BEHIND THE HEADLINES: Census Unit sets statistics gathering in motion

Back in 1998, Tony Blair proclaimed outrage at the imprisonment of

Coronation Street's Deirdre Rachid. Four years on, the soap is repaying

the favour by dedicating a storyline to the Census.

The sub-plot about Norris Cole as an enumerator shows the kind of

lengths that PR co-ordinators with the Office for National Statistics

(ONS) have been prepared to go to.

The pounds 5m campaign stretches back two years, to when a nine-strong

Census Media Initiative Unit was set up involving senior PROs from

across government.

Senior information officer Rozanne Pompeus, seconded from the Inland

Revenue, claims the unit has learnt from the mistakes of the 1991

Census, which was handled by the now defunct Office for Population,

Census and Surveys.

'Certain groups were not given enough information and support,' she


'Mothers with young babies were not counting their children. We wanted

to make sure that this time around, groups were being informed


As a result, six agencies were taken on last October to support the


Bell Pottinger was appointed to handle the ONS's drive to recruit more

than 69,000 enumerators, Geronimo PR to tackle the business community

and Fisheye to handle photocalls.

In addition, Brewer Blackler was appointed on a marketing brief to reach

students, M&C Saatchi to handle advertising and Entertainment Marketing

liaised with the producers of Coronation Street.

Successes in the campaign so far, aside from the soap storyline, include

work by Bell Pottinger to launch a competition, called the Sunsus, in

The Sun, which offers pounds 30,000 in prizes.

Also, a deal with Tesco was struck to supply baby suits to all babies

newly born on Census Day (29 April).

However, the launch of the campaign earlier this month was 'not as

successful as it could have been,' according to Pompeus.

The idea was to entice the media with the prospect of Ainsley Harriot

and a ten by 12-foot cake and other cake-based events. Unfortunately,

the media was more preoccupied with the postponement of the election and

the US spy plane crisis at the time.

The ONS has shown a great degree of creativity in making the essentially

mundane task of compiling statistics interesting. But the only real

guide to that success will be after 29 April when the forms flood, or

perhaps trickle, in.

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