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When PR delivers a really good buzz

By Nicky Smith.

Generally speaking, it can be challenging to prove exactly what impact PR has on the bottom line, because it is part of many different marketing activities.

But an exception to this is the Adopt a Beehive scheme from the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA). A charitable scheme designed to raise money to protect the honey bee, this scheme is promoted solely through PR.

It was devised by us at Twelve for the BBKA (we’re keen beekeepers, check out https://www.twelvepr.co.uk/people/)  and is maintained solely through our activity.

We’re only paid a modest monthly retainer from the sponsorship we secured for the BBKA from Burt’s Bees, and all profits go to BBKA charitable funds.

Any sales are achieved solely through PR activity. To date around 10,000 people have supported the scheme, so how do we make it work?

We use a solid programme of media relations, linked very firmly to the natural seasons and calendar events, and a responsive, engaging dialogue on social media (Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.) We also produce leaflets which are handed out by the BBKA at events it attends.

That’s it. No point of sale, (I wish!) no above the line advertising, (once upon a time when budgets were bigger) and no influencer campaigns (just the natural champions we keep in touch with.)

Overcoming challenges

Even though the product is a charitable scheme, many media channels try to cut out the brand name from any copy they produce, a classic PR problem.

Our challenge is to get the Adopt a Beehive name included in any earned content. Everyone is happy to mention the BBKA but often too delicate to mention its charitable sales scheme, Adopt a Beehive.

Another challenge is to take ownership of the issue and the cause.

Many other environmental charities are campaigning in the bee space, and we’re all competing for your emotional and financial support.  What tugs on your heart strings most, plastic pollution in the ocean or pesticides polluting our pollinators?  It’s a crowded market.

Campaign strategies

To overcome this, we use beekeepers from the scheme for quotes; have created our own Awareness event, National Honey Week, and created an annual survey of beekeepers.  The survey focusses on something that no other creature on the entire planet can make for human consumption, honey.

We also hijacked an existing activity, which surprisingly isn’t organised by the BBKA, the National Honey Show, which takes place in the last weekend of October every year.

For the past eight years we’ve surveyed beekeepers to find out what their honey crop is like, to provide a media platform for National Honey Week, October 23 – 30.

However, most years the honey crop is just a little bit less than the previous year, which although is not great news, it isn’t actually “news.”

Having ‘average’ results is another classic PR problem.

How do you make the averagely normal into a news item? This year we planned ahead and used the following insight to give our press release much sturdier “PR legs”.

Content techniques

  • Nostalgia – that old chestnut.
  • Zeitgeist – tapping into a national mood and concern, about insects and nature.
  • Brexit – how do we compare with Europe, are we better, worse the same, different to them?
  • The little things that matter – people love the underdog and that includes the humble honey bee.
  • Town or country mouse – an ageless debate, which is better? Comparative figures.
  • Flipping expectations – the simple pleasure of a counter intuitive surprise.

Have a look at the press release here, you can tick off each of these approaches as you read it through.

Results

The honey survey was reported in 308 different media channels. It was featured on BBC Radio Four’s Today Programme with Martin Smith, a past President of the BBKA broadcast live on October 23rd, and was reported in every national newspaper either that day or later in the week.

Coverage continues to come in using the same press release, or asking for interviews inspired by it.

To date, sales for Adopt a Beehive are up 21 per cent year on year, jumping up from the end of October.  Nothing else happened at that time apart from our PR activity, so we have rare, absolute proof that PR alone can drive an increase in sales.

Nicky Smith is joint founding director of Twelve, an award-winning creative PR and digital agency based in the Cotswolds.

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