Stonehenge embraces the Olympic torch in a flaming brilliant PR stunt

We’ve kicked off the Olympics stunt-fest in earnest as anyone reading this week’s papers will have noted – with dancers on London landmarks being the last stunt to make the front pages.

However, last week saw (for me at least) the best of the Torch-related stunts as Stonehenge turned itself into a fire garden to coincide with the passing of the Olympic relay media circus.

Calling in French arts group Compagnie Carabosse, the UK’s most ancient of attractions (and World Heritage site) was illuminated with fire sculptures and candle-lit paths to mark the Games – handily kicking off at the same time as the world’s media were on its doorstep.

For those who missed it, here it is in all its flaming glory …



So why did this one work?

In part, of course, it worked because it’s Stonehenge. But as a destination that I haven’t really seen in the press beyond the Police fighting with the Druids from times of yore, a bit of an argument about the re-routing of the A303 and now the annual Solstice broadcast shots, this campaign was something of a revelation.

It’s a great example of an established heritage destination doing something different, modern and yet in keeping with both its own historic roots and with the handy hook it used to get itself talked about.

Partnering-up with a contemporary arts organisation – complete with music, sculpture and flame – meant an ancient site managed to align itself with the cutting edge. It has opened itself up to modern interpretation, thereby hauling itself from the Stone Age to the 21st century, demonstrating its utter relevance to people here and now.

But most of all, Stonehenge’s trick has been to create a stunt that people can participate in.

Too many destination stunts simply go for the great picture shot – set up for the snappers before they disappear just as quickly as they arrived. The smart ones create an experience that is there not just to deliver ink, but to be experienced.

So rather than capture the passing Torch cavalcade with something as only as fleeting as the passing Olympic Flame, Stonehenge encouraged people to come down and walk through the fire garden it had created – thereby engaging a new generation of visitors.

I just hope that rather than being a one-off, this kind of partnership – between an ancient heritage site and modern artistic creatives – becomes a regular feature. And that other destinations and heritage sites look at and appreciate the trick that Stonehenge has pulled.

Stronger campaigns from heritage sites can only be a good thing for the quality of UK destination PR in my book.