One team’s journey to campaign-based communications

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Last year our communications team moved from embedded comms to a centralised team. We now operate within a campaign model.

I want to take this opportunity to talk about some of the ups and downs of taking a government agency on a journey to a campaign-based model. I also want to share some resources that might help you with your transition or to share with your team that it’s a good idea if they’re not quite sure.

What is the campaign model?

The campaign model shifts the focus of comms from an output-driven, potentially reactive approach to a proactive strategy — targeting a specific audience or audiences through appropriate channels to deliver important messages that will help you achieve a desired outcome.

It brings individual pieces of communications work together around a set of objectives and measurements, to allow you to track behaviour change and return on investment.

Finally, it focusses on building a multi-disciplinary approach to planning communications, bringing channels, creative and strategic comms together to tell a compelling story.

Basically, the campaign model allows you the scope and space to plan some great communications.

Example of campaigns which use this model would be GREAT Britain or Public Health England’s Change4Life. Two long-running campaigns with reach in the millions, tangible success and innovative use of digital and traditional channels.

Why the campaigns model?

For me there are three key benefits of the campaign model:

  1. Higher return on investment
  2. More proactive
  3. More joined-up working

In an age of constricted budgets, smaller teams and an expectation for a demonstrable return on investment, the campaign model offers a more targeted approach for comms.

Focussing on a smaller number of high-impact opportunities allows the team to centralise people to work on specific pieces of work. We have the opportunity to bring all our skills together, and when it comes to comms, lots of heads are better than one. It also allows us to communicate on the front-foot because the expectation is that it gives us more time to prepare opportunities and not to feel like we’re always chasing our tails (this doesn’t always happen of course, but it gives us the flexibility to triage incoming requests better).

The campaigns model also allows us to showcase our professional expertise. This is something I have written about before in my blog post ‘aren’t we all comms people now’. In the age of personal blog and social media profiles, the opportunity to show where we, as comms professionals, have added value to an organisation is more important than ever.

Comms doesn’t have to have a budget of millions or a target reach of billions, to make use of the campaign model. For me, the biggest benefit of this approach is that it pulls together all the experts in the comms team to to think creatively together and plan high impact ways to use our channels and content for a specific purpose.

And if I can squeeze in a shoutout here — another reason why the campaign model is a good approach? It’s also a key aspect of the Government Communications Service’s Modern Communications Operating Model (MCOM).

Moving to the campaign model

The shift to campaign communications isn’t always a smooth one. Especially if processes and ways of working are already well established across the department. It is a big change, and as such, requires its very own campaign to encourage both the communications team and the department as a whole to get on board.

Moving to a new model is never easy. Anyone who has done change comms knows that there are certain things no team ever enjoys — and that includes new processes and new ways of working. And it won’t just affect the comms team — a centralised way of working will have an impact on the whole organisation.

It could initially be seen negatively by the organisation. There may be people worried that comms will no longer be able to support them and their work. Because, to every team, their work is the most important.

So I would encourage taking the organisation with you. You could introduce the new ways of working at team stand-ups or host some all-staff meetings to highlight the benefits and the opportunities for staff to get involved. I’d also include some information on your organisation’s intranet or wiki that outlines how campaign comms works.

And most importantly, sell the benefits back to the organisation. If you’ve just finished a campaign (of any size), share the evaluation. Let them know the benefits of a joined-up approach as early as possible, let them see the longer term outcomes as well as the immediate outputs. I can’t reiterate this enough.

Comms teams are not the best about marketing their value back to the organisation but a campaigns approach embeds evaluation and a range of metrics which we can then refer to when showcasing our success.

Bring the team with you

Since moving to a campaigns model our team has benefited from the excitement of a number of ‘micro-campaigns’ that have allowed us to test the model on a small-scale before transitioning into a fully campaign-based approach.

One such micro-campaign centred around the ‘GOV.UK is 5’ birthday celebrations. The fifth birthday of GOV.UK offered the perfect time-bound, small-scale event to showcase the value of pooling time and resource into a high-impact campaign.

We started by outlining the communication objective, and the audience, making use of OASIS planning. Then we encouraged members from across the team to input ideas and opportunities to celebrate the 5th birthday of the UK government’s award-winning website.

With a joined-up approach, we ran a well-received campaign with social, events, press, internal comms and campaigns. All of our published content was aligned to the same objectives, using the same language and targeting the same audiences.

Coming together and evaluating the impact of the micro-campaign was welcomed by the team — they valued the opportunity to proactively plan communications. It was also amazing how much we were able to share and learn from each other during the course of planning and running the campaign.

We’ve started quarterly planning meetings to give ourselves enough time to plan for large scale announcements or opportunities. This approach also aligns us to the ways of working of the organisation, as quarterly mission planning is an approach adopted by a wide part of the organisation.

This doesn’t mean we don’t have a strategy, it simply gives us flexibility to prioritise as and when we need to.

Making the change

If you’d like to find out more about the campaign model, I would recommend reading up on the Government Communications Service’s (GCS) guide to campaign planning. And if you haven’t had experience of OASIS comms planning, I’d also suggest a read of the OASIS campaigns guide.

It’s scary making a change, but I’ve found that the benefits far outweigh the time spent transitioning.

  • Less time dealing with last minute or random requests (though they do of course still come in)
  • more time to focus on comms that truly add value (and to be more experimental and varied with our approach)
  • greater respect for the impact comms brings to the organisation.

And really, what better way to embed the new ways of working than to build a campaign to run internally to explain your team’s shift to a campaign-based model.

I’d love to hear your experiences of moving to a campaign-based model or if you’d like to but aren’t sure how to convince others.