Last week PR guru, Nicky Forrest, who heads up Phipps PR, shared her memories of how she and her team decided to insure the taste buds of the then head wine buyer of the Somerfield supermarket chain, Angela Mount, to try and create good publicity leading up to the Christmas of 2003. Today it’s the turn of Angela Mount to give her side of the story and how it was a PR campaign that she still lives with today.
The vast majority of us will never get to know what it is like to be at the centre of a media storm. Thankfully when it happened for Angela Mount it was for all the right reasons. Here she gives her side of the story of having her taste buds insured for £10m.
At first I laughed. I thought it was a huge joke. Or that Pete Williams, our head of PR had lost the plot. Insure my taste buds? Why? Why would anyone be vaguely interested?
But I reluctantly went to meeting with Pete and Phipps PR to discuss the idea, with much shaking of head. Yet they seemed convinced, and wanted to use me as a statement from the overall business to the consumer, about the quality of wine at Somerfield, how I produced exclusive blends, how we punched way above our weight in terms of quality and value, how many wine accolades we had won. In those days Somerfield was starting to build a good reputation, but wanted to increase the focus on the quality angle, and wine was the obvious way to go, given our success, to use as the flagship.
And so the process began. First stop ENT specialist, to ensure that everything olfactory was working perfectly. Next step, one of the weirdest challenges I have ever undertaken. It was rather like being back in a school exam room. Desk; 50 pieces of card;10 pence piece. The task was in essence a ‘scratch and sniff’ challenge, the first 25 with four result options, but even those were very close in style, eg orange, tangerine, lemon ,lime; cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, allspice. The second 25 gave me no clue other than ‘identify these smells’. I scored 48 out of 50, so job done. The insurance, with Lloyds of London, was then put in place. To this day, I don’t know the sum invested by the business.
Story? What story!?
Nicky Forrest (head of Phipps PR) and Pete were still convinced the campaign had real mileage, although I couldn’t get excited, as I felt that no one would be interested, and at best it would attract a little bit of local interest. The week before the campaign launched, I was hosting the celebrity theatre for five days at the Good Food Show, working with Gordon Ramsay and John Torode. Phipps PR sent a photographer up to take shots for their release – in hindsight, having seen the newspaper coverage, I wished I’d focussed a little more on hair and make up, after a day on stage, but still didn’t believe much would come of the story.
The story was sent out over the weekend. Early on Monday morning, the calls started coming in from family, friends and colleagues about national media coverage. The interest in the story was staggering; Phipps and Pete Williams had been absolutely right. Every single national newspaper covered the piece, claiming that I had the most expensively insured body part in history. The reaction was extreme, from the Financial Times’ “Retailer Somerfield insures top buyer’s assets” to The Sun’s “My mouth is worth more than J Lo’s bum” (which had recently been insured for £1million). It seemed to me like a world gone mad and sensationalist.
Ironically, after five days of hosting six shows a day, my voice had disappeared, and I developed laryingitis. The Today programme and Radio Five Live were clamouring for interviews, which I couldn’t do. The media circus began later in the week, with a round of newspaper interviews, photoshoots and TV appearances, including Channel 4 News.
I was whisked from one interview, to another, from one photoshoot, to live TV appearance. All very surreal. One of my abiding memories is that I was very glad I was 40 not 25. I found the whole thing amusing, and took it in my stride; at 25 I would have been at risk of taking myself seriously and letting it all go to my head!
Phipps PR were brilliant. They trained me. They shadowed me. They managed the entire process. But the impact was way beyond my expectations, and I congratulate them for their brilliance in directing this campaign. I also applaud the late Somerfield board, who allowed this to go ahead, under the guidance of Pete Williams. In many retail situations, individual buyers are not allowed to speak, or be presented as a public figure – it’s about the retailer, not the person, and there are currently several key buyers who are not allowed to speak to the press. In this case, Somerfield chose to take the publicity route, and put me centre stage.
And the strategy worked. It was an entirely consumer-focussed campaign, although I invariably had to do interviews for the trade press also, including an in depth one with Margaret Rand, who wrote for Harpers at that stage.
It was inevitable that a large proportion of the wine industry would mock this campaign, both retail competitors, one of whom was very vociferous on the subject, but also I had to take a great deal of flack and teasing personally, which is why I was nervous about doing the campaign in the first place.
From Somerfield’s perspective, it was a stroke of genius. Whilst I no longer have the figures, sales showed the highest growth of any retailer for a six month period, as consumers flocked to the stores, with wine as the footfall driver, driven by the campaign. We also had the support of key national wine writers, such as Fiona Beckett, who constantly praised my range of Italian and Argentinian wines, a risky option, in the days before Malbec was famous.
The best part of my job had always been creating exclusive blends for Somerfield, and snapping up small parcels, such as a Champagne destined for Prince William, Champagne 1990, that I found at Lanson. It received rave reviews. Those were the days, when there was arguably less focus on unique and bespoke own brand selections, in general.
We were confident in the quality of the own brand wines on the shelves; the national interest created, and consumers’ natural curiosity to discover great wines, with a focus on value, as a result of the media coverage, drove a massive increase in sales and resulted in wine being made the ‘hero’ category for the business for the next few years.
Long term impact
From my perspective, how did this affect me? Industry- wise, a great deal of ribbing, but it certainly heightened my profile and visibility. But from a consumer perspective It had a strong impact, none more so than when I took the decision to leave Somerfield and set up my own consultancy business, which now includes a considerable amount of hosting at consumer and corporate events, and writing for consumer publications. I’m always introduced as ‘the woman with the £10million palate’, and this has certainly helped my profile in a more volatile and less secure business. The story crops up from time to time, and it’s a great one for the CV!
Nicky and Pete, I salute you. Brilliant job!