CAMPAIGNS: Novel tactics for book award - Media Relations

Britain’s biggest cash prize for fiction is surrounded by controversy, and PR agency Powerhouse used it to help promote this year’s Orange Prize for Fiction.

Britain’s biggest cash prize for fiction is surrounded by

controversy, and PR agency Powerhouse used it to help promote this

year’s Orange Prize for Fiction.

Harriet Hastings, Powerhouse’s deputy managing director, used a team of

three, a long campaign and inventive publicity stunts for the pounds

30,000 competition - which was heavily criticised for outlawing male

novelists when it was launched last year.


To raise awareness and prestige of the award, the six shortlisted

authors and women’s fiction; project the Orange name and its sponsorship

of the award; develop wider coverage for the prize and the activities

the prize is involved with.


Competition press releases went out at the time of the Booker Prize last

autumn, and the first shortlist of 20 writers was drawn up at March’s

London International Bookfair. ’Piggybacking’ on those events

capitalised on media spin-offs and gave a powerful start to the


Debates on women’s fiction in Oxford, Cambridge and London’s Bloomsbury

Theatre in May kept the prize in the headlines and ensured it reached a

student audience. ’We went further than traditional promotion through

the arts pages, and running live events was a unique approach,’ says


At the same time Powerhouse promoted the Orange Prize web site, and

attracted another new audience: computer boffins.

The final shortlist of six writers, published on 16 May, was used to

give extra momentum to the campaign. It was highly controversial - none

on the authors on the shortlist were English and the judges’ chairwoman

said British writers were parochial. Hastings says that Powerhouse used

this controversy to push for extra coverage and to give a higher profile

to the competition.

The campaign was rounded off by the presentation of the award on 4


Some 400 top literary figures descended on Whitehall Place in


A televised interview with the Canadian winner, Anne Michaels, author of

Fugitive Pieces, received international coverage.


The competition was a media hit with 72 articles in the national press,

including the Guardian, the Times, the Daily Telegraph and a Private Eye


Orange media evaluation claimed the potential audience for coverage in

national , regional, consumer and trade press was over 90 million.

Broadcast coverage included Sky, BBC 1 and Radios 3, 4 and 5 Live.

Stories on the pages of the New York Times and Newsweek, as well as

Australian and Canadian broadcasts, gave Orange wide overseas


Coverage went into cyberspace through Vogue On-Line, and the Internet



Although Orange used controversy to trigger more publicity, sponsorship

manager Peter Raymond insisted the campaign also succeeded in

highlighting the inequality of a male-dominated fiction market. ’We were

not put off because women are potentially half our market and our PR

brief was to highlight this inequality successfully.’

Powerhouse’s Hastings agrees: ’Orange not only has the profile and

prestige that ensures nobody can ignore it. After only two years it is

one of the three biggest literary awards, along with the Whitbread and

the Booker.

’Nobody questions whether there should be an Orange Prize for


’Orange must be delighted, it achieved a fantastic amount of column

inches in the press,’ says Nigel Reynolds, the Daily Telegraph’s arts

correspondent. ’I did not feel the omnipresence of the PR campaign,

although Powerhouse encouraged controversy by suggesting I speak to the

judges’ chairwoman. The campaign has probably raised the Orange profile

among the middle classes and women.’

Client: Orange Personal Communications Services

PR Team: Powerhouse

Campaign: Promoting The Orange Prize for Fiction for women novelists

Timescale: Autumn 1996 through to award presentation on 4 June 1997

Cost: Undisclosed

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