PRWeek has compiled a list of the best PR campaigns of the past 50 years, focusing on those that had the greatest impact, showed the most creativity and were the most influential on campaigning today. All had a prominent UK element; some were directly linked to an ad campaign, but had a strong earned-media component. Huge thanks to the industry experts we consulted - Jackie Elliot, Trevor Morris, Mark Borkowski, Dr Nicky Garsten and Peter Cunard.
Inspired by Iceland (2010)
In 2010, the eruption of Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull threatened to lead to a projected 22 per cent decline in visitor numbers. The PR-led ‘Inspired by Iceland’ campaign helped to change global perceptions and resulted in a 27 per cent rise in tourism. It started with ‘Iceland Hour’, where Iceland’s 320,000 inhabitants went online to send messages about what they loved most about the country to friends around the globe. The campaign, which ran in Europe and the US and featured documentary shorts, live webcasts, viral videos, websites, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, was promoted through print and TV advertising. In its first three weeks, the campaign gener-ated more than 2.2m stories and online contributions. Creative came from London’s The Brooklyn Brothers and Icelandic agency Islenska.
London 2012 Olympic & Paralympic Games (2012)
After years of press negativity in the run-up to the event, the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games silenced even the harshest of critics, and the organising committee LOCOG’s comms work deserves the highest praise. The campaign was focused and meticulously planned. It displayed shrewd use of internal comms to make sure the sizeable freelance workforce was on-message. It also deftly handled the additional pressure of social media, which no previous organising committee had faced to such an extent. It met its first objective – raising £2bn of private money – and got the law changed to give unprecedented protection to sponsors. All this was done with very little use of traditional advertising, proving that PR can take the lead at the highest level. Less tangibly, the campaign helped foster genuine enthusiasm for the Games and – whisper it – even pride in modern Britain.
Always – ‘#LikeAGirl’ (2012)
In recent years numerous brands have used female empowerment to plug their wares and/or overhaul their image, but few, if any, have done so as effectively as Procter & Gamble feminine hygiene brand Always. The MSLGroup campaign turned #LikeAGirl into a rallying cry and an insult into a movement. The multifaceted campaign started with a video in which people of all ages interpreted the phrase "like a girl". Celebrities, influencers and top media were brought in to help tackle the issue of girls’ low confidence during puberty. #LikeAGirl has gone through several iterations; in a 2015 version, for example, Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams became an ambassador to launch a "confidence curriculum" for schools. The work remains a benchmark for purpose-led campaigning.
Stonewall – ‘Rainbow Laces’ (2013)
Before ‘rainbow-washing’ by brands took hold, this simple but effective campaign united sports stars, brands and others behind an anti-homophobia message. Professional football clubs were sent rainbow-striped bootlaces and asked to wear them in matches over one weekend for the launch, backed by bookmaker Paddy Power. While a small number did not take part then, citing a lack of consultation and commercial involvement, there was increased activity the following year. Premier Inn ran a campaign around its temporary rebrand as Premier Out, while Paddy Power worked with Arsenal FC players to create a video in support. Stonewall said the 2017 iteration was seen by 12m people and reported an eight per cent fall in fans who think homophobic language is acceptable.
Marks & Spencer – ‘Follow the fairies’ (2014)
A Christmas campaign led by a PR concept, rather than a mega-budget ad, ‘Follow the fairies’ felt like a departure. In the run-up to the holiday PR agency Unity, under the guise of fairies Magic and Sparkle, used Twitter to listen to the nation’s conversations and respond to those in need of Christmas spirit with help – providing snow to a primary school and gifts to workers on a hospital night shift, for example. The fairies were later revealed as the stars of the M&S festive film. The sense of intrigue and surprise helped the beautifully conceived campaign receive widespread publicity and showed the power of an ‘earned-first’ approach.
