CAMPAIGNS: Verdict a winner for Virgin Net - Public Awareness

Anticipating overwhelming demand from the public for information on the verdict in the Louise Woodward murder trial, Judge Hiller Zobel announced that his decision on the fate of the British au pair would be posted on the internet. This would make US legal history and created huge interest in the internet as to whether this would be its ’coming of age’.

Anticipating overwhelming demand from the public for information on

the verdict in the Louise Woodward murder trial, Judge Hiller Zobel

announced that his decision on the fate of the British au pair would be

posted on the internet. This would make US legal history and created

huge interest in the internet as to whether this would be its ’coming of

age’.



Objectives



Virgin Net - which launched in November 1996 to provide a

consumer-friendly internet service to UK users - wanted to capitalise on

intense media coverage on the internet.



To raise awareness of and increase traffic through the Virgin Net site

by providing access to the biggest news story of the moment.



Tactics



Following the announcement that the verdict would be posted on the

internet, the Virgin Net editorial team decided to offer its services in

Louise Woodward’s home-town of Elton, Cheshire. Internet access was

arranged for both the Rigger, the pub which became her supporters’

campaign headquarters, and also for the safe-house where Louise’s family

were staying during the trial.



Virgin Net became an official mirror site for Lawyer’s Weekly. This

meant that when UK visitors logged into the US site they were advised to

click on a button that immediately linked them to Virgin Net. This eased

pressure on the Lawyer’s Weekly website which had previously crashed.

Virgin Net’s Louise Woodward pages also carried a lot of background

detail to the story and visitors could leave comments or messages of

support.



The technical staff in Elton became inundated with media enquiries about

the internet. Lisa Francis, PR manager for Virgin Net, was brought in to

respond to the demand for information from the many print and broadcast

journalists who had converged on the pub. It was up to her to explain

the benefits of the internet as a news tool and convince them that it

would be used this way more frequently in the future.



Francis also ended up putting together schedules of press interviews and

organised for a press conference to be held following the announcement,

ensuring that spokespeople would have time to read and absorb Judge

Zobel’s entire statement before having to comment on it.



Results



The five days leading up to the verdict were very busy for Virgin Net

and on the day of the verdict they recorded up to 80 hits per second,

adding up to seven million hits that day. A large number of these were

from international visitors. Since September Virgin Net’s subscriber

base has increased from 65,000 to 80,000 and the Virgin Net web site is

now averaging 1.7 million hits per day, up from an average of one

million per day.



Verdict



Virgin Net certainly managed to make the most of this opportunity for

web professionals to prove that the internet is worthy of all the hype

and lofty predictions about how widespread its usage will become.



In the end there was a 102-minute delay in the verdict being posted,

although this was not because of a problem with the internet - as web

professionals were keen to point out - but due to a power failure in

Boston.



Perceptions of the internet as merely a secondary information source are

changing and Virgin Net has benefited as people begin to see it as an

interactive news organisation.



Client: Virgin Net

PR Team: In-house

Campaign: The Louise Woodward verdict on the internet

Timescale: 5 - 10 November

Cost: pounds 5,000



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