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Why is this work relevant for PR?

Fundamentally, The Land of Free Press was a local outdoor advertising campaign by – in the global scale – a relatively small newspaper in a distant Scandinavian country. However, through a thought-out PR strategy and its careful implementation, one newspaper’s rallying cry for the defense of press freedom was heard all over the world through social and traditional media.


Helsingin Sanomat is the largest newspaper in the Nordics and the epitome of quality journalism in its home country, Finland. The last few years have been a time of transformation for the paper in renewing its subscription base with a younger, under 40-year-old audience. To achieve this objective, the paper focuses on communicating its relevance and purpose in society through value-driven actions.

One of these values is press freedom – a cornerstone of the brand. That, however, is globally at risk at the moment, not least because of the actions of presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. In June 2018, the two presidents announced they would hold their first official summit in Helsinki, Finland, opening an opportunity for Helsingin Sanomat to act on behalf of press freedom. The objective was to gain global attention to the cause of protecting press freedom, while communicating what that brand stands for.

Describe the creative idea

Presidents Putin and Trump are known for their critical stance towards the free press. While Putin’s grip on the free media is on its own tyrannical and totalitarian level, Trump’s assumed status as the leader of the free world makes his aggression towards the press all the more worrisome. Tapping into the high-level summit, the news event of the day, offered a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of press freedom.

In the World Press Freedom Index, Russia ranks 148th out of 180 and the United States hold the 45th place. Finland, on the other hand, has consistently ranked in the top 5. Hence, the paper decided to show the presidents the meaning of press freedom by welcoming them to the Land of Free Press and calling them out on their attacks against the media in an outdoor campaign placed directly on their route from the airport to the summit.

Describe the PR strategy

The PR strategy relied on topicality, timing, and importance of communication. Press freedom is a powerful matter and its dire state made the message even more pressing. Timing the campaign on the president’s arrival gave it additional weight, especially since Trump and Putin both have been such powerful enemies to the free press lately. Directing the campaign straight at the presidents gave the campaign its final spin.

The key insight for the campaign was the discrepancy between the state of press freedom in Finland and in the home countries of the visiting presidents, making possible the tagline: Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press. The campaign’s key message was that freedom of the press should be protected from the tyranny of regimes, as it is the last stronghold of democracy. The paper’s Senior Editor-in-Chief was selected as the spokesman of the campaign to grant it its journalistic tone.

Describe the PR execution

PR was built around the outdoor campaign that targeted the two presidents as they drove from the airport to the summit. They were escorted by 300 billboards and posters containing the newspaper’s actual headlines dealing with both presidents’ relationship with the free media and accompanied by the tagline “Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press.”

The billboards and posters were placed in a way that made it impossible for the visiting journalists to miss the campaign either. This was further enforced by +2000 press releases that were manually distributed on desks at the summit’s press center, in addition to a widespread electronic sendout. A complete PR kit with images, videos, and statements was made available on the day before the summit to ensure it would not get sidelined by the actual summit coverage.

The whole campaign was executed in under 2,5 weeks after the summit was announced.

List the results

The campaign sparked an immediate international discussion on the state of press freedom, generating more than 1,25 billion earned impressions through 1 million social interactions and 2600 news articles in 55 countries covering the stunt specifically. Sentiment was positive throughout the coverage. Earned media value as estimated by Meltwater was nearly 12 million euros, 167 times the total investments.

The campaign also ignited a global movement to protect press freedom with media outlets publishing studies on press freedom and hundreds of papers releasing editorials on its defence, lead by the initiative of the Boston Globe. In addition, Finland’s ranking rose from 4th to 2nd in the World Press Freedom Index. The campaign was specifically listed as a key contributor in the report. “The Land of Free Press was a timely reminder of how endangered press freedom is worldwide,'' wrote The Economist.

The campaign had a 33 % lift on the paper’s brand image as measured by YouGov brand index. Fueled by the positive image, B2B-sales surpassed set targets by 10 %. The paper also reached a 19 % year-on-year growth in new subscriptions in the month following the campaign with the campaign being the only differentiator from last year’s marketing actions. Finally, there was an immediate yet lasting 7 % increase in weekly site traffic..

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