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Using the weather to get Scouting making news

13 January 2010

Simon Carter from The Scout Association explains how they used the snow-filled winter of 2010 to raise awareness of their brand

Each year The Scout Association runs a winter camp. Normally it’s a bit cold and frosty and lots of young people have a good time but it’s not really newsworthy. 2010 was different. If you were watching the news on Saturday the 9th January you could hardly miss us. 

So, what changed? How did this happen and why were the team able to get such great coverage? On Friday the 8th January it became clear that the UK was almost closed down. Thousands of schools were shut and business was suffering as staff failed to get to work. Here at the Scouts, we realised the media were running short of ideas. Journalists needed to put a new angle on the snow story.

Our media team saw an opportunity and went for it. Our annual winter camp for 2,500 young people was going ahead as planned and participants were attending from all over the UK. Getting people talking about the event would be a great way to build our brand and get Scouting noticed. All we had to do was generate some attention.

We had three things going for us: 

1. We had enough resources in one place.

Our media team members and youth participants were gathered together, allowing us to fully exploit the circumstances.

2. We had a fantastically well-organised and very visual event.

“Schools close but thousands of Scouts camp out in snow” seemed to surprise most journalists.

3. Our media contacts were likely to be receptive to the story.

After a fair few days of snow, not a lot else was going on. We knew that the snow had created a pretty unique set of circumstances. So, on Friday morning, after having taken the opportunity to go for it, we called our key media contacts and pitched the story hard. Some journalists told us the event wasn’t what they were looking for and that our camp would be cancelled. Others were surprised the event was still going ahead.

Our big breakthrough finally came when we got BBC Radio 4 interested. The Today programme wanted to run a piece on organisations that were refusing to let the snow stop their activities. Our event fitted their agenda perfectly. Initially they wanted to speak to Bear Grylls, but he was filming in the Sahara so that wasn’t an option.

Media coverage 

However, on Saturday morning, we quickly set them up an interview with the camp organiser. Within an hour of the programme, we had a series of broadcasters and newspapers sending journalists and photographers to the event – cited conveniently close to London – to gather the story. The BBC even sent an OB TV truck, a radio OB team and a helicopter! Whilst the media entourage were en route we were busy setting up guests, broadcast points and story lines.

What were the outcomes? Well, many and varied but we got some excellent TV coverage. The BBC reported the event 12 times on TV and included our story in the prime time early evening and late news slots. Better still, the Scout camp became the leading news item on the hour, every hour, for 6 hours back-to-back. Radio and print coverage soon followed, helping to build our adventure-based brand both locally and nationally. The best bit was the editorial in the Telegraph.

The worst bit? My feet have only just thawed out.

Photo: Tim Foster on Unsplash

Simon Carter

assistant director marketing and communications, The Scout Association