Client: Sir Cliff Richard
PR Team: Mark Borkowski Press and Public Relations
Campaign: Cliff 98
Timescale: January 1998 and ongoing
Sir Cliff Richard is a hardy perennial on the British pop scene. In
a career spanning 40 years, he has gone from bad boy of rock and roll in
the 1950s to a favourite of the grey-haired set in the 1990s. However
many radio stations refuse to play his new records, deeming him to be
’naff’. Although he has maintained a high profile with his older fans,
Sir Cliff has failed to attract a younger audience.
This year, with a new album Real As I Wanna Be coming out, his retained
publicity agency Mark Borkowski took on the task of bringing Sir Cliff’s
work to a new audience.
To redefine public perceptions of Cliff Richard as a performer. To
attract a younger audience, and beat radio play resistance.
The aim was to get the media to see Sir Cliff as a performer with
A new short haircut, and stylish wardrobe to reflect Sir Cliff’s new
image signalled there were changes afoot.
The campaign targeted publications which would not have usually featured
Sir Cliff, and are influential with younger readers. As he was prepared
to do hard-hitting interviews, covering subjects such as his sexuality,
he has appeared in titles such as Loaded and New Nation. Next month he
will feature in the style-bible Face.
Knowing that many radio stations would refuse outright to play any new
Cliff Richard records, his record company released his new single Can’t
Keep This Feeling In under the name Blacknight, and sent it out to
various radio stations, where it was played frequently. Prior to the
single’s release Blacknight’s true identity was revealed. Although this
prompted some radio stations to remove the single from playlists - even
though it was acknowledged to be a popular song - it created the
opportunity for Sir Cliff to speak to the media about ageism in the
The story was strategically leaked to the Sunday papers, which led to
news stories in the dailies, and sparked debate across the nation.
Chris Evans’ Virgin Radio is one of the stations which refuses to play
Sir Cliff’s records. After Evans’ stinging on-air attack, Cliff’s many
fans were outraged. Mark Borkowski PR co-ordinated a picket outside
Virgin Radio in London, demanding an apology and airplay for Cliff’s
Now the campaign has taken on something of a life of its own. On Friday,
30 October BBC One took the unprecedented step of clearing four hours of
programming during the day, and dedicated a series of shows to Cliff,
described as ’one of the country’s greatest living music legends’.
The first single, Can’t Keep This Feeling In debuted in the national
charts at number ten and the album entered at number eight.
As a result of the campaign, Ladbrokes, the betting agency, have reduced
the odds of Sir Cliff’s next single being the 1998 Christmas number one
from 100-to-1, to 15-to-1, and the odds continue to fall.
In the war of words with Chris Evans, Sir Cliff has clearly come out the
victor, with columnists all over the country condemning the ginger one’s
This inspired campaign has revealed hitherto unknown depths of feeling
towards Sir Cliff which will have disc jockeys thinking twice before
they decide to lay into him again. Whether or not it will result in a
long-term change in public perception remains to be seen.
Obviously it has succeeded in winning radio play for his new record, and
in bringing the whole subject of ageism into the spotlight, and it
should ensure good sales for Sir Cliff’s new album.