And then the BBC went and did a piece on their website with the title ‘Great-Granddad was a killer’. Oh, and there was a rave review on Radio 4 at the weekend (on Saturday Review; it’s on Listen Again).*
clunk… grind… thud…
It turns out that yesterday we got over 3 million hits, and as far as we can tell, nearly all of that was the direct result of just the one BBC piece; nothing else was coming up in Google News (though there was some extra traffic on Sunday after the radio feature). It was genuinely popular, judging by its appearance in ‘top viewed’ and ‘top emailed’ lists on the BBC site.
By way of comparison, last week when we’d hit the publicity machine really hard and got pieces into all sorts of newspapers and media sites, we got a little over 2 million hits on our busiest day.
Last week’s publicity was largely an ‘official’ line: we supplied a press release, a few interesting cases and quotes from people who’d used the site, and journalists used that information to compile mostly pretty generic reports, often focussed on the famous cases – Wilde, Crippen, the Pankhursts. The message: here is a historical website with lots of stuff about notorious criminals and horrible punishments in the past. (Oh, and your ancestors might be mentioned in it.)
Yesterday’s piece was framed very differently. It tapped straight into the huge popularity of family history (which the BBC has done a lot for in recent years, after all): the personal and family angle, the potential for notoriety and scandal, or simply pathos and tragedy, much closer to home. The ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ approach. Publicity gold.
Result for us, unfortunately: website falling over again. But the simple lesson is that just one story that presses the right buttons with readers, that they can respond to personally and emotionally, can do more (for good or bad) than a massive publicity machine churning out stories-by-numbers and formulaic soundbites.
*I’ve finally got around to listening to it. Rave is an understatement. It gave me a nice warm fuzzy glow anyway.