CAMPAIGNS: Launch PR - ExCeL reaps benefit from some big PR

Client: ExCeL

Client: ExCeL

PR Team: big PR

Campaign: Launch of ExCeL

Timescale: May 1999-ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

ExCel, a pounds 250m exhibition and events venue in London's Docklands, opened on 21 November 2000.

It is the most significant development project in east London since the construction of Canary Wharf in the 1980s and will be the largest venue on a single site in the UK when phase two is completed in September 2003.

At a time when the Millennium Dome was attracting such bad press, big PR's challenge was to create a positive news story about another major London venue that it was hoped would become a commercial success.


To put ExCeL on the map as the UK's newest and most advanced exhibition and events venue; to attract shows and events tobook it.

Strategy and Plan

Big PR began its work in May 1999, when an earth-turning ceremony was attended by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

The agency's plan was to drip-feed stories relating to construction, facilities, location, catering, hotels, IT services and the attraction of exhibitions from other exhibition halls. In addition, one press sector was targeted every month, including construction, exhibition, lifestyle, design, recruitment, marketing and business publications.

During the 18 months prior to the opening, specific milestones provided foci for media activity. These included: the launch of the ExCeL website in October 1999; the announcement in April 2000 that the London Boat Show would move to the venue in 2004: an exhibition organisers day in June 2000; a conference open day in October 2000; and the announcement the same month that ExCeL would create 14,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Between May 1999 and opening day, big PR arranged over 300 press site visits and one-to-one interviews. The agency worked on building a local profile for the venue, liaising with community newspapers and local media such as London's Evening Standard.

In October 2000 big began a media training programme for ExCeL executives to prepare them for the extensive media activity in the run up to the launch and the opening week. The agency also advised on crisis management procedures.

Big was required to co-ordinate interviews and handle the demands of the media in the hectic week before opening and on the opening day itself.

Measurement and Evaluation

More than 1,200 articles and features had been generated by the end of the opening week, including coverage in most national newspapers including The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Observer, and The Financial Times.

Coverage built up to a crescendo during the week before opening. The BBC, Radio 4, GMTV and LBC Radio all ran items on the opening.

The Evening Standard ran regular updates during ExCeL's construction. The trade press also reported on ExCeL at regular intervals.


A wide-ranging and sustained media campaign enabled big PR to raise the profile of ExCeL among its target audiences of the media, general public, local community, and the exhibition and events industry.

The campaign has helped attract over 150 shows to the venue, well above target, including World Travel Market and The Toy Fair. More than two million visitors are expected at the venue in its first year.

With phase two of the construction work underway big PR is continuing its work.

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