The Marine Conservation Society wanted better media coverage of the launch of its 17th annual Good Beach Guide. With limited resources, it devised a more focused strategy than in previous years. Although the number of hits to its website has not increased greatly, the charity succeeded in getting a wide range of stories on TV and in the press.
The Good Beach Guide is one of the UK's most authoritative beach award schemes, along with the Blue Flag, the Seaside Award and the Green Coast Award. It is also the charity's biggest annual publication, providing information on water quality and sewage discharges at 1,000 British beaches.
Only those complying with standards set by the EU Bathing Water Directive are recommended.
This year, the guide includes information on 453 out of the 800 beaches that were monitored between May and September 2003 by various national and regional environment agencies across the UK, including the Environment Agency and the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. It was launched on 28 May, with sponsorship from The Crown Estate for the fourth consecutive year and, for the first time, from Project Aware, which is run by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors to raise awareness of the problems facing marine and freshwater ecosystems.
How the campaign worked
The charity had no budget for an official launch, photography or advertising, and the promotion of the guide was organised in-house.
To broaden press coverage, the charity used PR Newswire, an online media database. Media briefings were emailed to mainstream newspapers and lifestyle magazines in order to reach travel agencies, day trippers, families and water-sports enthusiasts.
Russell Amerasekera, presenter of BBC 1 programme Perfect Holiday, was judged to be the ideal figure to appeal to the target audience and was asked to act as the campaign's spokesperson at the launch. "It is a fantastic resource for anyone considering a beach holiday in the UK," he said.
The Marine Conservation Society estimated that the campaign benefited from £200,000-worth of advertising and editorial coverage in the press, and many times that amount on prime-time national television programmes such as GMTV and BBC Breakfast.
The Good Beach Guide's website received 1,500 hits per day in June and 1,200 in July, compared with 1,023 and 1,151 for the same periods last year.
The guide highlighted massive improvement in water quality in Scotland, and its reputation as a reliable reference was confirmed when Allan Wilson, Scotland's Deputy Minister for the Environment and Rural Development, said in a statement: "I am delighted that the Marine Conservation Society has recognised our best-ever set of bathing water results. I also welcome its comments on the positive contribution that investment in our water industry has made to water quality".
The charity hopes that next year's campaign will attract £70,000 in sponsorship on top of the support it receives from The Crown Estate each year.
This year's grant from Project Aware of £4,500 paid for the production of 6,500 copies of the guide. Around 3,000 have been distributed so far.
The bulk of them were sent out to tourist information centres, local councils, and sailing and diving clubs.
The guide is available as a free booklet by sending a 60p stamped addressed envelope to the Marine Conservation Society or from www.goodbeachguide.co.uk.