Campaign: Family historians learn more about life in 1861 - Consumer

Campaign: Launch of 1861 census


PR team: Lansons Communications

Timescale: January-March 2005

Budget: Around £10,000

Family history website was launched in 2003, containing details of UK births, deaths and marriages from 1837 up to the present day. When the 1861 census was added to the site in January - the oldest full census online - Lansons Communications was briefed to help bring the subject of genealogy alive and promote the service.


To raise awareness that the census was going online and that it was a good place to start researching family history. To increase the number of users of the website.

Strategy and Plan

The team approached all broadcast media with the story and negotiated a print exclusive with The Times.

This was followed by targeting online media and print titles - journalists were offered spokespeople, statistics, images from the records and case studies of people researching their family tree.

Lansons tried to personalise the history element by plundering the website for interesting examples of famous people, places and statistics that would have been included on the 1861 census.

This research was tailored for each newspaper and special interest publication, such as focusing on unusual occupations or Victorian authors.

A Q&A document was developed for team members to handle questions about ownership of the records (which are licensed by the National Archives) and the portal's capability to deal with a high rate of traffic - a rival website crashed in 2002 when it published the 1901 census.

Measurement and Evaluation

Interviews appeared on the BBC's news programmes and Channel 4 News.

Other coverage included Radio 4's Today, BBC Radio 5 Live and BBC Radio 2, along with mentions or interviews on ten regional radio stations. As well as the Times exclusive, features appeared in The Independent, The Guardian, The Sun, Metro and the Daily Mirror.

There were 16 regional print features, along with write-ups on 19 websites and articles in technology titles and hobby magazines.


Unique visitors to the website increased by 350 per cent when the census went live and remained high for the following weekend. Registrations increased almost eight-fold during the five days after launch.

Times reporter Lewis Smith says the census was a fascinating view on the past and being given access to it prior to its launch made for a better story. 'Lansons' searches were not particularly eye-catching, but I managed to come up with a strong angle on novelists,' he says.

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