There are some media opportunities you just can’t buy. Last Thursday, at the launch of the National Lottery’s Euro-Millions game, Camelot spinmeister Mark Gallagher arrived with the first edition of the London Evening Standard and held up the front page: “&£50m Lottery Jackpot”.
It was the headline they all wanted. After several years of turmoil, National Lottery sales have been stable for three financial quarters. Euro-Millions should boost total income and the money for good causes. And such headlines can help create a climate in which journalists aren’t constantly prefacing references to the lottery with the words “after years of decline”. Camelot even managed to put a positive spin on the fact that EuroMillions will inevitably cannibalise the main Lotto draw, arguing that the lottery will be much healthier when Lotto only accounts for 50 per cent of sales, rather than the current 70 per cent.
The Standard headline reminded me of the famous e-mail from Jonathan Powell, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, to Alastair Campbell, revealed in evidence to the Hutton Inquiry: “Alastair, what will be the headline in the Standard on day of publication [of the weapons dossier]? What do we want it to be?”
It was, of course, “45 Minutes From Attack”.
The next day, The Express had the front-page headline: “Saddam can strike in 45 minutes”. The Sun splashed “He’s got ’em… Let’s get him”, and reported: “Iraqi forces can now launch an attack within 45 MINUTES of receiving orders.” Other papers had similar treatments.
As Downing Street acknowledged, capturing the front page of the Standard is every communications director’s dream. Not only can it be framed for the boss’s wall, but it often sets the agenda for that day’s broadcast bulletins and the next day’s papers. To that extent, it has a similar influence to Today on Radio 4 – and the reason is the same. Both outlets have a virtual monopoly of opinion-formers’ attention during their time slots. In this fragmenting media world, their share of voice is unrivalled.
However good its rivals, in terms of breakfast influence Today remains supreme for hitting opinion-formers in Westminster, Whitehall, Fleet Street and the City. And while several of the morning papers are highly influential, that is their problem – there are several of them. Apart from journalists, news-junkies and those with a cuttings service, not everyone reads The Times or The Guardian, the Telegraph or the Mail, The Independent or the FT – they read one or another. Yet every significant organisation in London gets the Standard’s early edition – and even if they don’t, their staff see the newsvendors’ placards.
Those headlines – “45 Minutes From Attack” and “&£50m Lottery Jackpot” – were plastered on mini-posters all over central London. Even if people didn’t buy the newspaper, the message hit home.
Such ubiquity can be priceless.
There was a second headline on the Standard’s front page last Thursday: “Johnny Walks Out Of The Jungle”, alongside a full length picture of Johnny Rotten (né Lydon).
No one needed telling which Johnny or which jungle.
ITV’s peak-time reality show I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here has surpassed even its most fervent supporters’ ambitions, averaging more than 10 million viewers a show and regularly hitting over 12 million. For the past fortnight, it too has been ubiquitous, its share of voice enormous – not just among opinion-formers but among the public at large. And this “fame you can’t buy” is bringing rich pickings to ITV and several of the participants.
When you think how success on the previous two series has boosted the advertising and broadcasting careers of Linda Barker (previously passed over by the BBC for top-billing as its makeover star), Phil Tufnell and Tony Blackburn, one can only imagine the deals Kerry McFadden, Jennie Bond, Jordan and Lord Brocket (and even Peter Andre) are about to be offered.
Max Clifford, who represents former Atomic Kitten McFadden, originally advised her not to do I’m a Celebrity… because everyone thought only sad people with fading careers went on the show. He admits he was wrong. She is now more widely known than she was as a pop star, and millions of people feel they really know her, having watched her for more than 20 hours on ITV (even longer if they’re ITV2 viewers).
Many others have got to know McFadden and her fellow celebrities – without being glued to the box. ITV has hijacked pages and pages of newspaper coverage, not just in the tabloids but in the broadsheets too. Teams of Fleet Street’s finest have been holed up in hotels near the sub-tropical rainforest, simply to keep the stories and pictures rolling day after day. Others have been glued to the output at home.
Of course, the prime lure for the tabloids was the unfeasibly inflated Jordan. But she too has shown us another side, in more ways than one, braving several unpleasant bush-tucker trials with an aplomb few would have suspected from her previous media appearances. Granada also got the rest of the casting right, tossing Lydon, Brocket and Andre into the mix, to ensure their star pin-up would generate sufficient sexual and social tension to last the fortnight.
For chief executive Charles Allen and the newly merged ITV, I’m A Celebrity… has been just the start they needed to keep advertisers happy and audiences absorbed. Like Camelot, ITV has been through several years of turmoil. Both are now hoping the good times are returning – and that their media coverage will improve too.
Torin Douglas is media correspondent for BBC News