CAMPAIGNS: Whitaker's PR shows public short on facts - Consumer PR

Client: Whitaker's Almanack (A&C Black)
PR Team: MacLaurin
Campaign: Launch of Whitaker's Almanack 2003
Timescale: July - October 2002
Budget: £12,000

Whitaker's Almanack is a single volume reference book that provides a vast array of facts and figures about the modern world.

First published in 1868 by Joseph Whitaker, the original edition featured a compilation of newspaper cuttings, government statistics, astronomical charts, calendars and anniversaries.

Nowadays, the book is published annually and famous users include Winston Churchill and Sherlock Holmes in The Valley of Fear.

Bought by Bloomsbury in May 2002 and housed in the publisher's reference unit, A&C Black, the company sought to run a PR campaign to revitalise the brand and boost sales of the 2003 edition.


To raise awareness of Whitaker's Almanack and reposition the title to make it relevant to a wider, younger audience over a four-month period.

The main challenge was the publication's ageing market, as the younger generation had not turned to the book in significant numbers.

With politics and current affairs sometimes considered an automatic switch-off for younger members of the public, persuading the media to take an interest in a book of facts and figures was likely to need some creative thinking.

The challenge was to do this without devaluing the content of the book.

Strategy and Plan

MacLaurin proposed a two-pronged approach for the October launch of the 2003 edition. First, it sought to leverage the general public's lack of knowledge about politics and the media obsession with 'dumbing down', in order to create interest.

The publisher therefore commissioned a survey entitled 'Is Britain Dumbing Down?' to assess how well informed the nation was about current affairs issues.

By combining general knowledge questions with a test of TV trivia, it would find out where the focus of modern living was.

Behind this was also a strategy to highlight the types of information in the Almanack.

The survey found that Britons could name more EastEnders characters than world leaders.

One in ten respondents failed to name any current Labour cabinet ministers and the study revealed that most people were more obsessed by celebrities and soaps than news and current affairs.

The agency also recommended that Whitaker's Almanack editor Lauren Hill write to Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport Tessa Jowell, suggesting a review of all news programming to make it more accessible to a mass audience, which she did.

The second part of the strategy was to host a quiz night at the ICA, in association with Mencap. As well as a team of celebrities such as Anthea Turner, wannabe Tory MP and ex-GMTV presenter Esther McVey, RI:SE's Chris Roger and Watchdog's David Bull, the line-up also included a team of Whitakers, including royal guru James Whitaker and the Independent on Sunday's Ray Whitaker.

MacLaurin MD Vikki Stace says the quiz took advantage of 'the competitive mental arrogance of journalists who like to pit their knowledge against other people'.

The event was hosted by Sir Trevor McDonald, who also wrote the foreword for the 2003 edition of the Almanack.

Measurement and Evaluation

The survey achieved widespread press coverage, appearing on the front page of The Guardian, in the Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and all three red tops.

There was also exposure on BBC Breakfast News, The Six O'Clock News, Sky News, Have I Got News for You? and Live with Chris Moyles.

More than 100 articles about the survey were written in regional press titles.

The quiz received coverage from the Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Daily Mirror and The Sunday Telegraph.

In total, 95 per cent of the pieces about the survey also mentioned the book. Gaining mentions of the brand was seen as a key challenge as this is often overlooked when surveys of this kind are covered.

Montages supplied by MacLaurin featuring Phil Mitchell from EastEnders and Saddam Hussein were not only used to illustrate around 40 per cent of the coverage but also translated well into point- of-sale material.


Following the campaign, A&C Black reports that it has been easier to sell the book to retailers.

Sales director David Wightman says that the investment in PR helped ensure wider distribution for the book.

With Waterstone's buying the book centrally and a number of retailers using promotional towers, the 2003 edition has a much bigger presence in-store.

November sales are up around 20 per cent on those achieved by the previous owner, according to A&C Black. And with the key December sales period still to come, sales are predicted to be 30 to 35 per cent above targets.

Wightman says the PR campaign has created a much wider awareness of the Whitaker's brand.

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