Sex and the City is the latest of Channel 4’s US imports. The
comedy features four thirty-something female New Yorkers, and was sure
to be popular with the key advertising target audience of 16- to
34-year-old audience. Channel 4’s press team worked to ensure that this
age group was targeted before the programme hit the screens on 3
To create a ’must-see’ show and to build Wednesday night as a ’viewing
The team began planning in November, by identifying opinion formers -
not only journalists, but those who set the agenda such as DJs Zoe Ball
and Chris Evans.
Once identified, these 40-odd individuals were sent tapes of Sex and the
City. The idea was to lead these people to believe that they were
receiving the tapes exclusively. The press office added to the intrigue
by informing recipients that the tapes were confidential and must not be
Naturally, the exact opposite happened, and it wasn’t long before pirate
copies were being made and circulated to friends - in short, a buzz was
being created around the show.
The media relations side of the campaign kicked in after this, with the
team now targeting opinion forming titles, such as the Face, Time Out,
the Sunday Times Culture supplement and various broadsheets and
mid-market tabloids. In addition, new entertainment magazine Heat was
targeted, as its launch was expected to attract a lot of attention.
Tracy Blacher, press officer at Channel 4 worked to get actress Sarah
Jessica Parker - who both stars in and produces the show - to be a part
of the publicity campaign. Blacher visited Parker’s personal publicist,
Ina Treciokas, and set about convincing her that it would be good for
Parker to raise her UK profile. Parker agreed to do interviews to
promote the series and also to appear in various glossy magazines.
Darren Star, the well-known executive producer and Candace Bushnell, on
whose book the series is based also made themselves available for the
To give the campaign a strong visual impact, an instantly recognisable
image featuring the show’s four stars was used in all publicity
The campaign snowballed beyond the targeted titles - all the nationals
covered the show extensively. The tabloids all ran double-page spreads,
with features along the lines of ’Sex and the City was my real life’ in
The broadsheets joined the melee, with full-page features on the show,
and Sarah Jessica Parker was featured in various magazines such as FHM
However, while the objective of getting the show talked about was well
and truly achieved, not all the talk was favourable. Perhaps it was that
the show didn’t live up to the hype, or maybe it was simply a media
backlash, but much of the coverage criticised the show for not being
true to life.
Unofficial figures for the first week showed some four million viewers
tuned in, which compared favourably with the five million who tune in to
ER on a regular basis.
Having the central figure of your sitcom being a journalist probably
doesn’t do any harm in getting the print media to write about it. That
said, the Sex and the City publicity campaign really captured the
imagination of the press which was simply overloaded with features
relating to the series. In fact, when the press had run out of comments
on the actual programme, it began to write about the publicity campaign
- surely a sign of success.
Client: Channel 4
Campaign: Sex and the City launch
PR Team: In-house
Timescale: November 1998 to February 1999