column for the Sunday
The Bookseller - the magazine for the book trade - also ran an item,
providing a valuable channel of communication to buyers.
Broadcast coverage was also extensive, including GMTV, Radio 5 and
regional radio around the country. No sales figures are yet
As it happened, Oxford decided to go with its new words story two weeks
prior to the Collins publication date. A quick look at the headlines is
revealing - coverage for the Oxford Concise Dictionary was featured only
in the Mirror and the Daily Record. The effort Collins put in to coming
up with a new angle paid off.
Although the survey is a commonly used technique, the creative angle
used and the high profile of many of the respondents guaranteed that
this would make for interesting news stories for editors and readers
Client: Collins Dictionaries
PR team: Colman Getty and in-house
Campaign: Launch of Collins Concise Dictionary
Timescale: January to June 1999