Combating the Myths of Hoof & Mouth
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

Combating the Myths of Hoof & Mouth

With an understanding of Hoof & Mouth Disease and how its perceived health risks had affected the British tourism industry, the agency interpreted BTA and government-issued data, and instituted a responsive “Rapid Rebuttal” program.

Paul Holmes

GCI Group devised a strategic program for the British Tourist Authority (BTA), based on sound research and experience in U.S. and international media relations.  With an understanding of Hoof & Mouth Disease and how its perceived health risks had affected the British tourism industry, the agency interpreted BTA and government-issued data, and instituted a responsive “Rapid Rebuttal” program. 

The program was designed to alert select media to reports that had misstated the situation, and to counter these reports with fact-based responses.  Following GCI’s program implementation, declines in tourism began to level off, and a true understanding of the situation’s scope was evident in the content of news features, in broadcast, print and online placements. 

GCI’s contribution in telling “the Truth About Hoof & Mouth” made a marked improvement in Great Britain’s tourism outlook, which can be attributed to solid communications counsel, guidance on refining its online presence, and the effective management and diversion of unfounded negative reports. 


GCI Group was selected by British Tourist Authority (BTA) in the wake of the destination’s greatest tourism challenge in history: how would the nation revitalize tourism in light of the Hoof and Mouth crisis.  The agency identified its primary opportunity: to reshape media interest in Britain as a safe tourism destination.  Following the first report of Hoof and Mouth disease, Britain’s tourism industry suffered immediately and dramatically.  Supporting the crisis management activity of its lead account team in London, GCI’s New York media relations department launched an aggressive communications campaign targeting U.S. national print and broadcast media, designed to educate consumers and the trade, and ultimately to increase tourism.

Research and Planning

Prior to media outreach, GCI conducted a thorough evaluation of coverage to date, to best determine the most effective tactics for meeting its objectives. In addition to print and broadcast coverage, GCI conducted intensive monitoring of Internet chat rooms in key medical and travel sites to uncover any confusion or rumors surrounding the disease.  Through this process, GCI was able to construct messages that spoke both to the misconceptions of the press and to concerns of travellers.

Strategic Approach

This strategic media relations campaign was designed to reduce negative public opinion circulating among consumers and the trade, by reducing and eliminating inaccurate reports, and improving the overall content of coverage.  The primary approach was to balance proactive media relations with reactive response, given our concurrent goals:  to reverse inaccurate coverage and generate positive placements.

Campaign Execution

GCI spearheaded its U.S. media relations initiative by developing, collecting and managing materials that would best meet the needs of the media including: photography, video footage, fact sheets, local market messages, pitch letters and feature story angles.  GCI also sourced travel trade and medical community leaders as spokespeople.

Through aggressive media monitoring, GCI launched a “Rapid Rebuttal” program that enabled the team to respond immediately to media reporting negative or inaccurate coverage.  The system also provided a response mechanism to breaking news, and provided photography, video footage, fact sheets and spokesperson interviews.

The team developed “Best Deals” media program that targeted travel media over a four-week period with weekly compilation reports of the top UK travel deals, including low fares to London, and values in accommodations throughout the country.  Positive travel coverage was secured with NBC’s Today Show, ABC’s Good Morning America and National Public Radio, among other key outlets.

GCI conducted proactive media relations based on ongoing development and distribution of press releases and media alerts; local messages were developed and incorporated to strengthen placement in major U.S. markets and third-party spokespeople were identified and trained.

Story angles ranged from hard news such as “US and Canadian Delegates Agree Britain is Open and Safe,” to travel features such as “Leading Experts Share Summer Travel Tips & Trends,” to medical news such as “Top Medical Experts Available for Interview about Hoof and Mouth.”

GCI supported BTA marketing activity including the planning and hosting of a PR Summit for Britain tourism PR representatives.  The Summit explored promotional concepts to improve consumer perception and rebuild business for the 2001 summer/fall season.

Throughout the campaign, GCI provided BTA with communications perspectives concerning the Hoof & Mouth situation, evaluation of press coverage and the latest strategic direction to combat negative reports.

Results Highlights

The grid below plots the progressive decline in coverage about Hoof & Mouth disease, reflecting GCI’s success at minimizing the news and its ability to shift news coverage to the more positive benefits of travel to the U.K. 
Below are highlights of the positive coverage generated by GCI Group:
· The Today Show (NBC-TV) - Best travel values, cites Britain as key offering due to Hoof & Mouth, July 2, 2001
· Good Morning America (ABC-TV) - Summer Vacation Bargains, June 26, 2001
· “Nick Cannon Takes Over London” (Nickelodeon) - scheduled to air Spring 2002.
· WLS-TV Chicago (ABC-TV) - One last summer holiday:  London was never affected by FMD, Chicago to London with six nights accommodation is starting at $699, Aug. 10, 2001                 
· National Public Radio - Traveling to Britain, May 30, 2001
· Time - Winners and Losers, Toni Blair (Winner), May 14, 2001
· Newsweek - Periscope: Reality Check, Myth–and-Mouth Disease, May 7, 2001
· USA Today - Great Britain, open for business, offers great bargains, May 18, 2001
· The New York Times - A Specter Eases Its Grip in Britain, May 27, 2001
· Los Angeles Times - On a Budget; From Pestilence and Other Troubles Spring Fourth Discounts, May 13, 2001
· Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle - Travel Stats Might Save You, June 6, 2001
· Boston Herald - Top Hats and Tails – England’s royal Ascot is more than just horseplay, June 7, 2001
· Miami Herald - Travel to Britain is especially well priced, Aug. 14, 2001
· Chicago Tribune - Low prices luring fall travelers to Europe.  After last spring’s concerns with FMD, Britain is truly open for business, Aug. 19, 2001                                                                 
· Chicago Tribune - Live cattle were auctioned Monday in Britain for the first time in six months, raising some farmers’ hopes that the FMD epidemic may be disappearing, Aug. 21, 2001                                                             
· Los Angeles Times - Many footpaths in Britain closed earlier this year in fear that hikers would spread FMD. Most trails recently reopened, Aug. 26, 2001                                                                
· Chicago Tribune - Wales expected banner tourism year, but did not due to FMD.  Wales will survive FMD, as it has survived other obstacles throughout history, Aug. 26, 2001   

In addition to media coverage (and supplemental government funding to further the cause), following are significant benchmark achievements:
· Consumer response - mid-March, BTA call centers in New York, Madrid and Amsterdam reported that more than 50 % of public calls were concerning Hoof & Mouth.  By mid-May, this figure dropped to below 30%.
· Ambassador Endorsements – all participants in the World Travel Leaders’ Summit returned home to nations around the world committed to helping attract visitors back to Britain. 
· Visitor / Spending figures - International Passenger Survey statistics in spring 2001 show a drop in spending of overseas visitors during April and May of 16% and 22% less than 2000.  However, the level of decrease in leisure travel arrivals in Britain from overseas declined in May 2001 vs. April 2001, indicating moderate recovery by late May. 

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