CAMPAIGNS: Local Government - The Martian chronicled

Client: Woking Borough Council

Client: Woking Borough Council

PR Team: The Focus Group

Campaign: ’The Martian’ landing

Timing: April 1998

Budget: Under pounds 10,000

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of HG Wells’

landmark novel The War of the Worlds, Woking Borough Council

commissioned a sculpture called ’the Martian’.

Wells was born in the area and the unveiling was the culmination of

events organised by the council to celebrate his life. Cambridge-based

The Focus Group’s remit was to provide PR support for the unveiling of

the potentially controversial sculpture.


To handle the unveiling of The Martian public sculpture. To place Woking

Borough Council as a forward-thinking council and deflect potential

criticism of the project.


To heighten the anticipation of the launch, an embargo was placed on

showing pictures of the entire sculpture, but bits and pieces were

revealed to allow media ’exclusives’ and to create a sense of


A hotline was set up with a message explaining the project in detail,

and the telephone number was widely publicised.

To maximise exposure by appealing to different media, the agency decided

on two launches. The first was a ’Work in Progress’ launch held on 8


On this day all the pieces of the sculpture were brought together and

assembled on site - near Horsall Common, where the Martians land in

Wells’ book. For the first time it was photographed whole, and the

sculptor, Martin Condron, was there to put the finishing touches to the

work. At least five national television networks covered the event.

Two days later, the official launch took place in the evening, and TV

presenter Carol Vorderman gave a speech praising the sculpture. This

launch was designed to appeal to the local media and was attended by all

the stakeholders- the Mayor, local councillors, business people and


It was covered by BBC Southern Counties radio, in an hour long, live


The two main criticisms of public art tend to be that it is a waste of

taxpayers’ money, and that ’a child of three’ could have created the


In order to neutralise these misconceptions before they became part of

the story, the Focus Group distributed a brochure to the council

offices, the tourist information office and libraries which explained

the whole engineering process.

Prior to the unveiling, the Focus Group also prepared a brief, outlining

common questions asked about public art, and giving some answers which

would put a positive slant on the story. These were backed up by

statistics researched by the agency and went out to all members of the

council so that everyone could stay ’on message’.


Not only did the two launches receive a great deal of media coverage,

in-house evaluation reveals that 90 per cent of the coverage was


Coverage included BBC Breakfast News, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian

and the Independent.

Even BBC vox pops, featuring local residents were mostly positive and a

local medium claimed that HG Wells had been in touch to say he liked the


Following the success of this campaign, the Focus Group has started a

new service dedicated to handling public art projects for the



A well-planned campaign from a company with expertise in the field of

public art has certainly paid dividends for Woking Borough Council,

which was very happy with the results.

Justine Stevenson, editor of the Woking News and Mail said: ’The

sculpture was much better received than expected. There was caution at

the beginning, but once people had got to grips with it they did like

it. It’s made a big impact on the town.’

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