Campaign: Housebuilder delights in Roman discovery - Crisis Comms

Campaign: Taylor Woodrow's Chariot Track Discovery Client: Taylor Woodrow PR team: Haslimann Taylor Timescale: January 2005 Budget: Part of retainer

While developing a former Army garrison site in the Roman town of Colchester earlier this year, housebuilder Taylor Woodrow discovered the remains of an ancient chariot track.

After a Colchester Evening Gazette story suggested the track could be lost to new homes, an overwhelming number of enquiries from the national press prompted Taylor Woodrow to hire Haslimann Taylor for crisis comms.

The company was concerned that media and archaeologists would wrongly assume that the historically significant site was under threat.


To correct the factual inaccuracies in the original Colchester Evening Gazette article and ensure consistency of message. To communicate the role Taylor Woodrow had to play in making this unique discovery and reassure the public that the site would be preserved.

Strategy and Plan

Haslimann Taylor needed to act quickly to take control of the story.

It initially issued releases to regional and national media, clarifying the facts surrounding the discovery. With the media strategy and spokespeople agreed upon, the second stage involved an on-site media briefing with Taylor Woodrow development manager James Moodie and regional MD Peter Andrew.

A member of Haslimann Taylor remained on site throughout to manage enquiries.

Once initial interest subsided, the agency entered talks with Channel 4's Time Team programme about filming a documentary on the discovery. In an effort to keep the public on board, the housebuilder and C4 hosted an open day where visitors were offered a tour of the excavation site.

Measurement and Evaluation

The campaign produced 21 articles in national and regional publications, including The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Daily Mail. Reuters and the Press Association also ran the story.

Broadcast coverage included pieces on national and regional BBC programmes, such as Breakfast, and Anglia TV. Internal monitoring revealed that all coverage positioned Taylor Woodrow as sympathetic to those who wanted to preserve the chariot track.


Haslimann Taylor estimates that its campaign reached ten million people.

The Colchester Evening Gazette covered the story a number of times, including a piece that corrected its initial factual errors. The open day attracted more than 2,300 visitors, while a Time Team special included an interview with Andrew. Meanwhile, the BBC reported that Taylor Woodrow was 'delighted' with its discovery and would incorporate the preserved track in its development.

English Heritage advised covering the track to protect it, and a monument is planned to mark where the track lies.

Colchester Evening Gazette journalist Tom Parkes says: 'The response and the professionalism of the team handling the development impressed me. It ensured we received all the information we needed, clarified the facts and invited us down to the open day to see for ourselves what was going on, giving us the complete picture of the development.'


Phil Reed, managing partner at Brahm PR, has worked on various crisis communications programmes.

Was it inadequate crisis planning that allowed Taylor Woodrow to dig itself into a PR hole? By not being alert to the potential media interest in the discovery, the company soon lost control of the message and had to draft in Haslimann Taylor to bail it out.

The agency did a decent job. The media briefing was a good move and it brought Taylor Woodrow's involvement to the forefront, reducing the risk of the company having a solution forced upon it by outside pressures.

Unfortunately, the nationals tended to rehash the Colchester Evening Gazette piece - news of chariots racing through central Colchester led, inevitably, to headlines about Essex boy racers, with hardly a look-in for Taylor Woodrow. Getting Time Team involved was, however, a coup, and keeping the local community on-side was essential.

I'm not entirely convinced it succeeded in positioning Taylor Woodrow as a sympathetic developer - it was on the periphery of a lot of the coverage - and perhaps more could have been done to generate media interest. Property pages, weekend magazines and even Radio 4's Making History could have been targets. Nevertheless, without the PR team's involvement I suspect the client would have been on the back foot.

Creativity: 3 Delivery: 3 6/10

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