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Ancestry.co.uk PR awareness raising campaign

Ancestry.co.uk PR awareness raising campaign

Best Practice from Band & Brown Communications.

Background

The ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ phenomenon and the proliferation of online family history websites has brought family tree research to the masses and is rapidly turning ‘discovering your roots’ into a national obsession.

In the vanguard of the rapidly growing online family history industry is Ancestry.co.uk, Britain’s leading family and social history site. With more than 200,000 members nationwide and millions of visitors every month, Ancestry.co.uk provides access to more than 820 million names in historic record collections, including census data, parish and military records.

In a multi-million pound deal in early 2009 Ancestry.co.uk acquired exclusive rights to publish the London Metropolitan Archives, a unique collection of records detailing over 400 years of London’s history. Ancestry.co.uk tasked its UK PR agency Band & Brown Communications with unveiling this historic collection to the public. 

Objectives

- Raise awareness of the online launch of the London Metropolitan Archives at Ancestry.co.uk, maximising exposure across print and broadcast media
- Drive daily visits to Ancestry.co.uk to view the collection and other records. And increase revenue by generating subscriptions
- Reinforce the status of Ancestry.co.uk as Britain’s leading family and social history website
- Use the collection to stoke public intrigue and interest in family history research in general

Strategy and implementation

The launch strategy was to build broad interest in the collection by demonstrating to millions of people across the world their own personal connections within it and using revealing and engaging facts from the records to tap into London’s universal appeal.

By mining thousands of existing family trees and pulling out links with the collection, the team was able to prove that more that one in two Brits and 135 million people in other parts of the globe could trace a relative within the collection.

The team also plucked a series of colourful facts from the records revealing fascinating historical insights about the city, including the harsh practices of 19th Century workhouses and the weird and wonderful contents of diverse documents including Victorian school records and ‘Diocesan Divorce Exhibita’.

Research also identified famous and infamous names within the records, such as Samuel Pepys, John Milton and Oliver Cromwell as well as tracing the ancestors of modern-day celebrities, including Britney Spears’ Tottenham-based great grandparents and the great-great-great grandparents of David Beckham and JK Rowling.

Band & Brown decided that a launch event would create the greatest impact and the historic Guildhall Crypts in the City, the home of the original records, made the perfect venue. All of the information was packaged up into a launch release which was distributed, along with event invitations, to more than two hundred national print and broadcast journalists and stakeholder groups.

In addition, the team developed a London themed ‘teaser’ - a Hessian sack containing a map of the city from 1644, copies of Samuel Pepys diary and a jar of jellied eels which was distributed to key journalists to whet their appetites a week in advance of the launch.

The launch event itself was anchored by Tony Robinson, TV historian and keen family history enthusiast, who was able to unveil the records on the day and field a series of print and broadcast interviews.

Measurement & Evaluation

The ‘teaser’ approach proved to be very successful and the event was attended by more than thirty journalists, including The Independent, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, BBC London and ITV London and forty stakeholder organisations including the Society of Genealogists and a number of university history departments.

In total, 108 pieces of coverage were secured, including full or half page spreads in The Independent, Daily Mail, Evening Standard, Telegraph, Daily Express, Daily Star and London Lite. Press Association syndication and tailored releases also generated extensive coverage across regional media. 

More than 25 broadcast pieces were also secured, including BBC London TV, ITV London Tonight and the Robert Elms radio show on BBC London.  The story was also covered in 40 online news portals and widely discussed on genealogy blogs and forums. 95 per cent of coverage included at least one link to Ancestry.co.uk.

Results

The campaign led directly to a 30 per cent increase in traffic at Ancestry.co.uk and a 57 per cent uplift in new membership over the two weeks following launch, generating more than £100,000 in subscription revenue. For every £1 spent on PR, the campaign secured £160 worth of editorial coverage and reached 4,050 people.

AJR
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