CAMPAIGNS: Bad press for 3's focus on special date - Consumer PR

Client: 3 PR Team: In-house and Joe Public Relations on consumer PR, Blue Rubicon on strategic PR Campaign: Launch of new 3G handsets Timescale: Two-and-a-half years Budget: Outside contracts believed to be over £100,000

To launch a product when it's not in the shops could be seen as brave or foolish.

But that's just what phone company 3 did in March, when it brought its third generation mobile phone onto the domestic market.

There has been speculation that the firm, which is backed by Hutchison Whampoa of Hong Kong, had earmarked 3 March - or 3/3/03 - for the big day, despite the fact that handsets weren't available to the public.

That meant customers couldn't enjoy the new gizmo that enables users to make video calls or watch live sports coverage. They instead had to 'pre-register' for the phones, which would be delivered a few weeks later.

Objectives

To launch a new generation handset without an existing presence in the UK market. The 3G phones will allow operators to make video calls or watch live sports coverage from their own phone - new technology that had to be explained and sold to the media, analysts and ultimately the public.

Strategy and Plan

The campaign began in earnest two-and-a-half years ago after the Government awarded a new round of operating licences for third generation mobile phones. Back then the company team numbered a dozen - now the firm employs 2,500 staff and contractors.

3 director of external relations Matt Peacock said the main strategy was 'managing expectation' and avoiding hype, particularly in the wake of the WAP flop.

'All along we said it was important to bring the product to market when it was ready, and not before. We planned a phased roll-out, not a big bang one,' Peacock said.

3 began demonstrating the new handset to industry and media analysts,as well as journalists, in January and February.

Peacock plays down the 3/3/03 'launch date', claiming it was never meant to be the crunch day - merely a date for a private party for staff and shareholders.

Measurement and Evaluation

3 used media valuation agency Metrica to assess media impact. The handset was featured in The Daily Telegraph, The Financial Times, Daily Mirror, The Independent, The Guardian, on BBC, ITV and Sky, Mobile Choice, What Mobile and other magazines, including on front pages.

Results

Before the handset had been demonstrated last September, a third of all coverage of 3's plans was unfavourable. After January's demonstration blitz, that figure rose to 84 per cent.

By the end of January, the campaign had reached over 25 million adults in the UK, raising awareness of a new product from a new company.

Apart from the 'confusion' over the 3/3/03 date, the company attracted unwelcome attention from some newspapers that reminded readers they would have to wait weeks for delivery of their handsets.

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