Arts & Entertainment: Fifty Shades trilogy puts rivals in shade

Publisher Random House bought the Fifty Shades trilogy in March. The books were an internet sensation in the US but relatively unknown in the UK.

50 Shades of Grey: A smash hit
50 Shades of Grey: A smash hit

Campaign: Bringing EL James' Fifty Shades trilogy to the UK
Client: Cornerstone Publishing, Random House Group
PR team: In-house
Timescale: March-October 2012
Budget: £3,000



  • To launch a PR campaign to reach the mass market during the four weeks between acquisition and publication
  • To create an immediate bestseller, ensure sell-through of the books by retailers and maintain sales momentum throughout the year.

Strategy and plan

The aim was to orchestrate a multi- platform campaign to ensure the Fifty Shades trilogy was the most talked about series of the year across all demographics. The PR team started by segmenting the audience to produce a highly targeted campaign. The team began by trying to capitalise on the existing online conversations about the books. It set up an @FiftyShadesUK Twitter account, in conjunction with the marketing department.

It then identified celebrities and personalities with a strong social media presence and sent them copies of the books along with an Agent Provocateur silk mask.

It also secured key interview slots with the author in the week of publication: EL James was interviewed on Radio 4 Woman's Hour and on publication day she was the cover interview of The Times' T2 supplement.

Further interviews followed in the Daily Mail, The Observer, The Sun and Grazia, and on BBC2's Newsnight and ITV1's Lorraine.

After the initial publication story, the team continued to create conversations around the books that would sustain publicity. This led to an early media focus on the role of digital publishing in the novels'

success and the effect that Fifty Shades was having on readers' sex lives. The team sold in significant coverage on the 'mummy porn phenomenon' and the 'Fifty Shades baby boom', and targeted male journalists.

Measurement and evaluation

At the height of the campaign nearly every national newspaper referenced Fifty Shades of Grey on a daily basis. The book was frequently referenced on television. Bruce Forsyth's opening line on the first episode of this year's Strictly Come Dancing series was about Fifty Shades. The Fifty Shades trilogy has received 1,698 pieces of national print coverage, 1,484 pieces of online coverage and 184 pieces of national broadcast coverage to date. The Twitter account has 55,855 followers and the official Facebook page has 731,000 likes.


In the first seven days of sale, Fifty Shades of Grey sold 61,187 in its physical edition alone and went straight to the top of the Nielsen paperback chart, where it stayed for 25 weeks. In its best week, it sold 664,478 physical copies.

Fifty Shades of Grey has now sold more than six million copies in the UK. It has become the bestselling book in the UK since records began and holds the all-time weekly sales record for a paperback book. The trilogy has sold more than 14 million copies.



The campaign was a great example of how much creative PR can achieve on a shoestring budget.

There is no doubt the content in the books is risque, but we have seen that before. The difference here was that they were launched in the digital age, an age where social media are king.

The campaign showed how much social media, in particular Facebook and Twitter, can drive a brand into public consciousness.

Fifty Shades appealed to a wide audience, from housewives to professional women. Even men were buying the books because they wanted to experience the buzz and excitement and have an opinion. Through Twitter and Facebook, people engaged with the brand and the author.

Suddenly, people were more willing to talk about sex, providing great content for the tabloids, men's magazines and daytime TV shows - all hooked on Fifty Shades.

The campaign results speak for themselves - the first book has become the UK's bestseller since records began and the social media sites have hits other brands can only dream of achieving.

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