Case studies: proactive media relations

On this page, there are 3 case studies.

Ministry of Justice

Many press officers wouldn’t see the Daily Mail as the newspaper of choice when placing a story about giving prisoners free accommodation on their release.

But it carries huge influence with a daily circulation of over one million readers, particularly when it comes to the public’s view on crime and justice. The tone that the Daily Mail takes can make or break a Government policy in that realm.

It, therefore, became our main target for landing this politically-sensitive policy. Rather than fire a press release out to every outlet and risk a mixed reaction, we felt that getting a positive telling of the Government’s case in the Mail would set the tone for future coverage.

We worked closely with the Mail’s home affairs correspondent, providing him with a press notice and Ministerial op-ed three days in advance of the announcement. We also arranged for him to speak with Minister Lucy Frazer on background so that she could explain the rationale behind the plans.

In the Minister’s op-ed, we tackled the most likely criticism of the policy upfront, stressing that this was not a case of handouts but of cutting crime with evidence it could cut reoffending by half and save billions of pounds.

The op-ed ran in full alongside a prominent page lead story which was almost a carbon copy of our press notice. It contained no critical voices, perfectly delivered the Government’s message about keeping the public safe and goes to show how you can land a difficult story in an unnatural place with the right handling.

James Cox, Harry Harper, Richard Mellor.

Department for International Trade

“The CPTPP might sound like an official has accidentally leant on their computer keyboard…”

The opening of the BBC’s Trade Correspondent’s “explainer” summed up the challenge of our announcement of the UK’s intention to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Before we could expect the public to support this decision, we needed them to understand what it was, as well break the news across 11 countries already signed up to the trade bloc.

Our first hurdle was communicating internally across 8 different time zones to keep teams updated on messaging and timing because we wanted the story to break simultaneously. A regular meeting time for 7:00 GMT was set – an early start in the UK but a late finish for our colleagues in New Zealand where it was 20:00 locally.

We recognised early media engagement would help cut through the pandemic-focussed news agenda, so we held media background briefings.

This ensured that the story cut through: the BBC broke it with a newsflash across digital and TV; 2 homepage stories; and a package on BBC Breakfast and Radio 2 Jeremy Vine interview.

We sought permission in advance to use interview clips on our social channels and smashed our impressions target by over 2,500%.

Widespread coverage in the Sunday papers and the Secretary of State doing the morning media round, led to CPTPP trending in twitter’s top 10.

We also met our target of landing the story in every CPTPP country, with over 100 pieces of coverage in South East Asia alone.

Claire Thornton and Harriet Waldron, DIT.

Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

The current planning system is complicated, favours larger developers and often means much needed new homes are delayed. Any changes to the system are politically explosive, at risk of nimbyism and attract high-profile commentary from a wide range of campaigners – from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, to RIBA and the Local Government Association.

Our proposals announced on the 6 August amounted to wholesale reform of the planning system – the biggest changes since it was created in 1947. In order to land our proposals successfully we needed to use all parts of the team to achieve a positive outcome.

Ahead of launch we were primarily concerned with ensuring we could clearly explain what the changes mean, to try and counter dissenting voices, while reassuring key stakeholder groups and helping to deliver the policy objective: informed and constructive debate to contribute to the consultation.

Deciding stakeholder engagement was key, we set out a comprehensive, tiered engagement plan – ministers, officials and comms to comms – with over 200 organisations to secure broad support for our plans in the media and responses to our consultation. We worked with 14 organisations to secure positive statements which were used as talking heads or in the press notice as well as 4 targeted scripts which were given to selected journalists, depending on their editorial stance and extensive pre-briefs with journalists and broadcasters.

Overall there was considerable reaction to the announcement with over 40 organisations issuing statements. Overall reaction was supportive in sentiment, particularly from the construction sector while, as expected, environmental organisations were critical in their response to the proposals. The announcement achieved blanket media coverage with 84 pieces of national coverage (print, online and broadcast) with 76% of coverage supportive or neutral/mixed in tone. On social media there were nearly 150,000 impressions, over 3,500 engagements and over 200 retweets of our assets. We could not have achieved this level of support without the extensive pre-engagement with stakeholders and the supportive commentary helped to balance out the negative comments from some of the more critical campaigners.

Tom Fairchild, MHCLG.

HM Revenue and Customs

COVID-19 business support schemes have helped save millions of jobs – from the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) supporting employers to pay wages to the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS) helping the self-employed stay afloat.

These campaigns were unprecedented both in scale and speed of delivery. We based our communications on four principles; announce, prepare, launch and support. Our external communications strategy aimed to maximise awareness and encourage applications for the schemes to safeguard millions of jobs, while minimising demand on phone lines at a time when customer service levels were already impacted by the pandemic.

Social media was central to our approach, giving us strong audience reach when businesses were feeling overloaded. Short, targeted messaging included a call to action (apply now) and links to step-by-step guides on GOV.UK to make things easier and simpler for customers. Working closely with HM Treasury and Cabinet Office enabled us to deliver a unified message, share creatives and work within a single budget to maximise audience reach, keep the message consistent and deliver strong results.

We also worked with external stakeholders and partners to an unprecedented level, gaining their advice and support in creating the systems and guidance as well as using their direct channels to customers to maximise our reach.

Our external communications activity included:

  • media opportunities for senior leaders, offering personalised and authoritative commentary in times of uncertainty
  • regular email bulletins for stakeholders and MPs
  • 900 targeted social media posts, including case studies, scam alerts and fraud
  • deterrents with a reach of over 20 million
  • aligned cross-government messaging, paid for social and digital advertising
  • Engagement with key stakeholders to boost advocacy, building their feedback into our guidance and operational design and asking them to amplify our comms via their direct channels to customers
  • targeted press releases and briefs to key media
  • working with TV producers to answer live customer questions about the schemes
  • resolving media case studies where customers had difficulty using the schemes
  • CJRS videos with over 2.5 million views to emphasise application deadlines.

HMRC exceeded its targets across all schemes, with 11.2 million jobs supported by CJRS, 2.2 million self-employed grants paid and 85,000 venues joining Eat Out to Help Out.

The schemes have also improved HMRC’s ratings for competency and trust, helped us build stronger relationships with – and get positive feedback from – stakeholders. For example, May 2020 saw a huge 70% net positive achieved from our comms with stakeholders (vs our target of 30%). This was up from 59% in April and 45% in March.