NHSBT – ‘Missing type’ (2015)
This barnstorming campaign for NHS Blood and Transplant is among the most inventive and creative of its time, harnessing the power of social and traditional media and the goodwill of high-profile organisations to smash its goals. To encourage new blood donors, 1,000 organisations removed the A, O and B from their signage and branding to bring attention to the ‘missing types’ of donated blood. Highlights included the ‘o’ disappearing from the Downing Street sign. Other participants included Google, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, the Daily Mirror and The Church of England. A record 30,000 people registered as new donors in the campaign’s first 10 days (from MHP Communications/Engine) – equivalent to 100,000 lives saved or improved.
ActionAid UK – ‘#BrutalCut’ (2016)
In the age of influencers and multi-platform comms, few UK campaigns come close to this inspired work from Weber Shandwick and Clear Channel for ActionAid UK. To publicise the danger of female genital mutilation (FGM), #BrutalCut amplified messages from Kenyan girls facing the threat of FGM, disrupting content including YouTube and Instagram videos. On launch day, 132 digital screens across the UK – including London’s One Piccadilly, screens at the Latitude festival and trailers at cinemas – were simultaneously cut. The public could add the ‘brutal cut’ to their own videos or photos. The campaign reached 150 million people, led to 1,148 Twitter conversations, and helped the charity win funding to build centres to protect girls from FGM.
Sky – ‘Ocean Rescue’ (2017)
The scourge of plastic pollution has risen dramatically up the political and corporate agenda in recent years, and while no single campaign can take credit, Sky Ocean Rescue has been among the most effective in the UK. It launched in January 2017 with two days of coverage on the problem and Sky’s vow to stop using single-use plastics, backed by polls showing the level of public concern, while urging viewers to take action. A campaign for the plastic cup and straw emojis to be withdrawn generated further coverage, while more than 100 MPs, including the then-Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, signed a pledge to #PassOnPlastic with Sky Ocean Rescue. Gove said plans to introduce a bottle deposit return scheme were in part driven by Ocean Rescue. Later initiatives included the launch of Sky Ocean Ventures, an investment vehicle backed by the Government for businesses that help cut plastic use.
KFC UK & Ireland – ‘FCK’ (2018)
KFC tore up the crisis comms rule book with its bold use of humour to respond to a genuine corporate crisis. A major logistical disruption led to a nationwide shortfall of chicken and the closure of hundreds of the chain’s UK restaurants. Keen to remain true to KFC’s cheeky and irreverent voice, the firm took a lighthearted dig at itself, with a campaign focused on rearranging the letters of its name to spell "FCK" on a chicken bucket. KFC’s head of brand engagement, Jenny Packwood, later said the approach "enabled us to take back control of the narrative… All of the attention was focused on our response, as opposed to whether we were paying our staff, which we were doing, or what we were doing with the wasted chicken." Mother handled the paid media, with Freuds overseeing the substantial PR effort.
Iceland’s Christmas ad that never was (2018)
Has a UK brand been more effective as Iceland at transforming its reputation in the ‘social-purpose era’? Having stolen a march on its rivals in January 2018 by pledging go plastic-free on own-brand product packaging, that Christmas Iceland repurposed Greenpeace’s ‘Rang-tan’ animated film to great effect, thanks to intelligent use of media relations and not a small amount of controversy. The 90-second film used a loveable young orang-utan to publicise rainforest destruction caused by unsustainable palm-oil production. Regulator Clearcast ruled Iceland’s version of the film – for its Christmas campaign – could not be shown on TV due to the Greenpeace connection. This proved a golden opportunity for publicity for Iceland, which had pledged to remove palm oil from its own-label products by the end of 2018. There was a backlash in early 2019 when a BBC investigation found the business hadn’t fully achieved this commitment. Nonetheless, research has suggested that the image of a brand once more associated with frozen pizzas and Kerry Katona has evolved to be much more positively perceived among the public.
PRWeek made the final selection, but which campaigns did we miss? Let us know by tweeting @prweekuknews, or email John.Harrington@haymarket.com.