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Case Studies


‘Wasted Youth’ PR campaign with Pete Doherty

‘Wasted Youth’ PR campaign with Pete Doherty

Best practice from Unity. This campaign was a finalist in the Commercial Communications Innovation category at the 2008 Media Guardian Innovation Awards, and has been short listed for the 2008 CIPR awards in the events category.


Unity friend, Dan Fulvio, tragically lost his brother to suicide on Xmas eve, 2006.

In the aftermath, Dan was shocked to discover that suicide was the biggest killer of young men in the UK, and subsequently set-up Wasted Youth – and approached Unity - to expose this great British taboo.

He planned to do so via a benefit gig at Koko, Camden designed to raise money for a helpline for CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably).

Campaign strategy and tactics

Lack of communication is a key factor behind the high incidence of young male suicide so the aim was to get lads to realise that talking about their problems eases the burden, and to make parents and friends aware of the risks and warning signs. This was distilled into a key campaign message: being silent isn’t strong.

We knew that by itself the Koko gig was unlikely to raise mass awareness, and that in order to influence this cynical, savvy audience, we needed to challenge the status quo. So we decided to take the theme of music (strategically relevant as self-expression is so key) and apply it to a place of high suicide – namely prison - where inmates are five times more likely to take their own life.

We staged a highly innovative, Johnny Cash-style gig at Pentonville (first ever rock gig in a UK prison). Prison symbolised the demographic most vulnerable to suicide and, hot on the heels of Walk the Line’s box office smash and Oscar wins, Cash was very much in the nation’s consciousness.

As one of the most original and exclusive gigs in British history (you had to be in prison to attend), the event generated incredible attention among the media and public, promoting ticket sales for the Koko gig.

The initial plan was to use Babyshambles as Pete Doherty is a key emblem of disenfranchised youth who’d also served time in Pentonville.

Furthermore, bassist Drew McConnell lost his brother to suicide, as did Stephen Street, producer of their latest album, meaning we could retaliate against middle England who were bound to protest, and in doing so further strike a cord with our young audience.

But first we had to get the prison service to agree to the event – no small task! Whilst the prisons completely bought into the cause, a major sticking point was Doherty. The issue ended up on Jack Straw’s desk before Babyshambles were vetoed.

Instead, book-ending the most vulnerable age-group, Pete’s ex-Libertines band-mates Dirty Pretty Things, along with The Enemy, were finally persuaded to play Pentonville.

And when Pete was arrested three days before the gig, Unity connected the dots through the media and predicted a chance Libertines reunion ‘inside’, generating an even-greater buzz.

The venue itself presented serious logistical challenges. We had to work within constraints of unprecedented complexity. Aside from stringent security checks (every single pencil and spare guitar string had to be logged two days in advance), we were permitted only a handful of staff, extremely limited press passes, and highly restricted photography and filming.

With mobile phones prohibited, everyone (including journalists) had to be briefed in advance; there was no room for error.

Classic media relations aside, this younger audience is far more likely to trust content that comes from peers. To this end, we knew the net would play a pivotal role. MySpace, Facebook and Bebo communities were created - including an ‘I’ve been touched by suicide’ Facebook group - and directly involving around 5,000 individuals.

A viral film was also placed on YouTube and seeded within online media and social networking sites. Blogs where also targeted and we made maximum use of the artists own fansites.

Results and evaluation

A post-gig poll showed that one in three (31%) of young men were aware of the campaign and knew that suicide was the biggest killer of their generation (YouGov).

Other results: Koko gig sold out, 65% of coverage mentioned Koko gig, 50% mentioned suicide as major killer of young men, increase of 90% to CALM website, documentaries aired on MTV and Radio1, 126 pieces of coverage within three-weeks, YouTube film received 14,000 views, and online/mobile content for Orange and ITV reached 4 million users

By generating awareness amongst 1 in 3 of our target audience, we made a giant stride towards breaking the silence: a 90% increase in traffic to CALM’s website is equivalent to a 90% increase in the number of young people reaching out for a lifeline when
they most need it.

Moreover, by selling out Koko, we raised almost 30% more money than was planned, and helped CALM to get their helpline up and running.

In terms of learnings, the pain of running an event in such a challenging location has made subsequent events seem simple. It also showed us that contrary to belief, broadcasters are willing to pay for content if it truly is extraordinary, meaning tight budgets can be stretched.

We came across so many barriers with this campaign but refused to give up because we knew what it could be. We always use this as a reference now when the going gets tough and something seems impossible.


There was no budget/fees at all for this campaign so we selected it as our annual pro bono project and covered costs by selling exclusive footage to ITV and Orange.

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