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
’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