What is the main ingredient in the success of the Great British Bake Off?

by Chris Fairbairn

Monday, September 7th, 2015

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We’ll give you a clue, it’s not eggs, flour or sugar… it’s these storytelling secrets

Small children having fun with flour and baking - PR photos by Holyrood PR in EdinburghYOU MAY never have baked a banana loaf in your life.

You may be in your late teens, into house music, snapbacks and Nandos.

You may even be an ex-con with your eyes on the next adrenaline-pumping bank heist.

But chances are you are watching the current and fifth series of the Great British Bake Off (GBBO).

Why has a seemingly twee show about the old-fashioned art of baking become such an event on the TV calendar?

So much so that in just a few years its judges are certified national treasures and before moving to BBC One was the most watched show on BBC Two.

Some commentators have credited the success to a nationwide yearning to return to a simpler time, a time before Isis, Ebola and the dreaded 50 Shades of Grey emerged from the darkness.

However here at our Edinburgh PR agency we believe the tricks to its success bear a striking resemblance to many of the clever tools that we apply day-to-day to generate quality client coverage.


1 – Tell a Human Story

Just this week Bake Photo of woman sifting flour while bakingOff host Sue Perkins hit the headlines after revealing she had spent eight years living with a benign brain tumour. It shows the insatiable appetite the public has for insights into the lives of everyone involved in the show.

The first thing that GBBO does right is build up the viewer’s relationship with a diverse set of contestants – Bake Off is certainly not a collection of middle class home-county grannies.

And that is crucial. The audience can identify and sympathise with individuals that matter to them, willing them on to become the ultimate star baker and crossing fingers and toes that their favourite’s soufflé doesn’t sink.


Holyrood PR in Edinburgh help spice up the media coverage for leading are providerInteresting people make the stories engaging – our tale of a 100 year old nan with a love of spicy food generated amazing coverage, including the Sun and STV News


GBBO has this carefully honed – with regular pieces to camera, discussions about family life and clever close ups under pressure. This is all done with precise purpose, to further nourish
that viewer-contestant relationship.

Good PR always makes the story identifiable, with the targeted audience in mind at all times. News is at its most engaging when it is about people as these are always the stories that we identify most with.


2 – Controversy

Ahhh I’Bay City Roller Les McKeown with a Scotch pie and a baker's hatm sure even people who’ve never watched an episode can still remember #bingate. Could any GBBO blog be complete without referencing the single most controversial moment in its five-year history?

The tears. The music. The terror in the eyes of the contestant. It all builds on the importance of a well executed show-stopping recipe. So when it all goes belly-up the viewers are naturally led into a state of blind fury, indignation and despair.


Photo of a blue haired troll doll to illustrate PR trollingRise of the Trolls? Is sailing frighteningly close to the wind now a legitimate public relations Strategy?Find out some of the businesses who create controversy to help their brands?


When Iain Watter’s Baked Alaska was removed from the freezer by Diane Beard, leading to his elimination, the traditional media, social media and the village gossip went berserk leaving a trail of fevered publicity and a staggering 10.25m viewing figure once iPlayer and live figures had been tallied.

In our previous blog we highlighted how controversy can create astonishing headlines, but it has to be done carefully and cleverly and even then – only works for certain brands targeting certain demographics.


3 – Social Media Savvy

Holyrood PR Agency in Edinburgh explains the power of word of mouthEver notice that Instagram-esque hazy warmth that engulfs the whole show?

That all too perfect setting in the idyllic grounds of a Berkshire Manor house. It all makes for a highly screen-grabbable, meme-building entity just waiting to be shared, whether that is the exquisite concoction of the star baker or the facial expression of a panic-stricken soon-to-be-eliminated doughboy.

That’s no accident. TV professionals have been among the quickest to realise just how shareable TV moments are to the social media crowd. Which also explains the liberal use of hashtags, like #GBBO

A neat Bake Off social media equation is at play:

(highly visual controversies and disasters) + (works of wonder) x (the complex characters that are developed over the series) = prime second screen viewer engagement.


Edinburgh PR agency show how to create effective social media campaignsSocial Media success is rarely overnight – if you’re prepared to put in the work that will reap results, then check here to find out how to get ready, set then go!


 The catchy #GBBO moniker and the opportunity of real time discussion bet
ween the legions of viewers has made Bake Off something of a leviathan on Twitter, with 300 tweets per minute at peak times during this season’s opening episode.

Facebook ain’t such a bad medium for the show either – over 700,000 fans help spread the word to the ever-decreasing numbers of uninitiated potential viewers.


4 – Something tasty that everyone and anyone can enjoy

Celebrity chef Tom Kitchin with two children learning about cookingThe term “non-partisan presence” may sound a bit weighty but it’s key to the success of Bake Off. It’s hard to be overly political when discussing cakes, bread and biscuits.

In fact, is it even possible to offend political sensibilities when discussing the viscosity of icing or the moistness of a sponge? Thought not.


Edinburgh PR agency show how they help clients achieve more bites of the cherry with media coverageThe ability of the Bake Off to draw out coverage across platforms and over a daily period is parallel to our own PR beliefs – taking multiple bites of the cherry amplifies your story and guarantees a bigger buzz.


Therefore the bake off has been able to achieve widespread, cross-spectrum media coverage.

From the Daily Mail and the the Guardian, all the major papers regardless of their targeted and typical audience are absolutely full of Bake Off analysis, pre-launch hype and daily new baker reveals.

All in all, the main ingredient for the Great British Bake Off is a generous helping of immaculately executed public relations.

Fancy concocting your own delicious PR recipe?

We may not make the best fondant fancies in town, but we’ll have the kettle on and may even have a few shortbread biscuits in the cupboard should you fancy a treat with your coffee.

Or of course you can contact our expert team of ‘star PRs’ on 0131 561 2244 or by using the form below:

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Chris Fairbairn of Scottish public relations agency, Holyrood PR in Edinburgh

Chris Fairbairn

Chris Fairbairn is an Account Director with award-winning public relations agency Holyrood Partnership. He is part of an expert PR team delivering PR services to a wide range of clients from headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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