Feeling unsure of your purpose in PR? Comms can be a force for good – it can amplify voices (too often) unheard by decision makers, changing mindsets, and sparking progress in society.
If you have PR skills, you already have everything you need in your toolbox to make change, too.
This was the topic of our latest Vuelio webinar ‘Empowering communities through advocacy campaigns’, where we were joined by the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) and the Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland (CVSNI). Both organisations have had measurable success with ensuring their communities are heard and with pushing progress forward – here’s how they did it…
‘From the outset, our purpose and objectives were clear’: Royal National Institute of Blind People’s battle against railway ticket office closures
The challenge: Keeping offices open
On 5 July, a proposal was published to close almost all ticket offices across England and Glasgow Central. Despite the potentially huge consequences of this, a consultation was opened for just 21 days. For the RNIB, this meant quick action would be needed:
‘Our messaging was very clear,’ said RNIB’s local campaigns manager Lindsay Coyle. Aims were set – push for an extension to the consultation period, and keep the ticket offices open.
Actions: Get the word out
RNIB has regional teams across the country, and everybody needed to be on board with plans to spark engagement with the cause. Consultation response templates were shared, emails were sent out to subscribers encouraging contact with MPs, and news items were placed detailing how to submit responses.
As the consultation period was extended to 1 September, the RNIB team kept pushing, asking supporters to continue to write to their MPs and local newspapers expressing their concerns. In October, the transport secretary asked operators to withdraw their proposals – ticket offices would not be closed, and RNIB had achieved both of their objectives.
Results: Mainstream media cut through
As shared by Gorki Duhra from the PR team, RNIB secured 1,121 pieces of media coverage across broadcast print and online for this campaign. National media outlets including BBC, ITV, Sky, The Telegraph, The Independent, and local outlets across the devolved nations picked up the story, as volunteer campaigners, regional campaign officers, policy officers and spokespeople gave interviews.
The RNIB team secured a huge key message penetration rate of 98% across its media coverage, with 94% directly mentioning the charity’s research.
‘On the first day, we reached about 906 media outlets, which was a record for the charity for a one-day event,’ said Gorki. ‘Our messaging resonated with so many different people across society. We were on target straight away in getting the message out. And that was just by being prepared.’
Want to get positive results for your next campaign? Get everybody on board
‘We coordinated our team internally, engaging our wider staff group, and setting up an internal teams channel,’ shared Lindsay.
For external stakeholder engagement, personal stories and case studies are vital. RNIB invited the public to create their own stories using #INeedATicketOffice:
Thank you to everyone for sharing your #INeedATicketOffice so I can… stories.
We’ve shared them with Secretary of State for Transport, @Mark_J_Harper, and will continue to share your concerns so keep them coming.
— RNIB (@RNIB) July 27, 2023
‘We got videos of blind and partially-sighted people and our volunteer campaigners filming at local train stations to show how difficult it was to purchase a ticket, use the vending machines,’ explained Lindsay.
‘When politicians talked about the issue in Parliament, they spoke about the experiences of blind and partially sighted constituents and shared those stories directly. Labour actually used some of our statistics in their comms, as well.
‘Sharing personal stories across social media is really powerful, as is the ability to act quickly – being able to mobilise people to take action.’
Gorki shared the importance of being reactive to get cut-through:
‘As a charity, we knew about this a week before the announcement, which was snuck out on some Tuesday afternoon, at about 4.45pm, as these things tend to be. We had a few statements signed off and ready, and our distribution list of journalists – six minutes after it was announced, I had our statement out in the press.
‘PR isn’t just a press release, it’s using social media contingent, audio content, other messages – it’s sharing what people are really saying.’
‘What precedent does this set for the rest of the world?’: Commission for Victims and Survivors for Northern Ireland’s fight to support those impacted by the lasting legacy of The Troubles
The challenge: Centring people in Governmental procedure
Head of communications and PR Alana Fisher’s ten-person team at CVSNI had a huge challenge ahead of them for this particular campaign – advocating for victims and survivors of The Troubles in the wake of the proposals within the Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill. The Bill was laid by the UK Parliament in May 2022 and widely condemned across Northern Ireland’s political spectrum – key contentions included provisions for immunity from prosecution for Troubles-related offences, and shutting down civil cases such as inquests.
Ultimately, the team knew stopping the Bill’s passage through Parliament would likely be an insurmountable task, and in September 2023, the Bill was passed into law. CVSNI’s energy and resources during its passage were focused on amendments; trying to keep victims and survivors front and centre:
‘There is such a vested interest in this Bill because of what it means for other conflict zones and the rest of the world who would look to the UK as a leader in upholding human rights,’ said Alana.
Actions: Educating on Northern Ireland’s history and influencing decision makers in Parliament
Education on the ongoing impact of Northern Ireland’s past would be a vital part of the CVSNI’s campaign – especially for stakeholders missing knowledge of the issue. Stakeholders to reach alongside victims and survivors were the media, NGOs and academics, international groups including the United Nations, the ECHR, and the US. Key stakeholders with the power to implement change were in UK Parliament:
‘We wrote to parliamentarians likely to have vested interest in this issue and developed very specific requests to be considered as amends to the Bill,’ explained Alana.
‘We were able to have a breakfast meeting with House of Lords Peers, bringing them together with victims and sharing what the Bill would mean for them, their families, and wider society. We got them early around a table, and highlighted those personal stories.
‘Most of the victim sector in Northern Ireland took an approach of no engagement with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO), which is Westminster’s branch looking after NI. The Commission came from a different point of view – we are a statutory organisation, and we have to advocate for all victims. We were vocal in our opposition to the Bill in the media, but alongside this, we adopted a pragmatic approach of leaning, in determining the power and influence we could have in the final shape of the Bill.’
‘The media and our own comms channels were an important way to highlight our messages – traditional media as well as self-generated. We produced podcast episodes on this issue, animation videos – different ways that we could raise the profile and how it was not an appropriate approach to deal with Northern Ireland’s past.’
Results: Growing understanding of impact
‘We really got to grow knowledge and understanding of the continuing impact of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, not just on victims and survivors, but through the generations,’ said Alana. ‘That isn’t always there in mainland UK, particularly with generational change.
‘Many members within the House of Lords went on record to say that this is the wrong approach, and at one stage during its passage, the Lords voted to remove the clause around immunity from prosecutions (it was, however, reinstated by the House of Commons).
‘We were able to get our message onto media channels in mainland UK as well as in Northern Ireland and international journalists, like those at the New York Times who were now keeping eye on this.’
Ultimately, the objective was to centre the voices of those who would be impacted the most, and CVSNI placed them in a position to be heard.
For success in your own cause-led campaigns, remember the people at the centre of your issue
‘When you put human beings in front of other human beings, it’s a different level of understanding that comes about,’ advises Alana.
‘We can put together as many communication tools and press releases as we want, but the power of personal stories was pivotal to us in highlighting what this Bill will do, both for the victims and survivors and their families, but also for the wider reconciliation aspect in Northern Ireland.’
Whatever you’re communicating, getting the word out to those who need to hear it is key. Know what you want to achieve, make sure your team is onboard and prepared, find your stakeholders, and get connecting – it really can make a difference.