May the stunt be with you: Interview with Mark Terry-Lush

This week we speak to Honey partner and managing director, Mark Terry-Lush, to find out why Stormtroopers recently surfed the Severn Bore and why Darth Vader last week commandeered a lifeboat.

George Knight: Mark, tell us what’s been going on with these Star Wars stunts and your involvement?

Mark Terry-Lush: I’ve worked in the travel and tourism sector for many years and aside from my Honey day job I’m a director of Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Tourism, an association that promotes an area located in west Gloucestershire, south Herefordshire and across the Welsh border into Monmouthshire.

It’s hosted dozens of TV shows and movies shot on location including Atlantis, Captain America, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Merlin, King Arthur, Robin of Sherwood and The Huntsman.  More recently sequences from the Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens were shot at a picturesque place called Puzzlewood.

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Screen tourism is worth millions to the UK economy so to tap into it we came up with the idea of an online Film and TV Trail. VisitDeanWyeFilm.co.uk brings together all the locations, tells the production stories and allow visitors to understand and engage more deeply with the locations if they download maps to follow in the footsteps of the favourite screen characters.

George Knight: What was the ambition of the campaign and overall objective?

Mark Terry-Lush: The objective is to increase visitors to the Forest of Dean and Wye Value, to raise awareness of the destination as an amazing place to visit or take a holiday.  If you are a fan of any of the productions made in the area then there’s the added benefit of being able to follow in the footsteps of your on-screen heroes.

In the run up to the VisitDeanWyeFilm.co.uk launch, the activity promoted #DeanWye or the Association’s website. From the 16 December the focus switched to driving traffic to #DeanWyeFilm and the Trail website.The approach benefited the destination as a whole.

George Knight: How do you plan a campaign like this and make it cut through the general and more specific Star Wars media noise?

Mark Terry-Lush: I’m a huge Star Wars fan and knew the hype would be massive.  We could have launched at any time in 2015, but given Puzzlewood’s connection we planned to launch the trail website the day of the UK premiere, but create some hype in the run up.

I’ve worked as a newspaper photojournalist and know the power of pictures to convey a story, so we and the Association’s PR company, which worked closely with the picture desk at SWNS, came up with a series of photo-shoots and stories that were carefully managed to hit the media on specific dates.

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We knew there was three-star Severn Bore due end of November, the PR company sourced four real surfers, gave them morphsuits, hired a boat and a game photographer.  

The weather was on our side and the photos and video were awesome.  A media briefing was issued immediately directly to local and regional media, on the newswire, and via own social media channels – the story spread like wildfire.  There were several national UK newspapers, the BBC, ITV, Sky – then it went global to USA, Australia, South America and Asia.  Stage one got people talking about the Forest of Dean.

Stage two saw a more specific focus on the TV and Film Trail.  So we photographed Darth Vader and several Stormtroopers ‘arriving’ in the Forest of Dean on their way to Puzzlewood.  The shoot on a SARA Lifeboat was touch and go as weather conditions were terrible and all were thrown around in Force 5 heavy sea.

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These pictures were released in two stages: first the lifeboat photos of Darth Vader and his escort of Stormtroopers, followed a week later by the Puzzlewood pictures.  The former was a pure picture story, the latter supported an economic impact story.  We calculated that the screen tourism value of the Film and TV Trail could boost tourism by £35 million over five years.

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Video played an important role in traditional media and fuelling social.  The surfing Stormtroopers footage was picked up by the BBC, as was a ‘Coming Soon’ teaser.  The main feature, released on 16 December has already clocked up close to 30,000 views and has a call to action to direct viewers to the trail website.  

George Knight: Who are the mystery Stormtrooper surfers social media went crazy about?

Mark Terry-Lush: They are a group of four surfing friends from around Bristol.  The Association PR agency put a call out on social and they put their hands up to don morphsuits over their wetsuits and battle a three-star Severn Bore.

George Knight: So in your opinion what makes a great stunt?

Mark Terry-Lush: I am not a fan of one-off stunts.  Too much rests on a something that may not get picked up by the media in the way one intends, for a number of reasons.  We wanted to create a campaign that was meaningful, that made people ask ‘why?’, give us content to use over the long term and ensure valuable SEO links.

People buy entertainment, so you need to do something worth talking about, if you do, then people will.  When planning a stunt think about the audience, where they are, what will emotionally connect them with what you’re selling.

Approach it with a sense of theatre, be creative, think social-first – shareable video and photos, pithy and trenchant copy.  Be human, not a brand, think about what emotion you want people to feel.

On a more practical level, and it may sound obvious, but planning is critical.  There were so many people involved in this project, lots of moving parts from sourcing surfers and Star Wars characters, to booking photographers, video editing, lifeboats, copywriting and building the website.  

That was in parallel with a tight schedule to get the stories to the media in time for their deadlines, updates to the Association website, PPC planning and activation.  The devil was seriously in the detail.

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The Association is largely a voluntary board, they have day jobs running tourism businesses.  So we had to ensure spokespersons were available and briefed – we proactively set up and reactively shot half a dozen TV interviews and a dozen radio interviews.  To be on location at Puzzlewood, be in a studio or on the end of a landline puts demands on everyone.  Preparation was key.

Equally the demands on the social team at the peak of each story were intense.  Our proactive posting sparked the community manager’s reactive responses who needed to share, amplify, plus encourage stakeholders such as Association members, VisitEngland, VisitBritain, and The Cabinet Office to post original content and share ours with agreed hashtags.

Be adaptable. The media reacts to the news agenda and breaking opportunities, we had to be flexible and prepare to react, be tactical, and make the most of the material we created.

Lead with social. While traditional media is an important consideration when promoting the area and the new trail, social was our primary channel.  We got the greatest reach, the most engagement, and critically, the behaviour we wanted – to drive traffic to our websites and social channels.  

Think in detail about storylines for multiple media sectors – specialist and mainstream, consumer and trade, short and long-form social posts.  All of this has to be scoped, drafted, approved and then sold in at the right time.   

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George Knight: To round things up, just how successful was the launch of this campaign and what was the overall outcome?

Mark Terry-Lush: Actual and hard numbers will be revealed in due course, along with information about the impact on Association members.  Anecdotally it’s been a huge success: traditional media reach is in the millions, the social reach tens of millions and the videos have been viewed around 50,000 times.  But reach isn’t the best metric, influence and behaviour are.  Our target is screen tourists from overseas and within the UK, more critically did seeing our stories drive them to find out more from the main Association or trail website.

George Knight: Awesome, well that concludes this one-to-one with Mark. If you’d like to find out more about The Honey Partnership or speak to Mark himself you can find my email address below or contact Mark here.

Finally, may the force be with you and have a very Merry Christmas from all the Bees at The Honey Partnership.

Chris Adams
chris@makehoney.com