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Changing the Conversation

Changing the Conversation

Natasha Smith

Natasha Smith

April 17, 2018

Trying to change public perception on a more-than-complicated issue is no small feat

We sat down with Havas People’s head of copy, Jonathan Lee. He shared how his team worked with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to showcase the public’s raw, uncensored opinion on how prisons “should be” and fired back with the ways in which they turned inmates’ lives around through their program.

 

What was the main goal of this campaign?

HMPPS is responsible for running prisons in England and Wales. Last year they introduced a new program—the Senior Leadership Scheme—with the key aim of fast-tracking 20 individuals to positions of leadership. Our goal was to help them find those 20 future leaders. Which sounds pretty simple, but when you consider the narrative around our prison service at the moment, it was anything but.

"We first had to do something pretty clever to change their long-held preconceptions."

 

What, do you feel, are the most common perceptions about prisons?

If anyone wants to know how the prisons are perceived in the UK, they can just take a look at social media. It’s rarely positive. Fueled by opinion and articles in the mainstream media, the overriding narrative is that our prison service “isn’t working”, “is in crisis,” and “a place where violence and rioting is a daily occurrence”.

Did these perceptions make this campaign more challenging?

Absolutely. The perceptions are a massive obstacle. Our research was pretty emphatic in showing that while our target audience was attracted by the idea of the role, the view they’d formed of the service was a significant deterrent. It’s true to say that HMPPS is going through a period of transformation, and they know they’ll have challenges to overcome along the way, but for people to not want to join them because they’ve only seen one—unrealistic—side of the story was a big frustration. In many ways that was an underlying motivation for us.

How did Havas People solve those challenges?

There’s a brilliant story to tell about the work HMPPS does. The work they do to rehabilitate offenders and turn their lives around. But to even get people to consider engaging with that kind of message, we first had to do something pretty clever to change their long-held preconceptions.

Our solution was to take the daily negativity and turn it to our advantage. We decided to take naïve or simplistic views from people across social media, stick it front and center of our campaign, and basically say to them, “Look, if running the prison service really was as easy as you are making out, don’t you think we’d have done it by now?” For any brand to question public opinion is pretty brave; for a government agency to do it is unheard of. Which made the idea even more powerful.

"We decided to take naïve or simplistic views from people across social media, stick it front and center of our campaign."

Describe the moving parts of this campaign.

The beauty of the campaign is that we didn’t have to create anything. Instead, the negative articles, comments, and opinions that people were sharing every day became the fuel for our campaign. Across social channels and a targeted digital media campaign, we took the views and openly questioned their simplicity.

While that certainly did enough to disrupt the narrative and get people questioning their perceptions, we still had to get the right people to apply. We predominantly used Facebook for this, as it gave us the chance to have public and private conversations with people who were taking an interest in what we were saying. We also took their views and questions and presented them to leaders within HMPPS—creating a series of videos that gave a voice to those who knew the truth about what’s happening in the service.

What was the result?

It’s worth pointing out that this was just a three-week campaign. So we had to get our campaign in front of the right people, alter their perceptions and then get them to apply in a pretty short time-frame. Experience told HMPPS that we’d also need 400 applications if we were to hit our 20-hire target.

The result was that 516 applications were received and HMPPS actually made 26 hires on the back of it. Plus we’ve helped the service start to change the dialogue around how prisons are run, which will help future recruitment campaigns.

The campaign has already garnered a bit of industry recognition too, picking up Integrated Campaign and Work of the Year gongs at the RAD Awards—which are the big ones in the world of employer branding.

Future plans?

The 26 future leaders will start on the scheme on May 29, and we’re currently working on a project that will help them document their time on the scheme. HMPPS also wants to run the campaign again later in the year for their second intake, so we’ll be looking at ways to build a v2 with even greater impact.

We sat down with Havas People’s head of copy, Jonathan Lee. He shared how his team worked with Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) to showcase the public’s raw, uncensored opinion on how prisons “should be” and fired back with the ways in which they turned inmates’ lives around through their program.

 

What was the main goal of this campaign?

HMPPS is responsible for running prisons in England and Wales. Last year they introduced a new program—the Senior Leadership Scheme—with the key aim of fast-tracking 20 individuals to positions of leadership. Our goal was to help them find those 20 future leaders. Which sounds pretty simple, but when you consider the narrative around our prison service at the moment, it was anything but.

"We first had to do something pretty clever to change their long-held preconceptions."

 

What, do you feel, are the most common perceptions about prisons?

If anyone wants to know how the prisons are perceived in the UK, they can just take a look at social media. It’s rarely positive. Fueled by opinion and articles in the mainstream media, the overriding narrative is that our prison service “isn’t working”, “is in crisis,” and “a place where violence and rioting is a daily occurrence”.

Did these perceptions make this campaign more challenging?

Absolutely. The perceptions are a massive obstacle. Our research was pretty emphatic in showing that while our target audience was attracted by the idea of the role, the view they’d formed of the service was a significant deterrent. It’s true to say that HMPPS is going through a period of transformation, and they know they’ll have challenges to overcome along the way, but for people to not want to join them because they’ve only seen one—unrealistic—side of the story was a big frustration. In many ways that was an underlying motivation for us.

How did Havas People solve those challenges?

There’s a brilliant story to tell about the work HMPPS does. The work they do to rehabilitate offenders and turn their lives around. But to even get people to consider engaging with that kind of message, we first had to do something pretty clever to change their long-held preconceptions.

Our solution was to take the daily negativity and turn it to our advantage. We decided to take naïve or simplistic views from people across social media, stick it front and center of our campaign, and basically say to them, “Look, if running the prison service really was as easy as you are making out, don’t you think we’d have done it by now?” For any brand to question public opinion is pretty brave; for a government agency to do it is unheard of. Which made the idea even more powerful.

"We decided to take naïve or simplistic views from people across social media, stick it front and center of our campaign."

Describe the moving parts of this campaign.

The beauty of the campaign is that we didn’t have to create anything. Instead, the negative articles, comments, and opinions that people were sharing every day became the fuel for our campaign. Across social channels and a targeted digital media campaign, we took the views and openly questioned their simplicity.

While that certainly did enough to disrupt the narrative and get people questioning their perceptions, we still had to get the right people to apply. We predominantly used Facebook for this, as it gave us the chance to have public and private conversations with people who were taking an interest in what we were saying. We also took their views and questions and presented them to leaders within HMPPS—creating a series of videos that gave a voice to those who knew the truth about what’s happening in the service.

What was the result?

It’s worth pointing out that this was just a three-week campaign. So we had to get our campaign in front of the right people, alter their perceptions and then get them to apply in a pretty short time-frame. Experience told HMPPS that we’d also need 400 applications if we were to hit our 20-hire target.

The result was that 516 applications were received and HMPPS actually made 26 hires on the back of it. Plus we’ve helped the service start to change the dialogue around how prisons are run, which will help future recruitment campaigns.

The campaign has already garnered a bit of industry recognition too, picking up Integrated Campaign and Work of the Year gongs at the RAD Awards—which are the big ones in the world of employer branding.

Future plans?

The 26 future leaders will start on the scheme on May 29, and we’re currently working on a project that will help them document their time on the scheme. HMPPS also wants to run the campaign again later in the year for their second intake, so we’ll be looking at ways to build a v2 with even greater impact.

Natasha Smith is the strategic communications manager for Havas Group. She happily represents 404 in the 212.

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