CAMPAIGNS: Whitbread sheds a bookish image - Sponsorship

The Whitbread Book of the Year award was first held in 1971. At the time it was relatively low-profile, but in the 28 years since, it has become a major event in the literary calendar.

The Whitbread Book of the Year award was first held in 1971. At the

time it was relatively low-profile, but in the 28 years since, it has

become a major event in the literary calendar.

By the late-1990s, however, the awards faced media criticism and were

fighting for media interest against more than 300 annual book prizes,

including high-profile newcomers like the Orange Prize.

Whitbread decided that if its project was to survive, let alone prosper,

it had to be made more relevant to the company’s ’contemporary leisure’

corporate image.

Karen Earl Limited, which has worked on the awards since 1995, set about

rejuvenating the sponsorship.


To win more positive media coverage for the awards. To create links

between the awards and various Whitbread brands. To exploit the

corporate hospitality opportunities presented by the awards.


Karen Earl planned to inject the awards with the embodiment of

Whitbread’s key business ideas of ’enjoyment, contemporary and leisure’.

The awards were rebranded the Whitbread Book Awards, and emphasised the

concept of ’enjoyable books’ rather than elitist ’literary’ tomes. The

strapline was rewritten to reflect this: ’Celebrating and enjoying the

best contemporary books’, and the new identity featured on all

awards-related material.

To reinforce the ’enjoyment’ theme, the judges were selected from a wide

variety of backgrounds, including newsreader Kirsty Young, children’s

presenter Floella Benjamin and Express editor Rosie Boycott. The judges

were encouraged to take up all media opportunities offered to them.

In the past, the awards had been criticised because there had been no

separate section for children’s books, so that it was very unlikely that

such a book could ever be the Book of the Year.

To counter this, an outright Children’s Book of the Year award was

devised for the 1998 awards, with a pounds 10,000 prize.

To launch the initiative, Karen Earl ran a nationwide competition to

select two schoolchildren to sit on a judging panel for children’s


The winners of this competition also won a prize of a lunch for their

whole class at a Pizza Hut restaurant - one of Whitbread’s brands.

The timetable of the awards was extended to allow for more media


It was also targeted to hit the headlines around October to December - a

critical book-buying time - to maximise benefits for the


Ever mindful of making the most of media opportunities, a broad,

celebrity-filled audience was invited to the ceremony, along with

editors, TV controllers and national diary editors.


The awards attracted a huge amount of media coverage, including front

page stories in the Guardian and the Daily Telegraph.

Of 623 cuttings anaylsed, only two contained negative comments.

Evaluation of the coverage is currently underway to analyse whether

Whitbread was mentioned as a leisure company rather than simply a

brewer, but these results are as yet unavailable.


A long sponsorship can go stale, but Karen Earl has done a good job

revitalising the Whitbread Book Awards. After 18 months of negotiations

with the BBC, the coverage of the awards ceremony on BBC2 is a huge

boost and put the awards up there with the Booker Prize.

Having such a timely winner in the late Ted Hughes’ Birthday Letters was

also a boost, providing the media with a multitude of angles to cover

the event.

Client: Whitbread

PR Team: Karen Earl Limited

Campaign: The Whitbread Book of the Year Awards

Timescale: February 1998 to February 1999

Budget: Undisclosed

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