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How a clear communications strategy can save lives

By Rachel Gladwin

I can’t think of many – if any – times in my career when work I’ve done has helped save lives. But the communications advice we gave our client Biffa for a public awareness campaign that improved safety did just that.

This differed from most of the PR campaigns we undertake for Biffa in that commercial concerns were secondary; this was about changing attitudes and behaviour.

Biffa’s health and safety project stemmed from the fact that no one should need protection from the public when they are just doing their job.

But Biffa’s waste workers face deadly danger on the roads and pavements of the UK due to the irresponsible actions of a few irritable drivers.

Quite simply, vehicles held up by Biffa waste trucks doing their roadside collections were mounting the kerb and driving along the pavement rather than showing a little patience.

That put staff and pedestrians in mortal danger. Police estimated there were 30,000 incidents of reckless driving on pavements each year across the United Kingdom. But in 2013, just six per cent resulted in a prosecution.

A dangerous industry

Biffa’s staff work in the UK’s second most dangerous industry. The company knew an awareness campaign could improve the safety of its people. From this, Biffa’s Driving Recklessly on Pavements (DRoPs) campaign was born.

What started out as a corporate social responsibility campaign in one police force area soon spread to 20 constabularies as a simple public relations message about impatient drivers putting people’s lives in danger sunk in.

The results were to be emphatic, with a 50 per cent drop in reported incidents within a few months of the awareness campaign’s launch.

And our PR and communications strategy earned us professional plaudits – nominations in the PR and Storytelling category at the Masters of Marketing award, and the Trade and B2B Campaign Award at the Midlands PRCA Dare Awards. It was also on the shortlist in the Best B2B Campaign category at the PRmoment Awards in The North earlier this week.

The success of the public awareness campaign stemmed from shocking showreels we put together from footage captured by the 360-degree cameras fitted on Biffa’s waste trucks.

They showed how impatient drivers raced along pavements to get around the trucks, without a thought for the waste operatives or other members of the public.

The shocking footage of drivers acting so recklessly when they thought there would be no repercussions ensured media interest. These images were quite routine in Biffa’s terms and a major cause for concern – but recognising their impact on people outside the business was what allowed us to get our message through.

Launched with the full cooperation of the South Staffordshire Constabulary in their area in the run-up to Christmas last year, the DRoPs public relations campaign earned great coverage on BBC Midlands’ news bulletins before featuring in the UK’s national and regional press and media.

Over the coming weeks, it was reported in the Daily Mail, ITV News Central, The Sun, Metro, Eastern Daily Press and Birmingham Mail. Readers and viewers had a combined 450 million opportunities to see the coverage.

Campaign endorsed

In the months since, the DRoPs campaign has been endorsed by various local authority advisory committees and national road safety partnerships across the UK. And the PR message we devised has been incorporated into 1.8 million copies of the Good Egg New Driver Guide.

It has changed drivers’ attitudes and behaviour. In some parts of the UK, waste workers reported 50 per cent fewer DRoPs incidents.

By carefully selecting the best channels and curating the correct content, we delivered the kind of change our client was looking for.

We sent out powerful PR messages that didn’t only demonstrate Biffa’s corporate social responsibility, they helped change public behaviour.

To find out how we push the boundaries of PR and marketing to get the best for our clients, call us now on 0800 612 9890.