CAMPAIGNS: Consumer PR - QBO breathes life into Y2K philately

Client: Royal Mail National (Stamps Marketing Division)

Client: Royal Mail National (Stamps Marketing Division)

PR Team: QBO

Campaign: Millennium stamps launch

Timescale: November 1998 ongoing

Budget: Undisclosed

Before millennium-hype took hold, the Royal Mail commissioned research

into how people wanted to commemorate the occasion. One-in-four

respondents said they would consider buying stamps as a keepsake.

In response, Royal Mail produced a millennium collection of 25 sets of

commemorative stamps. Each set celebrates major UK achievements over the

past 1,000 years in different sectors, including inventors and


The stamps were created by well-known British artists such as David


A new set of stamps will be issued every month throughout 1999, 2000 and



To generate awareness of each set of stamps and the collection as a

whole, and make them an essential way of marking and remembering


Strategy and Plan

The Quentin Bell Organisation (QBO) and Royal Mail launched the concept

of the millennium collection in November 1998. Actress Joanna Lumley, a

keen art collector, led the celebrity photocall, accompanied by 36

artists of 1999’s stamps.

The event took place on the Meridian Line at Greenwich Observatory,

which was featured on the first of the January stamps.

QBO set up a Talk Radio promotion on the Scott Chisholm Show, which ran

from November through to February. Each of Chisholm’s 12 one-hour

programmes focused on one of the stamp sets and relevant experts were

brought in to talk about the subject area.

For example, clockwork radio inventor Trevor Baylis discussed the

challenges he faced in bringing his invention to the market for the

’inventors collection’.

A competition to win the set was incorporated into the show and response

data was fed through to Royal Mail for fulfilment of requests for


For added media interest, research was commissioned to ask the public

who were considered the most influential figures of the past 1,000

years, and what people were planning to do on New Year’s Eve. The study

was used to generate extra stories.

In January, Tomorrow’s World presenter Phillipa Forrester fronted the

launch of the inventors set. Research on travel in the 21st century was

used to launch the traveller’s collection in February. Since then, QBO

and Royal Mail have launched stamp sets covering patients, settlers,

workers and entertainers.

Measurement and evaluation

BBC Radio Five Live, Classic FM and a host of regional radio stations

covered the story. Talk Radio’s competition generated 2,000


Mantra evaluated coverage from the initial launch, using a system based

on position of editorial, key messages and cost of advertising. It

showed a good return on PR spend.

The Times, Mirror, Express, Evening Standard, Saturday Times magazine

and Daily Mail are among the newspapers in QBO’s cuttings book.

Research agency RSL Capibus recorded an awareness level of 18 per cent

before the radio campaign and 56 per cent after. As QBO’s campaign is

just one part of an integrated advertising, sales promotion and direct

marketing effort it is, as ever, difficult to evaluate the impact of the

PR alone.


The two-pronged approach of publicising the collection as a whole while

tackling each set in a new way has kept the subject alive for


By focusing on newsworthy stamp sets and running promotional campaigns

rather than just sending out updated press releases each month, QBO also

avoided overkill with journalists in the first months of the


It remains to be seen whether the stamps will sustain media and public

interest through the rest of this year and the next two, or will be lost

in the clamour of millennium fever, and possible millennium fatigue.

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