The National Year of Reading got off to a great start. I positively
loved the idea of Education Secretary David Blunkett handing out pounds
1,000 pounds worth of book tokens to all schools with 100 or more
pupils. While not a huge gift, the symbolism of book tokens is a PR
Blunkett could have come out and said he was investing millions of
pounds in books but instead, by giving pounds 1,000 in book tokens to
qualifying schools, he captured the imagination of news desks. It was
executed in a way that could not have been matched with a
straightforward ’investment in education’ story.
I was also impressed with the obvious dedication that went into the
planning of the campaign. For instance, persuading the EastEnders
producers to focus on the issue of literacy proved a tremendous boost to
the campaign, and there are similar plans for Channel 4’s Brookside.
The PR team should also target popular bands and Saturday morning
children’s TV shows. As the former host of the national children’s ITV
links, I know what a powerful influence children’s TV can be. I would
also encourage television and radio programmes to give away book tokens
rather than CD tokens as prizes.
Most importantly, I think the magazines which appeal to young people
should be encourage to run competitions to offer readers the chance to
win book tokens and feature interviews with their heroes on the
importance of reading. For example, I would sign up Michael Owen, the
Liverpool and England star, to spearhead the campaign.
The PR launch has been handled extremely well, but I hope it is not just
skin deep. I get the impression that Labour is very good at spinning,
but less effective at delivering. I really think that the campaign has
to focus much more on the high levels of illiteracy.
As well as offering book tokens to schools, the Government needs to
create a reading culture, and to do this it needs to follow through the
initial PR drive. It needs to get children back into libraries and to
encourage young families to think of books as a household essential.
Overall, thumbs up for an innovative and well-planned campaign, but
don’t forget the substance Mr Blunkett. Our schools are poorly funded.
Education in general needs more ideas like this.