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How to create an award-winning global PR campaign

In June this year Smarts Communicate, a Belfast-based public relations agency, scooped the best Global Public Relations Campaign award at the 2014 CIPR Excellence Awards for the campaign they have done for Bushmills Live.

We wanted to find out more about the process behind creating a successful global campaign. We got in touch with the winning team at Smarts Communicate and they shared five key points you must focus your attention on. What does it take to create an award-worthy public relations campaign that will generate global coverage?

Richard Nelson, Brand Communications Director at Smarts Communicate for CIPR International

''How to create an award-winning global PR campaign: SMARTS COMMUNICATE for ‘BUSHMILLS LIVE™’

SMARTS COMMUNICATE was asked the question: how can a small Irish Whiskey grab the attention of the world’s media?

Pictured at the CIPR Excellence Awards in London (from L-R) Andrew Hawkins, founder of award sponsor ComRes; Richard Nelson, Brand Communications Director at Smarts Communicate; Kerri Warnock, Senior Account Manager ; Andrew Campbell, Creative Director; Colin Corbridge, Account Director; and compere for the evening Jo Caulfield
Pictured at the CIPR Excellence Awards in London

We responded with an idea: by hosting a unique festival of handcrafted whiskey and music inside the famous Old Bushmills Distillery.

The success of ‘Bushmills Live 2013’ led to SMARTS COMMUNICATE picking up the award for Best Global Public Relations campaign at the CIPR Excellence Awards 2014. So how did a specialist PR and marketing agency that operates from its base in Northern Ireland put together an award-winning global PR campaign?

There are five key points that helped make our campaign a global success:


We positioned ‘Bushmills Live’ as a festival of friends - and friends help each other. Bushmills isn’t a brand with a big budget so we needed artists to perform because they wanted to, not because it promised huge financial rewards. We teamed up with a number of Northern Irish artists who shared an affinity with the brand and played a role in the rise of acts including Snow Patrol and Jake Bugg.

We then asked those individuals to invite their friends to come and play.


To get our ‘Bushmills Live’ stories to an international audience, we created a series of media assets (including press releases, video material, and images) and staggered their release.

Three months before ‘Bushmills Live’ took place we sent out a release to mark its launch and announce our headline act. In the weeks that followed we made further announcements of our second headline act and, later still, a full line-up release.

When the doors closed at the end of the festival, we created more opportunities to increase media engagement with three further releases: a post-event release with quotes from the artists; a release about an exclusive blend that was crafted for our headliners; and a final release about the Bushmills Legacy fund – a bursary we set up to help local musicians.


We planned our media activity to align with editorial calendar dates that would be most relevant to international media. For example, we launched ‘Bushmills Live’ on March 17 (St Patrick’s Day) – a time when media are actively looking for a credible Irish story.

Our artist announcements coincided with other major festival announcements, positioning ‘Bushmills Live’ as a quirky alternative to the mass-market music festivals.

‘Bushmills Live’ took a place a few weeks before Glastonbury and gave media access to artist interviews early on in the festival season.


We secured the attendance of +100 local and international media from a range of sectors including news, music, drinks, showbiz and lifestyle. We knew that we could gain greater traction with media if they could actually experience the festival first-hand.

We also supplied them with a wealth of traditional and digital content including filmed performances, artist interviews, guest reviews, a VIP tour of the distillery, backstage images, artist playlists and a festival highlights video.


We wanted ‘Bushmills Live’ to be more than a brand campaign and for it to have a genuine and positive impact on the music community.

We worked with Snow Patrol’s Gary Lightbody to establish a Legacy Fund, giving two artists a start in the music industry. Gary liked the proposal so much he matched the bursary with his own money, doubling the fund and strengthening the ties between the brand and the music industry.

The ‘Bushmills Live 2013’ campaign created stories, memories and friends and, in doing so, helped grow the Bushmills brand. We attained coverage in 30+ countries through +300,000 media articles and global sales of Bushmills grew by 13% in 2013 – more than any other Irish Whiskey.''

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