With the odds seemingly stacked against it, Channel 5 made a
surprisingly good job of its launch at BAFTA, says Martin Loat,
managing director of Propeller Marketing Communications
Channel 5’s task of visiting nearly 10 million UK homes to retune their
video recorders so that the new channel can go on air as planned in
January 1997 is a potential PR nightmare. The logistics are frightening,
the timeframe cruel and the security worries obvious.
But I like the way the PR team at Channel 5 has set about winning the PR
war. In contrast to the too little, too late, disjointed marketing
‘tactics’ of its biggest rival, ITV, Channel 5 is being bold and setting
out to turn a negative into a positive. Its fully integrated ‘Give me 5’
campaign is making a virtue of necessity and riding the retuning
bandwagon to create and control a positive vehicle.
About 50 hacks and opinion-formers beat a Tube strike and made it to
BAFTA for the launch a couple of weeks ago. I noticed that each row of
seats had been specially covered in a bright fabric mirroring the new
colour bar identity. This was a taste of the creativity, care and co-
ordination later revealed as Channel 5 executives unwrapped their plans.
I admired the disciplined integration of the creative theme: as well as
the seats, the posters, direct mail, press packs and even the slides all
sang from the same quasi-spectrum five-colour hymn sheet. No small
achievement as Channel 5 had managed to keep the new identity secret
before the launch, so giving us a nice surprise.
Besides the obvious awareness-raising messages, Channel 5 had also
pulled the stops out on security, roping in former Metropolitan Police
deputy commissioner Sir John Dellow to help draw up a code of conduct to
ease consumers’ fears. This paid off in the resulting press coverage
which largely laid off the ‘burglar’s charter’ scare story.
Journalists raised doubts over Channel 5’s ability to hit its 90 per
cent retuning target and launch on time, despite assurances to the
contrary from chief executive Ian Ritchie. He dodged questions about the
retuning programme costing more than the pounds 55 million budget, so
various figures were bandied about in the media coverage.
In contrast to the open tone of the launch, an earlier retuning test
exercise in Surrey had taken place on the quiet. When the news leaked,
feathers were ruffled as Channel 5 risked uncontrolled stories appearing
in the press. Channel 5’s PR people must urge management to learn from
these lessons. There will always be some negative coverage, but you
increase your chances of controlling it if you set an agenda and
maintain an open dialogue.
One final thought: the automated customer hotline - 0900 555 550 -
worked well when I tried it. But why couldn’t they give me that last