Client: Nissan Motor Manufacturing
PR team: In-house and Bulletin
Campaign: Announcement of plan to build new model at its Sunderland
Timsecale: January 1997
Cost: approx. pounds 5,000
Nissan was the first Japanese car manufacturer to build in the UK when
it opened its Sunderland plant in 1986. The Micra and Primera are
currently made at Sunderland which produced 231,000 cars last year, more
than 70 per cent of which were exported. Around 4,800 are employed in
the North East and the company also has a design and development centre
at Cranfield in the Midlands and a headquarters in Rickmansworth.
Before Christmas Sunderland learnt it had been chosen to build a third
model, the successor to the Almera, in a pounds 215 million investment,
creating 800 new jobs.
The week before Nissan made its announcement, news came that Ford was to
cut production at its Halewood plant leading to job losses.
To avoid leaks at the plant, and to brief staff before there was any
speculation in the media. To make an announcement in a very controlled
way on 21 January and to get maximum exposure for the message that jobs
would be created not only in Sunderland but also in the North East and
across Europe because of the knock-on effect on the components
Work on the announcement began in-house two weeks before the
announcement date. Face-to-face cascading was used to communicate the
news to staff who were informed at 4.45pm on 20 January, just before the
end of the day shift and start of the night shift.
Bulletin International was hired to maximise TV and radio coverage and
recommended that key personnel should be ready for interview at 6am on
announcement day. It contacted key TV targets and tried to convince them
that it had a story that would merit an interview, although it could not
give any details. BBC Business Breakfast was the first target.
Four main spokespeople were groomed for interviews. Chief executive Ian
Gibson was stationed in London, the deputy MD in Sunderland, director of
corporate affairs Daniel Ward at Bulletin’s ISDN studio for radio
interviews, and another spokesman at Cranfield. Ford’s announcement
meant that spokespeople had, in particular, to be briefed to explain how
Nissan was able to create jobs while Ford was cutting them.
Garel Rhys, professor of motor industry economics at Cardiff Business
School and an industry guru, was also briefed in case the media asked
him for comment. Background footage of the plant was also prepared.
The print media was handled by in-house press officers who telephoned 25
key correspondents at home at around 8am on 21 January to invite them to
a press conference in London at 10.30. News editors were faxed a press
release. A separate release was sent to media in the North East.
The first interview went on air as the lead story on BBC Business
Breakfast, giving momentum to the whole day. Gibson did ten TV
interviews and two radio interviews in his media tour. By 8.10am Ward
had conducted 11 radio interviews.
Locally, the BBC sent a crew to the Sunderland plant at 8.30am and by
1pm was still doing vox pops on the production line - the staff briefing
the previous day really paying off. About 20 journalists and five news
crews attended the press conference.
Coverage continued throughout the day with TV coverage totalled one
hour, 20 minutes with 29 national and 13 regional reports. The footage
provided meant that many reports ran to several minutes rather than just
brief announcements. Radio coverage totalled one hour, 30 minutes with
31 reports including the Today programme and Radio 5 Midday with Mair
and Financial World Tonight.
Print coverage was extensive with editorials questioning whether
government grants were necessary at Halewood when Sunderland had
attracted investment without any grants.
’This was the smoothest announcement I’ve ever done,’ says Ward. ’We
maximised the coverage we could get and did a very good job of making it
a story for Sunderland and the North East, and for the UK and Europe
because of the jobs created.’
There were no leaks and because staff were briefed before the media got
hold of the story they were able to present a well-informed and
enthusiastic face to the media. By being prepared to start early Nissan
was able to set the news agenda for the day.
Bulletin says it did not play on the Ford story because it felt it was
unprofessional, but the timing of Nissan’s announcement so soon after
Ford’s negative UK story definitely increased the impact.