A serene scene of a golden retriever lying down on the soft grass.
By Steph Jones

Creating a topic that trends

September 13th, 2022
5 min read

The holy grail for many of us working in PR or marketing is to create a trending topic; even better to create a trending topic from scratch.

But how do you create a long-term trending topic from nothing, make that topic educational, deliver the news across all media and social channels, and drive millions of website visits?

The simple answer is research, media knowledge, using experts and constantly looking for new angles, but will always be a constantly moving feast.

How do we know this? Well, we’ve done this on more than one occasion and often on complex and emotive subjects.

Choosing a subject to trend

And there’s no more emotive subject to many people than pets, so when a vet, who worked within the Vets4Pets group, showed concern about an illness that had sadly killed a few of dogs in Hampshire, he and the group approached us to help raise awareness of it to both dog owners and vets.

The disease was given the name Alabama Rot, a phrase coined in the US where the condition was first recognised in the 1980s.

It only affected greyhounds in America, but in the UK, it had affected three different breeds, which is why the vet, and a colleague from Vets4Pets wanted to share concerns to the wider public and veterinary profession.

The biggest hurdle initially was concern around causing scaremongering, and this helped set the stall out for all activity – be educational, be caring, be factual and avoiding scaremongering.

The agreement in place with the vet was that no cases would be confirmed unless they had gone through specific lab tests. It would help avoid scaremongering and set a stall out of refuting any claims of cases that were being made by dog owners or sometimes vets.

Research is key

Researching the subject was vital, to ensure we knew almost as much as the vet, before we could deliver a campaign.

Initially we used digital, social media and consumer PR to raise awareness, including the creation of a live interactive map on the Vets4Pets website, so pet owners could see if there were recorded cases in their area, and share on social channels.

There was also a step through guide on the web page to ensure people knew all the details of the illness, where cases were and what the possibilities were of a dog catching it.

All social and media activity directed people to the website and the messaging within all content always played down the chances of a dog being impacted by Alabama Rot.

Initially the activity was regionally based around confirmed cases, but as our work drove the messaging further and wider, it helped to confirm further cases of dog deaths attributed to Alabama Rot, that might have previously put down as other causes of death.

Persistence across all media content, managing the map, achieving organic social media through announcements of new cases, enabled Vets4Pets and the two vets to become the voices of authority on this emerging illness, and raise awareness of this deadly disease amongst pet owners. Importantly both vets were media trained prior to any interviews.

We constantly engaged the likes of the BBC, The Times, Telegraph, Daily Mail, Sky, Channel 4, as well as a myriad of regional media.

The results

The success was so strong for the brand we achieved approximately 40-50 broadcast media interviews every year and millions of views of the interactive map originating from both social and media coverage.

In addition to the sustained activity using social, digital, print, online and broadcast media, we produced webinars and eMarketing activity.

Simultaneously, we built up working partnerships with likes of the Countryside Alliance, local MPs, the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), pet insurers, dog owners and vets to promote awareness and support research.

We regularly provided content and experts for interviews on TV and radio news, particularly BBC, supported by highly engaged social content, delivering traffic of more than four million to a specific website page.

After two years we organised the first Alabama Rot conference, attended by clinical experts from human and animal healthcare, which sought to increase understanding of the disease and attract funding for research.

Working with some of the UK’s leading academia, we achieved rolling news credits throughout the day of the conference on Sky and BBC news channels, and a number of live interviews on targeted media, with two features on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Due to the nature of the conference itself we were constantly managing high profile media requests from the likes of Sky, ITN and the BBC.

We had to politely turn down requests for media to attend the conference to ensure it was able to go ahead without interruption.

We knew this would create more intrigue from the media and stakeholders across the medical, research and veterinary industries, leading to increased attention around the subject.

Over a period of six years we achieved consistent media coverage in local, regional and national media, covering radio, TV, podcasts, print and online.

A significant proportion of this was achieved through media proactivity calling us for interviews, comments and updates.

From a social perspective the subject trended regularly on Facebook and Twitter, while Google searches and website views meant the Vets4Pets interactive map was regularly the number one result for the search term Alabama Rot.

Key takeaways

The lessons are do your research, be open and honest, set high standards of credible information, have media-trained spokespeople, deliver relevant news consistently and do your research.

Get in touch with us to see how we can help your business grow.

Steph Jones.
Steph Jones

Head of Social

A hands-on Head of Social, with extensive experience across Charity, Retail and eCommerce, both agency side and client side, with brands such as WWF, Virgin Pure and Purity Brewing. Steph considers all facets of the customer journey through social and paid media, as well as creating engaging content in line with the business goals to capture attention and convert audiences.