'Sometimes the strongest story is what didn’t happen' - Behind the Campaign, Oldie Of The Year Awards

Digby Halsby, director at Flint, discusses the agency's recent campaign for The Oldie of the Year Awards 2021, which garnered a response from none other than The Queen.

What was the campaign in a nutshell?

The Oldie of the Year Awards, or TOOTYs, are presented annually by The Oldie magazine to celebrate elderly achievers. The 2021 awards were presented by Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth and were supported by a PR campaign that focused primarily on Her Majesty The Queen’s polite but firm refusal to be honoured with an Oldie award.

How did the idea come into being?

A strategic decision had been taken to honour Her Majesty The Queen with an award in recognition both of her forthcoming Platinum Jubilee and her leadership during the recent COVID pandemic. However, plans to secure a valuable high-profile royal endorsement for the 2021 award programme were thwarted when a letter was received from Balmoral Castle, which stated that “Her Majesty believes you are only as old as you feel, as such The Queen does not believe she meets the relevant criteria to be able to accept, and hopes you will find a more worthy recipient”.

Identifying a communications opportunity in this royal rejection, the Queen’s response was taken up as a focal point for a PR campaign that showcased the esteemed monarch’s humour and fortitude, which was presented as an exemple par excellence of The Oldie magazine’s core brand proposition to celebrate those who show they ‘still have some snap in their celery’.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process

Flint Culture has managed communications for the TOOTYs since 2015 and worked closely on the 2021 campaign with Oldie publisher James Pembroke and contributor Gyles Brandreth. The participation of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall required an operational collaboration with Clarence House’s communications team.

The Queen’s response to the award nomination, and an image of the letter, were initially published on The Oldie magazine’s website, with a view to ensuring that ensuing news coverage referred back to the publication as the source of the story. Selected media were provided with advance notification under embargo of the 2021 award winners, before a wider press release distribution on the day of the award ceremony. Royal Rota journalists and selected news agencies were provided with restricted onsite access to the award, including a winners’ photocall. Gyles Brandreth was positioned as a spokesperson for the award programme for print, digital and broadcast media, with managed media access to the individual award winners.

What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

The attendance of Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cornwall called for complex onsite media logistics, including tight management of the Royal Rota and fixed photo point, as well as a close collaboration with Clarence House’s communications and security teams. Media messaging relating to the Royal Household had to be carefully considered and was closely scrutinised before approval and distribution.

To mitigate the risk that the high-profile royal association would overshadow the noteworthy achievements of the award winners, dedicated media outreach was delivered around each winner, developing compelling narratives and audience-led messaging to inform special interest and mainstream media engagement, with the i newspaper choosing to illustrate its TOOTY coverage with an image of unsung heroes Dr Mridul and Dr Saroj Datta, winners of the Oldie NHS Angels award.

How did you measure the results and what were they?

The output of the campaign was tracked on the day of the award ceremony and the two following days, during which time 1,771 items of press coverage were secured with an audience reach of over five billion across 93 countries.

Within the UK, The Oldie of the Year Awards were featured in eight national newspapers, three of which gave them the front page. The awards were discussed across a broad media spectrum, from BBC Breakfast to BBC Radio 4 and the Daily Mail to the Daily Telegraph.

The tone of the coverage was universally brand-positive, with the Today programme acknowledging the "win-win good PR" for "a tremendous magazine".

A more unusual, but perhaps no less significant, metric of success could be found in the retailer Moonpig rushing out a series of TOOTY-dedicated novelty gift cards.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the campaign?

Sometimes the strongest story is what didn’t happen rather than what did.

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