Client: United Racecourses
PR Team: Craigie Taylor International
Campaign: Promotion of the 1996 Vodaphone Derby
Budget: pounds 75,000
Timescale: December 1995 to July 1996
A combination of inclement weather and the National Lottery meant a bad
year for bookies and racing in general in 1995. The Derby in particular
fared badly: a timing change from Wednesday to Saturday brought a slump
in attendance, a bad press and claims by opinion formers that the race
had slipped in popularity.
Newly appointed PR firm Craigie Taylor was brought in by organiser
United Racecourses to re-establish the Derby as the premier flat race.
Just to add to the challenge, the 1996 Derby date fell on the same
afternoon as England’s opening Euro 96 soccer fixture against
To fight back on behalf of Derby venue Epsom racecourse, recapture
public interest, increase crowds and television audience - while
addressing doubts among some Epsom officials that a non-racing
specialist PR agency could handle the job.
With so much stacked against the event, it was decided that everyone
with a vested interest - including the ad agency, client, market
researcher and Channel Four representatives - should sit on a strategic
committee to plan communication coverage.
On the ‘if you can’t beat them, join them’ principle, this team liaised
with the FA to co-promote England’s opening game alongside the Vodaphone
Derby. In addition, the event was rescheduled to 2.25pm to catch viewers
tuning in early for the football.
Key racing figures such as Frankie Detorri and Willy Carson and John
McCririck were employed to ‘talk up’ the race in a number of syndicated
radio interviews and a column for regional papers. Lester Piggott and
England footballer David Platt took part in staged photo opportunities
and a bevy of former racing greats attended the traditional jockeys’
dinner, turning it into a media event.
Despite the great Euro 96 conflict and the change of day, the gate was
up by nearly 4 per cent on 1995, providing the crowds on the Hill
crucial to a successful media profile. The media coverage also
increased. Jockey Frankie Detorri’s photoshoot alongside footballer
David Platt appeared in the tabloids plus Racing Post and Sporting Life.
Detorri was also featured on Channel Four’s The Big Breakfast.
The Jockey’s dinner, meanwhile, was covered by GMTV, Carlton’s London
Tonight, ITN and Sky.The syndicated column was taken up by 200 regional
newspapers and the syndicated radio interviews by more than 40 stations.
The Guardian, Saturday’s Times, the Spectator and The Field all ran what
the agency describes as ‘major’ features.
In view of the fact that the summer saw the British public whipped into
a footballing frenzy, the Derby was already at a disadvantage. So to
have increased attendance was an undoubted achievement.
‘There was an increase in the crowd,’ says Edward Gillespie, director of
racing at Epsom, ‘but what was generally appreciated by the racing
industry was the much higher awareness of the event.’ On the back of its
success, Craigie Taylor has just been retained to tackle next year’s
But what did the press think? According to Christopher Poole of the
Evening Standard, ‘Craigie Taylor put an enormous amount of work into
it. They no doubt got a fat fee - but they earned it.’
It will take more than one good media turnout to raise the Derby’s
profile to the level of its 1950s hey days, but without the distractions
of a major footballing event next year, the agency is well on the way to
securing a high profile niche for the new Saturday slot in the sporting