Campaign: Security firm C2i taps into NoTW scandal

Read about the campaign in detail and what Jon McLeod, chairman of UK public affairs at Weber Shandwick, has to say about it all in 'Second Opinion'.

Campaign Phone-tapping
Client C2i International
PR team Wide PR
Timescale August 2006
Budget Undisclosed

In 2004, counter-espionage firm C2i International - which supplies specialist security equipment and business protection advice - hired Wide PR to raise its profile among its target customers: foreign government departments, the finance sector, and the utilities and airlines industries.

It briefed Wide PR to build relationships with media and position senior staff as experts on spying, bugging and security issues. For instance, C2i directors have been put forward to comment on high-profile security-related stories, including the 7/7 London bombings last year.

This August, one of the biggest espionage stories in recent years made the front pages when it was alleged that Clarence House's phone messages had been accessed by News of the World royal correspondent Clive Goodman. C2i told Wide PR to piggyback the story in every way possible.

To position C2i and its staff as experts on counter-espionage and security matters. To increase interest from potential clients, and boost sales.

Strategy and Plan
The News of the World phone-tapping story broke on the evening of Tuesday, 8 August, and looked likely to dominate the following day's news agenda. Wide PR and C2i had already been approached that evening by BBC Radio 4's Today, and on the back of this targeted national broadcast and print media, which they knew would be in demand for comment on the scandal.

Wide's first priority was to ensure that C2i directors were enthusiastic about being interviewed for any stories that could evolve from the original royal news hook. This was important because, although 7/7 was an exception, the client tended to shy away from commenting publicly on security or espionage stories - particularly those that involved competitor companies.

C2i's two directors, Mark Cooper and Justin King, were quickly briefed by Wide and shared interview duties throughout the following day, while Wide set about contacting any journalists who had not yet shown an interest in printing C2i comment.

Measurement and Evaluation
Cooper and King were interviewed by 30 broadcast and print media during August, including Channel Four News, ITN and BBC2's Newsnight. Print coverage featuring C2i included a Daily Telegraph article on 10 August headlined: ‘How mobile voicemail secrets are just a PIN away.'

This represented substantially more C2i-related coverage than the firm would expect in a normal month. According to Wide, stories appropriate for C2i staff to comment on usually break once every six weeks, but typically involve less than seven interviews with company staff.

Three days after the News of the World scandal broke, hits to the C2i website increased to 11,000, a ten-fold rise on average levels. During the five days after the original story, the firm received 120 phone and email enquiries, around five times the average rate.

Six communications security firms signed up as clients in the three weeks following the story, citing coverage of C2i as a key factor in their choice of security expert. ITN journalist Liz Curtis says: ‘Security is a sensitive subject and not many people are willing to go on the record. When an organisation like C2i makes itself available to media it can make our lives much easier.'

SECOND OPINION, Jon McLeod, chairman of UK public affairs at Weber Shandwick, advises on media and political campaigns for home and legal affairs clients, including the Bar Council:

Riding the crest of a media wave will invariably generate multiple hits in the 24-hour lifespan of a typical news story. And there is no denying the phenomenal reach of broadcast media when it comes to raising awareness.

Broadcast news media want, above all else, an available pundit who can speak complete sentences in words of one syllable. C2i and Wide were evidently able to deliver that, and they are to be congratulated on the success they achieved. My only concern about any campaign of this nature is whether they can impact B2B and public affairs audiences in the medium to long term.

Of course, broadcast coverage is great for generating awareness, but sophisticated audiences need a carefully manicured and sustained approach to communications initiatives. Given that the target markets with this campaign were ‘foreign govern­ment departments, the finance sector, utilities and airlines', I'd like to see the campaign approach vertical sector media, heavyweight financial, legal and regulatory press, and those in government.

A focus on the needs of the security services at an operational and policy level would also seem essential for any continuation of this campaign. However, I suspect this groundwork may already be under way by C2i and its retained PR agency.

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