CAMPAIGNS: SPORT; The Derby gets a dose of salts

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

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

Switzerland.



Objectives



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.



Tactics



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.



Results



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.



Verdict



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

event.



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

calendar.



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