CAMPAIGNS: Palace bid to gain viewers for TV speech - Media Relations

Client: Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: The Queen's Christmas Message
Timescale: December 2002
Budget: Undisclosed

For decades, the Queen's Christmas Message to the UK and Commonwealth was a centrepiece of Christmas Day viewing, a 3pm date with the TV that no amount of sprouts and alcohol would interfere with.

But over the last ten years a variety of elements - notably increased public awareness of the foibles and weaknesses of the Royal Family and the growth in popularity of Sky TV - have made the broadcast less of a 'must see'.

From the 20 million-plus viewing figures of the late 1980s, 2001's broadcast attracted just 8.6 million viewers. The BBC's monopoly over production of the ten- minute programme was ended when ITV did its own for the first time in 1997, and since then it has alternated between them on a two-year cycle.

Last year came a similarly seismic break with tradition: although the content of the message itself has traditionally been treated as akin to a state secret, the Palace promoted the broadcast in advance by making a trailer.


To raise the profile of the Queen's Christmas Day broadcast and to reverse the decline in viewing figures witnessed in recent years.

Strategy and Plan

The last year was eventful for the Queen. The Golden Jubilee, the deaths of her mother and sister, and the Paul Burrell trial - in which the Queen sensationally intervened to halt - created huge media interest throughout 2002.

The Christmas broadcast is generally recorded a week before Christmas Day, and Her Majesty's communications and press secretary Penny Russell-Smith had discussed the prospect of a trailer with the Queen beforehand, although the final okay came as ITV News was editing.

Russell-Smith decided on the content of the trailer with producer Sue Timson. The trailer was made available to all major TV news organisations, while the Press Association was given the story to distribute. A radio version was also produced.

Measurement and Evaluation

News bulletins trailed the content of the speech the day before, but coverage of the promotion was not confined to broadcast media, with The Times and The Daily Telegraph both running articles on the trailer in their Christmas Eve editions.


Broadcast at 3pm on BBC1 and ITV1, the Christmas Message was watched by a total of 9.3 million people, up 600,000 on 2001. Russell-Smith is guarded over whether the rise can be attributed to the change in PR strategy but she insists the trailer will be considered this year.

It may be a long way from the four-channel media world of 1987, when 28 million people tuned in to the Queen, but the Palace has demonstrated its desire to compete in the seasonal fight against Only Fools and Horses and other Christmas TV specials that draw large viewing figures.

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