Creating award winning work despite the pandemic

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Throughout the pandemic, which has affected so many so badly, we have been fortunate: not just personally but professionally. Fortunate that our position in local authority communications has allowed us to help those organisations and the communities they serve to handle the crisis as best they can.

The range of issues thrown up by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns has been far from straightforward. As well as behavioural campaigns about safety measures and supporting the NHS, there were child welfare and domestic violence campaigns, Reopening High Streets campaigns, new low-traffic neighbourhood and licencing initiatives. All of which were equally important the welfare of residents, businesses and the councils.

However, despite what has been the darkest of years, we have found ourselves creating some of the best work that the agency has ever produced. This has already been validated with two gold and one platinum award at the Hermes International Awards 2021. That is the biggest single haul we have made at these awards.

How has this happened?

No doubt, like many others, we managed to find an extra gear that help us meet the insane deadlines and reduced budgets we found ourselves encountering, but something else happened: we managed to gain more creative freedom.

Local government is not known for its laissez-faire attitude to communications or design. Any campaign will need to go through rounds of stakeholder approval, through policy, planning and the services themselves before being signed off by a leadership team.

All that changed during the pandemic. The biggest fear for many councils was not that they doing the wrong thing, but that they were seen to do nothing.

Campaigns that would have previously taken months to get out of the door were waved through in weeks, sometimes days. Use of new channels and platforms that hadn’t been tried before were signed off without question.

One of our award-winning campaigns was the Reopening Westminster branding (also a finalist at the Creative Moment awards). It encouraged residents and visitors to venture back onto the streets safely and support Westminster’s local businesses. It also advertised the new cycle lanes and extended walkways that were being created across the city. The branding covered streets from Marylebone to Victoria, and from the Aldwych to the Harrow Road. Normally a campaign of this scale would be planned up to a year in advance, we had three weeks before the first signage needed to be printed.

It wasn’t easy, every night was a late night. But everyone in the team saw it as a great opportunity to create something huge.

And it’s not just been a success at the awards. Businesses, council leaders and stakeholders have all give really positive feedback about how well the campaign has been received.

This lack of ‘over-governance’ and new found agility has allowed us to create more and more successful campaigns. As I write this we are preparing a case study for our Vaccination Hesitancy campaign that has been adopted by near 30 councils across the country so far, with some outrageously successful response data.

I don’t know how long this way of working will last. I suspect we are already seeing a return to a more ‘business as usual’ approach, and that’s probably for the best. After all, to ensure best value for our clients we need clear, well thought-out briefs and measured, considered feedback plus the time to produce high quality ideas.

But the lesson here for local government and public sector clients everywhere is that you can get better, more effective campaigns by running braver work and giving creative teams more freedom to deliver it.

 

Jon Lilley

Executive Creative Director

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