PR Case Study: London’s Burning
When creative production company Artichoke wanted to raise the profile of the London’s Burning festival, as part of the commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London, Flint was brought in to manage a wave of activity across London, including an interactive ‘fire garden’ and a 5.5km ‘Domino run’ run through the City, which culminated with a 120-metre long wooden sculpture of 17th century London set alight on The Thames.
Campaign: London’s Burning PR Team: Flint Client: Artichoke Trust Budget: £10,000 Timing: September 2016
In the summer of 2016, Flint secured a brief from Artichoke, a registered charity and a leading UK creative production company specialising in spectacular large-scale public art initiatives, to manage the promotion of London’s Burning, a week-long festival of contemporary art installations and events taking place across the City, Southbank and Bankside as part of the commemoration of the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London (Great Fire 350).
The London’s Burning festival programme was as diverse as it was ambitious, including a 6-hour underwater performance – installation in Broadgate, an interactive ‘fire garden’ created in the grounds of Tate Modern, a kinetic sculpture comprising 26,000 breeze blocks, over 300 volunteers and a 5.5km ‘Domino run’ run through the City, and large scale video projections on the National Theatre and St. Paul’s Cathedral. The festival concluded with the design, construction and symbolic burning of a 120m long wooden representation of London’s 17th century skyline (London 1666) in front of a live audience of 50,000 spectators.
Flint was tasked with engaging multiple, disparate and hard-to-reach audiences with the London’s Burning festival in the context of the Great Fire 350 anniversary. Artichoke required a multi-channel press campaign that would secure local, regional, national and international media interest and, in turn, drive active public participation throughout the week-long festival programme. The campaign needed to articulate the client’s particular creative vision, conveying the enduring influence of a 350-year-old disaster on the contemporary architecture, outlook and infrastructure of the City of London, while also interrogating issues of resurgence and resilience that continue to concern cities across the world today. Further, in the context of the client’s 10 year anniversary, Flint was charged with affirming Artichoke’s world-leading reputation for delivering ‘extraordinary moments that disrupt the everyday’.
With a challenging six-week campaign term, Flint’s London team structured a tightly focused comms strategy around:
- A press conference and festival launch event held in one of the capital’s oldest surviving pubs, bringing the world’s media into the historic heart of the City of London where the Great Fire had raged.
- An extensive portfolio of sector and audience-specific editorial concepts developed around the festival’s varied programme, delivering multi-channel press exposure and audience engagement across a broad demographic spectrum.
- Five site-specific photo-calls at London venues, including St Paul’s Cathedral, Tate Modern, the National Theatre and Broadgate Circus scheduled throughout the festival week to deliver daily new image assets and coverage opportunities.
- Developing a suite of rich promotional assets, ranging from artist and client comment pieces, behind-the-scenes media access and exclusive editorial, image banks and B-roll.
- A live-stream of the concluding burn event presented by Lauren Laverne commissioned by The Space in conjunction with more than 40 photographers and broadcast media crews secured to film from the banks of the Thames.
- Developing a compelling narrative around the educational outreach, skills training and volunteering elements of the London 1666 programme, whilst purposefully holding back from the media key details of the final burn in order to build a sense of expectation, excitement and surprise.
The PR brief for the London’s Burning festival posed a number of significant operational challenges, ranging from an uncomfortably tight six-week lead time, a seven-day event programme delivered across multiple venues, over 30 individual stakeholders ranging from the City of London Corporation, London & Partners, Arts Council England and British Land, to the Museum of London, Fuller’s and the London Fire Brigade. the requirement to engage a large number of volunteers around an ambitiously creative public arts programme and the burning of a 120 metre long wooden sculpture in the heart of the UK’s busiest metropolitan centre.
The PR strategy devised and directed by Flint working in close collaboration with Artichoke overcame these many obstacles to deliver a resoundingly successful campaign.
Key highlights included:
- Successful public engagement that helped secure over 300 volunteers for the Dominoes installation in conjunction with Team London, and raised awareness of over 700 young Londoners who participated in the London 1666 project from school workshops to those who received an introduction to the construction and creative industries including the opportunity to gain a CSCS certificate and further employment qualifications.
- The delivery of key messaging relating to the contemporary relevance of the project, ranging from The Independent’s “Parallels with the effects of disaster today are highlighted by London’s Burning, a six day festival of arts and ideas by the creative company Artichoke” to “What might strike many people are the parallels that Artichoke’s festival draws with the effects of disaster today” in the London Evening Standard.
- Over 50,000 spectators attended the concluding London 1666 burn event, with a further online audience in excess of 1 million live viewers, with total viewing figures currently standing at 6.5 million views.
- 152 items of international press coverage took the London’s Burning message to 25 different countries as far afield as India, Malaysia, New Zealand, China, Russia and the US.
- Coverage in every UK national newspaper, with 55 individual national newspaper articles.
- 39 items of broadcast coverage including Sky, BBC Breakfast, ITV News at Ten and BBC World Service.
- 48 affiliated and agency photographers attending 5 photocalls, with London’s Burning picture stories running on four consecutive days in The Times and two separate ‘Picture of the Day’ features in The Telegraph.
- Coverage in 25 specialist art publications, with the festival also featured in mainstream and further specialist sectors including news, design, architecture, current affairs, lifestyle, travel and comment media.
On the Monday morning following the dramatic conclusion to the London’s Burning festival, with the majestic London 1666 sculpture reduced to little more than a pile of smouldering ashes, Flint’s account team woke up to London’s Burning news stories running on front pages the world over, emphatic proof that the campaign had successfully conveyed their client’s vision for the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of London to a genuinely global audience.