Case study: Botanic Garden Anniversary Countdown | University of Oxford

Case study: Botanic Garden Anniversary Countdown

What needed media coverage?

The University of Oxford Botanic Garden and University Herbaria, which were beginning a 400-week countdown to their 400th anniversary. Starting on 24 November 2013, a special project would be highlighting 400 different plants of cultural and scientific importance from the University's collections, leading up to the anniversary celebrations in July 2021. 

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Why was media coverage important?

First and foremost to help publicise the countdown, which was designed to spark people’s interest in plants and educate the public on their importance. However, another aim was to raise the profile of the Botanic Garden, including its satellite site the Harcourt Arboretum, and the University Herbaria (part of the Department of Plant Sciences) more generally. The Botanic Garden and the Harcourt Arboretum are open to the public and media coverage undoubtedly helps increase footfall by placing the sites in the public’s consciousness – particularly the Harcourt Arboretum, which is situated a few miles outside Oxford.

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What was the role of the Press & Information Office?

The Press & Information Office was approached by Dr Alison Foster, Senior Curator of the Botanic Garden, who was seeking to publicise the anniversary countdown. Press Officer Stuart Gillespie visited the Harcourt Arboretum to talk to staff and find out more about the project. Following this initial visit, the Press & Information Office gave the following assistance:

  • Wrote a press release to be distributed to media
  • Sourced images to offer print publications
  • Pitched feature ideas to contacts at local newspapers and broadcast outlets
  • Arranged radio interviews
  • Published an article on the University website
  • Publicised the countdown on social media
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Media coverage received

The story received widespread coverage in the local media, including in-depth features in the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times. The anniversary was also the main focus of a BBC Radio Oxford Breakfast Show, with four separate segments being broadcast throughout the morning. The segments included interviews with Dr Foster and Professor Liam Dolan, Head of the Department of Plant Sciences, on topics such as the history of the sites.

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Results for the project

The @Plants400 Twitter account is estimated to have reached more than 70,000 users in its first week, and it is hoped that visitor numbers to the Botanic Garden, Harcourt Arboretum and University Herbaria will increase as a result of the media coverage

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In their words

Stuart Gillespie said: ‘As soon as Alison described the anniversary countdown, I knew it would be of huge interest to the local media. The Botanic Garden is one of Oxford’s best-known attractions, so a milestone such as its 400th anniversary was always going to capture the imagination.

‘We were able to help Alison publicise the countdown by making use of our existing contacts in the local media and our experience of the various types of coverage available – for example news stories, features, radio interviews and so on.

‘The range of coverage was broad – the Oxford Mail focused on the events surrounding the countdown, whereas the Oxford Times published a more historical feature. The BBC Radio Oxford Breakfast Show made the anniversary the main focus of the programme, which was superb.

‘The hope with media coverage such as this is that it will raise the profile of its subject – in this case increasing the number of people coming through the doors and taking part in the fantastic events on offer at the Garden, Arboretum and Herbaria, as well as sparking the public’s interest in the fascinating world of plants and showcasing the work of the University.’

Dr Alison Foster said: ‘The support and enthusiasm for the project from the Press Office was invaluable in helping us secure the local media interest. This project will be a “slow burner” and we hope that the Press Office continues to help us generate interest with the media at key milestones through the countdown as we build up to the 400th anniversary itself.’

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