CAMPAIGN Hull fights to be remembered in flood

On 25 June, around 400 million tonnes of rain fell across Yorkshire, Humberside and parts of the Midlands, causing severe flooding that damaged homes, schools and businesses. Hull suffered most but was most ignored by the media...

Lost city: Hull was largely overlooked in the media’s coverage of the floods in June
Lost city: Hull was largely overlooked in the media’s coverage of the floods in June

Campaign: Hull: The Forgotten City
Client: Hull City Build / Hull City Council
PR team: ING Media
Timescale: 28 June to 11 July 2007
Budget: Undisclosed

Keen to portray the extent of this disaster, the media focused on Sheffield and Doncaster and largely ignored the city-wide devastation in Hull, which bore the brunt of the deluge.

As the waters receded, the media and political agenda rolled on to Gordon Brown’s Cabinet reshuffle and the car bomb attacks in London and Glasgow.

With Hull facing an estimated £1bn repair bill and politicians noticeable by their absence, Hull City Council joined forces with regeneration company, Hull City Build, and its newly appointed PR agency ING Media.

Objectives
To raise awareness among the national media of Hull’s plight and secure much-needed support and financial aid from the Government.

Strategy and plan
With coverage of the flooding largely focused on South Yorkshire, it was imperative to alert national media that Hull was more comprehensively affected by the disaster but was being ignored. Hence the ‘Forgotten City’ campaign was born.

The next step was to pull together vital statistics on how badly the city had been affected and to gather images that would help tell the story. Early reports from the council put the number of properties in Hull that were damaged by flooding at 15,000, affecting 30,000 people.

With more rain forecast for the weekend of 30 June to 1 July, ING Media pitched the story of the ‘Forgotten City’ to news desks across the country. This was supported by a call for a large injection of government cash from Carl Minns, leader of Hull City Council.

Minns tried to shame the media and political establishment by saying: ‘Quite frankly, if this was Chelsea or Fulham, this would have been plastered over the front pages for weeks.’

Measurement and evaluation
The press poured back into Hull, with the media quickly getting behind the ‘Forgotten City’ story. Blanket coverage across major news providers including Sky News, the BBC’s 6pm and 10pm news programmes, Channel 4 News, Newsnight and BBC’s Today programme all ensured that Hull’s story was widely covered.

National print media also wrote about the campaign with articles in The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail, Daily Express, Daily Mirror and The Sun.

Results
The mass media coverage had the desired effect of bringing the plight of Hull to the attention of local and national politicians. Gordon Brown and local Hull MPs Alan Johnson, Diana Johnson and former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott all visited the city, as did Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu. Brown immediately promised £2.15m to help get Hull back on its feet, while the public has since made significant donations to the council’s flood hardship fund for residents.

In light of media attention on emergency efforts to prevent the Ulley Dam (near Sheffield) from breaking, The Times environmental reporter Lewis Smith says that Hull may have had a point in saying that it was ‘forgotten’. However, he adds: ‘It’s not that we weren’t aware of what had happened in Hull. There was just more of an expectation that it would flood as it’s next to the sea.’

SECOND OPINION

Alex Woolfall (left) is head of issues and crisis management at the Bell Pottinger Group: Crisis management is normally about dampening down media interest. But what if your client is in the middle of a crisis and the media is looking the other way? That is what makes this campaign so unique and so impressive.

Firstly, what a great campaign slogan: ‘Hull: The Forgotten City’. Punch it into Google and see how many results you get. The master-stroke was summing up in just four words the dilemma faced by people living in Hull. It was headline-friendly for journalists and a great sound bite for politicians.

Second, digging out key facts and figures for the media and getting them out with images of the impact the floods were having was a smart move. In a crisis, the media are always keen for ‘killer stats’ – the facts and figures that help them write up a story in a hurry.

One thing that might have helped secure even more coverage would have been to offer up Hull City spokespeople for back-to-back interviews with radio and TV.

Having spokespeople available instantly in a crisis can make or break a story. You’ll be surprised how often the words ‘and we’ve got a spokesman right now who can talk about this’ can be music to the ears of radio and TV newsdesks.

Of course, there’s nothing like making your point with a bit of controversy. Questioning whether Chelsea or Fulham would have been treated like Hull was classic. There’s nothing like the North v South divide to get people talking.

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