Regional focus: Home Counties and South East

Three Counties Radio fights for the people

Gareth Lloyd: Three Counties Radio presenter
Gareth Lloyd: Three Counties Radio presenter

BBC Three Counties Radio’s editorial agenda is to ‘put a smile’ on its listeners’ faces.
It might sound trite, but editor Mark Norman says the station, which covers Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Buckinghamshire, puts out speech-based content largely aimed at helping people.

‘God knows there’s enough bad news around the place,’ explains Norman.

Overall, BBC Three Counties delivers news, current affairs and entertainment material to which local listeners can relate. ‘It’s about making sure we give people a voice,’ says Norman. ‘Our phone lines are open 24 hours a day.’

Travel and sport are key focus areas and the most popular programme is the breakfast show hosted by Stephen Rhodes. PROs can pitch for this slot on the same morning. The afternoon programming on Three Counties Radio is more lifestyle-based and has lead times of two to three days. One of the most well-known programmes is Consumer

Clinic, which focuses on people’s problems with goods and services. Norman says it ‘has helped reclaim thousands upon thousands of pounds for people’.

Beverley Aujla, director at Lansons Communications, says her clients value being featured on this show.

‘BBC Three Counties is one of the few regional radio stations that are always on the hunt for a burning consumer issue to discuss – it likes to get spokespeople on air for a lengthy interview on topics such as unlimited broadband, energy providers or even PPI,’ says Aujla. ‘Spokespeople tend to like being on BBC Three Counties too as they are given a challenging interview and are able to discuss and debate an issue at length.’

The station occasionally runs campaigns, such as the successful effort last year to improve roads in the area. Three Counties asked listeners to get in touch about problems such as potholes and lobbied local authorities to fix them.

The key to pitching to the station is understanding the audience and the region. Most listeners are over 55, but Norman says they are computer literate and ‘young at heart’. Three Counties runs items that affect a majority of people within the region. PR agencies need to question whether the stories have editorial merit in their own right, contribute to the loc-al community and affect the wider public. ‘We’re not interested in free advertising dressed up as editorial,’ says Norman. PROs should get in touch if ‘with your hand on your heart you can say this isn’t just a free puff’.

The station’s staff have a good reputation for being easy to work with. HPS Group PR consultant Lorraine Forrest-Turner says: ‘The producers are always well organised, and the presenters are knowledgeable, interested and positive.’

Quick facts

Frequencies 103.8FM, 95.5FM, 104.5FM, 90.4FM, 98FM, 94.7FM, 92.1FM / 630 & 1161 kHz MW
Audience 150,000 people weekly
Key presenters and programmes
Breakfast with Stephen Rhodes, weekdays 6-9am
Consumer Clinic with Jonathan Vernon-Smith, weekdays 11am-2pm


Editor Mark Norman

News editor Carol Abercrombie
01582 637400


Spotlight on a story: XL goes bust and TUI steps in to rescue holidaymakers

When West Sussex-based XL Leisure Group, the third largest travel group in the UK, went into administration in September, it was the biggest collapse of a British tour operator since 1974. It also stranded tens of thousands of Britons abroad.

TUI Travel, which encompasses both the First Choice and Thomson brands, managed to use the situation to its advantage. TUI repatriated XL customers and helped holidaymakers due to travel on XL to book alternatives. All this helped ensure the company was seen as a ‘caring company’.

Additionally, TUI’s media messaging reinforced the fact all its holidays were protected, reassuring worried travellers it was a safe and secure company.

The TUI press office then used Durrants to analyse how well its key messages were picked up by journalists. That TUI was a ‘caring company’ was the most successfully communicated message, appearing in 82 per cent of stories about First Choice and in 77 per cent of the ones about Thomson. In addition, journalists accepted the fact TUI was a safe and secure holiday operator.

This analysis helped the TUI press office prove, with hard evidence, that its campaign had been highly effective.

Top local businesses AmEx, Discovery Foods, GSK, Allianz

American Express

The credit card company made the headlines at the end of October when it announced it would be slashing ten per cent of its global workforce. However, The Argus in Brighton reported the firm was bringing 1,800 jobs to the company’s UK HQ in the city, where it currently employs 3,000 people. Contact Deepa Bose, UK PR manager, on 020 7976 4677

Discovery Foods

Mexican food brand Discovery Foods has its head office in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Recently the brand used the talents of pretty Latinas to promote its tacos and tortillas in a wide-scale TV ad campaign. Wildcard handles PR for the brand and James Bennett is group marketing controller.
Contact; 01908 933039


The pharmaceutical giant, based in Brentford, Middlesex, was in the news last week when it axed 1,000 sales jobs in the US. Closer to home, reports on the NHS controversy over top-up drug payments included references to GSK. It controls about seven per cent of the world’s pharmaceutical market.
Contact Corporate press team on 020 8047 5502; consumer healthcare team on 020 8047 4296

Allianz Insurance

The group was in the media spotlight when German bank Dresdner, part of
the Allianz Group, was acquired by Commerzbank. Allianz employs more than 4,000 people in the UK, with a head office in Guildford, Surrey.
Contact Mark Bishop, group comms manager, on 01483 552731 or Nikki Whitfield, media relations consultant, on 01483 552969

