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Some of the best Silly Season stories of all time

No news is good news, well most of the time that is. One of the many great aspects of a British summer is enjoying some news stories that lighten your mood rather than dampen it. Here PRs discuss their favourite campaigns and analyse what makes for a Silly Season hit. They also discuss whether we are likely to enjoy as many fun stories this summer when the world is going through such troubled times.

Face of Jesus on toast

Vicki Curtis, head of media at B2B PR agency Whiteoaks International says: “I would argue that Silly Season does still have a place within the media as too much doom and gloom, particularly from a political perspective, in a fast-paced news cycle can be overwhelming. Including some more amusing, light-hearted stories in Silly Season periods such as over the summer or around Christmas time can be a welcome relief. But the only real golden rule for Silly Season stories is the more bizarre, the better. The regular reporting of spotting the face or figure of Jesus in food items is a great example of a Silly Season story used in this way by the media.

Giant Jeff Goldblum

Cally Sheard, associate director at comms agency Splendid “One Silly Season activation that stays with me is Now TV’s giant statue of Jeff Goldblum to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Jurassic Park. Thanks to everyone’s love of the film star, it generated so much hype and conversation that it achieved blanket coverage.

“Understandably, Silly Season has taken a bit of a hit over recent years due to the harder news agenda we’ve faced since Covid. But there are signs that it could be making a comeback as audiences seek out entertaining content to avoid the depressing nature of news*.

Jellyfish and shark sightings

Carl Stroud, head of media at PR agency Smoking Gun: “The height of the British summer was once defined by Silly Season in the nation’s press. With MPs on holiday and captains of industry sunning themselves on their yachts, the news agenda could often grind to a virtual standstill. Yet newspapers still had to fill their pages with something. 

 “However, since the 2016 Brexit vote, it is becoming a distant memory. Terror attacks, a global pandemic, conflict in Ukraine and economic meltdown combined with shrinking newspaper pagination means over recent years editors have rarely needed to cast around for stories about killer swarms of jellyfish  or shark sightings off the Dorset Coast.

 “And, in our increasingly digital world, Silly Season is a concept that is virtually unknown among a generation of online reporters and editors who have been on the frontline of this jam-packed news landscape. 

The Speaking ‘Cock’

“But, what makes me an expert on this subject? Well, my final byline in The Sun came at the height of a very Silly Season - on a story about the BBC News website missing out a crucial letter l in a report about the Speaking Clock…”

Big Brother

Luana Ribeira, managing director of agency Dauntless PR: “Big Brother was a classic example of a TV show whose success was magnified due to Silly Season. The idea to screen the reality show during the summer was a genius PR move by the producers as it ensured the programme dominated the headlines and the tabloid pages as, at the time of its launch, newspapers experienced a genuine Silly Season and would find it challenging to fill their pages, particularly during August.

“Silly season is certainly less of an issue now than it ever used to be. With everyone being online all the time, people are sharing their news on social media and journalists are less reliant on PRs and press offices, who used to often down tools and disappear for much of the summer break. For me, the watershed moment when Silly Season became less of an issue was Brexit. The referendum was carried out in June and the aftermath was enough to keep all the media outlets busy all summer. Since Brexit, the news cycle seems to have been on steroids with the pandemic, the war on Ukraine and other major global events meaning there is now rarely a seasonal dip.”

Giant handbag on the Thames

Jenny Mowat, managing director, Babel PR: “There’s no denying that things might be slower to get moving due to client holidays, or slightly depleted editorial teams; but the world still wants the ‘silly’ and the ‘none-silly’ news in the summer. Let's be real; the cost-of-living crisis, mortgage interest hikes or even Elon Musk and his Twitter escapades, aren’t going to suddenly disappear just because a slither of British summertime has come out. But saying that, can someone float something down the Thames anyway just to refresh the news agenda?!”

Talking of which, here is a giant Burberry handbag stunt that hit the headlines last July.

The return of Doctor Who

Guy Clapperton, founder and lead trainer of media training agency Clapperton “My own favourite Silly Season story concerned the return of Doctor Who (stop judging me, you lot) after a 16-year gap, which slipped into a wider-ranging headline in 2003 but dominated the headline. It came in very useful in media training sessions when people felt they understood the press and knew their papers. I asked which publication they imagined broke the story and the clients would assume Mirror, Express, Sun or one of the popular end of the market.

“It was actually the Telegraph, which they’d assumed would have been above all that trivia - a great ice-breaker, one of those ‘everything you thought you knew is wrong’ things. Also usefully apolitical and inoffensive to just about everyone in the room!”

Top tips for creating a Silly Season hit

Be strategic and creative

Hayley Knight, communications director at PR agency BE YELLOW: “Silly season this year, despite the current news agenda, is still relevant, but brands and agencies need to think strategically about it. News desks and teams are slammed, but they are open to stories away from the newscycle.

“When developing a Silly Season campaign this year, it is important to think about your resources and hone your message. Selling in a standard release may not work as well as it has in past years, so you'll need to be more creative. Tap into multichannel outlets and pitch a short video piece for their TikTok channel. Or hook your campaigns and content to newly published research that you know the press will be talking about.

Tap into culture

Cally Sheard: “As with all great brand activations they must come from strong insight or tap into culture. Keep it light and entertaining, it’s Silly Season after all, and we know content like this is highly shareable. Don’t forget to be sensitive to the news agenda - a story can always be repackaged for another time if a hard story hits

Be quick and be unique

Luana Ribeira: “Prepare your content, create detailed timelines, ensuring your campaign has talking points. Also, use this time to plan ahead for Q4 and get ahead of the game.”

“The perfect Silly Season story is one that no one will recognise as being one. If you can scroll through a website or flick through a paper and think 'Silly Season' when you read a story, it means it isn't as strong an angle as it should be. Anything too summer-themed which is just being rehashed to fill space should be avoided, but truly unique stories from unheard voices will do well at any time of the year.”

Nessie and scary beasts

We look forward to seeing what this summer brings us in terms of Silly Season news. I myself enjoy stories about monsters and scary beasts, so let’s hope plenty of summer tourists post pictures of the Loch Ness Monster and the Beast of Bodmin Moor

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