Forces War Records

Forces War Records (FWR) is a specialist military genealogy website. Its website was already popular among die-hard genealogists, but the organisation needed to widen its appeal and increase subscriptions with a wider audience during the centenary of the start of WW1. Our challenge was to create a reason for the media to cover Forces War Records and engage the public.

Implementation & results

FWR’s acquisition of rare and impenetrable WW1 hospital lists was big news for them, but far too ‘anoraky’ for the general public, so for newsworthiness, we researched what actually happened to sick and injured men in the war and created a downloadable WW1 medical themed e-book. Trench Traumas and Medical Miracles explained these devastating everyday scenes and medical challenges. It crucially also interpreted hard to decipher records, teasing out facts and stats and adding colour to real life stories to conjure up ‘news from nowhere’. We revealed the Top 20 WW1 medical conditions, which ranged from unsurprising conditions such as trench foot, to lice - and the bombshell: numerous STDs. Media gold!! In addition to securing across-the-board national news coverage, we also engaged TV historian Neil Oliver as FWR’s ambassador for 146 enthralling radio interviews. Who Do You Think You Are magazine reprinted the entire Trench Traumas and Medical Miracles book within its pages.

Throughout the year our press office continued to plunder FWR’s records for its hidden human interest and historical stories. They included: ‘Eisenhower’s ‘losing speech’ (Radio 4 got an actor to voice that one), ‘UK’s oldest POW’, ‘WW1 love letter’ (devotedly kept in a grandmother’s handbag for 60 years until she died), ‘Kitchener / Churchill spat’: the latter declining a desperate plea for more ammunition, just days into the war) and even ‘Tolkein in the Trenches’. A strong Twitter campaign galvanised key influencers online and dovetailed with FWR’s own work which targeted genealogy buffs.

We were thrilled to win Major PR and be shortlisted for Major Creative in the inaugural Majors awards, in association with The Drum magazine, for work including Forces War Records. The campaign generated no less than 183,864,692 opportunities to see (readership plus unique user figures), excluding social media. In six months alone visits to its website rose by over 50% versus the same period the year prior. And people stayed longer and dug deeper, with a 76% increase in page views. Forces War Records had to swell its ranks by a half (an extra 28 staff) to search out and transcribe as much WW1 military data as it could handle to cope with demand.

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