Media snapshot

Magazines and newspapers

The Argus (Brighton)
Circulation 31,703
Editor Michael Beard
Contact 01273 544544

Bedford Times and Citizen
Circulation 55,563
Editor Chris Hall
Contact 01234 405060;


BBC Essex
Found on 103.5, 95.3 FM
Editor Gerald Main
Contact 01245 616066;

Mercury FM
Found on 102.7, 97.5 FM
Programme controller Andrew Dancey
Head of news Gareth Davies
Contact 01293 636031


ITV Anglia
Editor David Jennings
Contact 01603 753057;

BBC South East Today
Head of regional and local programmes Mick Rawsthorne
Contact 01892 670000/675582;

Web hits 40,000 unique visitors
Frequency Updated hourly from 8am to 6pm, but breaking news is posted as it happens, including weekends
Group editor Peter Austin
Web hits 14,000 unique visitors
Frequency The website is updated daily and the Surrey Herald is published weekly
Editor Mike Hawkins
News editors Paul Bishop and Natalie Cambrook
Contact 01932 561111;

Going for the big names

Brighton-based Midnight and Windsor’s Octopus are focusing on the bigger picture

Midnight Communications

Midnight Communications, founded by Caraline Brown, has a tech PR heritage, but the agency is gradually gaining clients in a variety of sectors including events and healthcare. This past year the Brighton-based agency has been working to reposition itself as a ‘multi-platform consultancy’, meaning that it uses a combination of traditional media and digital campaigns depending on what works best for each brief.

Midnight’s multi-platform goal has not been without its challenges, admits managing director Sarah Ogden: ‘There have been many brands that wanted to learn more about how social media and multi-platform campaigns work, but few have been willing to spend the money.’

Over the past year Midnight has landed big-name brands, including a pan-European account with Samsung, and received acclaim for its campaign work. Ogden is particularly proud of the PR campaign for Grand Designs Live, which won the Best Use of New Media award at the Home Counties CIPR Awards. She says there was a potential for ‘brand fatigue’, yet Midnight’s campaign managed to pull in 100,000 visitors to the Grand -Designs Live exhibition in London.

Midnight ranked 134th in PRWeek’s top 150 consultancies this year. It is now working on strengthening its position within the Home Counties by launching the Digital Awards South. ‘We’ve got such amazing brands down here, such as Disney and Linden Labs [Second Life],’ says Ogden.

The agency has about 20 PROs on the team and is currently not looking to expand, although Ogden says she is always keeping an eye out for account managers.

Midnight’s goals for next year are to keep its retained clients and attract more pan-European work. The agency has achieved a lot in the past year, but has nonetheless been hit by the market slowdown. ‘Now we always have to make a case for why PR is the best solution,’ says Ogden.

At a glance

Top client wins of 2008 Samsung, American Express, Coremetrics

Best campaigns of 2008 Coremetrics Pan-European campaign launch; Grand Designs Live – London; AOL’s Platform-A, ‘Managing the consolidation of AOL’s online advertising businesses’

Significant hires of 2008 Nick Hay, associate director (tech and B2B)

Predicted growth figure Seven per cent

Plans for the year ahead ‘We plan to continue using innovative PR techniques for clients and improving our skills in harnessing new technology platforms to reach increasingly sophisticated audiences’



‘2008 is shaping up nicely for us,’ says Jon Lonsdale, managing director of B2B agency Octopus. ‘None of us wants a slowdown, but there are some companies that can work in a slowdown and some that can’t.’

Octopus, established on 11 September 2001, has proved it is capable of doing business in difficult times. Lonsdale founded the independent agency with Sandy Purewal and Harvy Virdee on the day the Twin Towers fell in New York. So far this has not proved to be a bad omen for the agency.

The agency has carved a strong reputation in technology work and this year ranked 13th in PRWeek’s list of top tech agencies. Lonsdale’s goal is to gain clients in other sectors, such as corporate, and he has been speaking to major banks about working for them.

Lonsdale explains that Octopus always had good ideas but was too small to execute them. However, the agency is now growing into a major player and this year ranked 67th out of PRWeek’s top 150 agencies.
Although Octopus’ headquarters are based in Windsor, outside London, the agency considers itself nationwide and Lonsdale is convinced that Octopus can now take ‘a lot of business from the big guys’.
One of the agency’s major accomplishments last year was a £500,000 account win as the retained UK and Ireland PR agency for internet giant Cisco.

Octopus recently added senior people from Microsoft and Metia to its team and is looking to hire at least two or three additional staff members next year, particularly those with specialist knowledge of digital consultancy and online.

Lonsdale has goals for Octopus, but for now he is satisfied with the agency’s performance.

‘I dusted off our business plan from 2001 and it made me smile,’ he says. ‘A lot of the things we wanted to do then, we’re doing now.’

At a glance

Top client wins of 2008 Cisco, Dun & Bradstreet, Columbus Direct

Best campaigns of 2008 Recruitment & Employment Confederation ‘Temporary Workers Week’; Utilyx ‘Business Fuel Poverty’; Siemens ‘Professional Listeners’

Significant hires of 2008 Louie St Claire, associate director;Helen Toft, head of influencer relations

Predicted fee income for 2008 £3.5m

Plans for the year ahead Specialist senior hires in emerging consultancy areas, launch of new services and continued growth

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