'Necessity is the mother of invention' - Behind the Campaign, Normal People global launch

Production company Element Pictures needed to shift to a 'virtual' campaign for the launch of TV show Normal People. PR agency Premier's director of entertainment Alice Bruce and head of television SJ Peyton explain.

Stars: Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal)
Stars: Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal)

What was the campaign in a nutshell?

Premier was brought on board by Element Pictures when Normal People was commissioned by BBC3 and handled all consumer and trade comms from UNIT (press and publicity activity that happens on-set when a film or TV show is in production) to international transmission. The pandemic hit right in the lead up to the global launch, our busiest time where we bring all the assets we’ve gathered and all the messaging we’ve crafted to life. We turned a huge campaign virtual, almost overnight.

How did the idea come into being?

The campaign was driven by the need to stay faithful to Sally Rooney’s gorgeous story. A generation had fallen in love with the book and the show aimed to do justice to the writing, our main goal was to make sure people knew that.

We worked incredibly closely with the production company, Element Pictures, director Lenny Abrahamson and show leads Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. We developed a campaign with two core pillars: reassure fans of the book by making sure Sally’s voice is heard throughout the campaign, and celebrate the quality of talent attached to the show, behind and in-front of the camera.

Carefully selected media were invited to set to meet the cast and crew, an electronic press kit was created drawing out key messages, and renowned photographer Enda Bowe was commissioned to create stunning unit shots that would match the cinematic direction of the show.

We drip fed assets to media, slowly introducing the faces of Marianne and Connell, giving snippets of episodes and key scenes, whipping up an appetite that reached almost frenzied proportions before transmission.

We had planned a press launch with BAFTA, a series of influencer and media drops, as well as several transatlantic junkets to support both the BBC3 and Hulu launch - all of which had to be dropped due to lockdown.

But necessity is the mother of invention and we replaced all elements with virtual versions. The BAFTA Q&A was hosted on Zoom by Edith Bowman and was more well attended by press than the live event ever could have been.

Instead of the media drop, we identified key opinion formers, everyone from Marianne Keyes and Nicola Coughlan to Dolly Alderton and Chris O’Dowd, and gave them early access to the first six episodes – the love they showed across social media further fuelled anticipation.

We managed to get one day with talent just before full lockdown. With a bare bones crew, we filmed as much content as we could for as many territories as possible. Everything else was Zoom or the good old-fashioned conference call.

What ideas were rejected?

Anything even remotely salacious was never even on the table. What Normal People does so well is to portray sex positively and responsibly. We worked hard with the cast and with intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien on the messaging around sex and young relationships to make sure that was at the forefront of coverage. The sex scenes aren’t played for laughs or thrills; they are an integral part of the storyline and for every image we released, every quote we wrote and every interview we coached, that was our driver.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process

There was almost a year between joining the project and launch and we got to know the production inside out. We identified media fans of the book early and made them our priority for on set work.

Ensuring smooth communications between international broadcasters was a huge part of our role, making sure everyone got the assets they needed without it being too much of a strain on the cast or production team.

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

Lockdown was a blessing and a curse. We couldn’t get talent in front of people but they were very generous with their time. We held more online junkets and events than we would have been able to in ‘real life’.

At one point we were worried some of the magic would be lost, but the talent is so engaging it was never an issue.

How did you measure the results?

Coverage continues to pour in - the numbers are so big it would be silly to even report them. Connell’s chain alone has more coverage than other entire campaigns.

The most important things to us are the viewing figures, which have smashed records, and the quality of coverage. The sex positivity message has shone through which everyone is really proud of, even if we did have to write a legal letter to Pornhub.

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

That incredible talent shines online just as much as it does face-to-face. You’ve only to watch Daisy and Paul re-enact a Guy Fieri cooking scene to see it.


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