CLOSE-UP: Newsmaker/Wales Tourist Board - Welsh tourism hands its fate to live ad innovation. The WTB's innovation may undo the foot-and-mouth damage, writes John Tylee

Desperate times call for desperate measures in Wales, which has

seen its tourist industry go up in the smoke of the foot-and-mouth

funeral pyres.



No despondency, though, at the Wales Tourist Board, a body whose

reputation for thinking on its feet was recently illustrated by the coup

of putting Anne Robinson in a t-shirt declaring Wales 'open for

business'.



Now the WTB is gambling pounds 1 million on a week-long TV burst of the

nearest thing anybody has produced to 'live' commercials in Britain. So

who thought up that one, then? 'I'll tell you if it works,' Roger Pride,

the WTB's marketing director replies, only partly in jest.



Certainly, the situation is no joke. At its height, the epidemic was

losing the Welsh economy pounds 20 million a week. Bookings are still

down 70 per cent at some hotels and bed and breakfasts, with no sign of

a pick-up through the summer and into autumn. As a WTB spokesperson puts

it: 'We have to salvage what we can.'



Although newspapers are used to making fast turnaround TV ads and

Pedigree Petfoods has a tradition for getting its successes at Cruft's

on air in double-quick time, it's doubtful anybody has ever attempted to

produce five 60-second spots, each filmed, edited and screened in a

single day.



The idea took root in the depths of the foot-and-mouth crisis seven

weeks ago following a call from the Welsh Assembly. Do what you have to

to rescue the Welsh tourist industry, the WTB was told. But, above all,

be brave.



The campaign strategy emerged from a brainstorming session. Pride and

his fellow executives knew action would have to be swift and

dramatic.



Assurances from politicians that Wales hadn't closed down were falling

on deaf ears and unless the WTB could win over people by the time they

were making their summer holiday plans in early May, the opportunity

would be lost.



Pride thought the best way to convince would-be visitors was to show

them other holidaymakers already enjoying themselves in Wales.



He approached four local shops. Could they produce a series of 'live'

commercials? Impossible, said two. Golley Slater, where Pride once

worked, foresaw a major problem in getting instant approvals from the

Broadcast Advertising Clearance Centre. Its suggestion was a new 'Today

in Wales' format. It got the job.



The plan is a risky one, allowing little margin for error. Digital

betamax units are filming at 15 locations each morning this week. By

lunchtime, their partially edited results, with an introduction by TV's

Welsh-born weathergirl Sian Lloyd, go via satellite to studios in south

London for final tweaking.



The BACC, which is using the campaign to test a new system allowing it

to approve commercials sent via e-mail, is on standby to give the

go-ahead by 5.45 pm. The final version is then transmitted to TV

companies for screening between 9 and 10 pm.



As a safety precaution, a substitute film has been shot for use in the

event of a glitch. 'From a satellite link breakdown to the BACC not

approving a film, there's lots that could go wrong,' Andrew James, the

Golley Slater account director on the business, admits.



Assuming that the operation is problem-free, will it work? 'Given what

they're trying to do, I'm sure everybody will be bending over backwards

for them,' Nigel Foster, European head of TV at J. Walter Thompson,

says.



Also, the WTB's track record for shrewd PR activity and innovative

promotion is impressive. 'It's never had a Procter & Gamble attitude to

advertising,' Shaun McIlrath, the former FCA! creative director

responsible for much of the WTB's previous work, points out. 'It has

always been willing to try something new.'



This week's campaign has the opportunity to build on a promising Bank

Holiday period which saw good visitor numbers at Welsh seaside resorts

and the opening of Snowdonia's footpaths.



The big question is whether screening the five ads only once will

produce a big enough hit to do the job. 'You sometimes need to see

commercials like these two or three times for them to make an impact,'

Tim Page, head of TV at Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R declares.



But Sarah Bales, his WCRS counterpart, believes they will stand out

against more highly-crafted ads vying for attention. 'They don't have to

look fantastic, just bring home the reality of the situation,' she

says.



For Pride, born in the Merthyr Valley and a WTB staffer for ten years,

the campaign is part of a labour of love. There are plenty of people who

think they know best about how Wales should be marketed, he says. 'But

not many people get the chance to promote a product they feel so

passionately about as I do.'



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