Public sector communications excellence awards – silver winner. Senior Customer and Communications Officer Anushka Desai explains how Buckinghamshire County Council’s communications and public health teams worked together to promote the health and wellbeing activities available in the local area and support residents to lead healthier, more active lives.
One of the strategic priorities of the council is for residents to have the aspiration and opportunity to lead successful and independent lives. To support this goal, our public health team developed the Active Bucks programme to develop and promote activities taking place across the county each week with the aim of increasing physical activity levels amongst residents. Our challenge as a communications team was to develop messages that raised awareness of health and wellbeing issues, promoted the services available and supported the council’s ambition to recruit 4,000 Buckinghamshire residents to become involved in sustained physical activity.
We began by researching the levels of physical activity in Buckinghamshire so that we had a clearer understanding of our target audiences. We conducted extensive desk research which revealed that 38.2 per cent of adults in the county were not undertaking sufficient physical activity to benefit their health. We also conducted focus groups and surveys with around 3500 residents to find out what activities they would want to participate in and which communications channels they would be most likely to engage with.
The results of our research phase showed that we needed to take an integrated approach to our communications activity. With such a wide range of people to reach, we needed to make sure that we invested resources in a range of channels. We also decided to divide our campaign into three distinct stages. These were an informing and engaging stage, a stage where we linked physical activity to the time of year when people are more likely to make changes or have free time (in this case, January and April to coincide with the New Year and Easter holidays). Once we had increased general awareness we would then actively promote the activities that had a low turnout, how capacity to take more people, or in areas where there was a particular need.
Targeted online advertising was a significant part of this campaign as it allowed us to reach our target audiences in a more streamlined and efficient way. Our social media officer helped to create targeted adverts about different activities based on audience interests and we increased the volume of these around of January and April campaign milestones. We promoted the Active Bucks website in our council e-newsletter (which reaches more than 20,000 subscribers) and issued regular press releases about the facilities. With around 75 per cent of our employees also living in Buckinghamshire we also communicated the Active Bucks facility to them through our Yammer pages, digital displays, newsletters and as a desktop image.
A particularly important approach we took to promotion was to utilise the local expertise, knowledge and communication channels of key partners such as district and parish councils who helped raise awareness of activities amongst residents – including those who were less ‘digitally-confident’. In addition, we were able to harness the expertise of local leisure providers to deliver a range of activities that effectively engaged and retained residents in regular physical activity – particularly those who did little or no activity at all.
We also recruited more than 50 community champions, made up of local residents from a range of backgrounds, to promote the Active Bucks website and local activities to local people. Using face-to-face engagement allowed local people to ask questions and find out more about the programme and also provided us with access to community groups and their individual communication channels, which we wouldn’t have had easy access to before.
Between May 2016-September 2017 the programme successfully engaged 4415 residents, exceeding our original target. 37.5 per cent of those people reported that they had been inactive at the point they registered for an activity, so it was great to see that the sustained campaign work has reached the people we needed it to. During the same period the Active Bucks website secured over 56,000 hits from 45,000 unique users. We saw 3,052 vouchers for free first sessions downloaded, with 25 per cent of those being from people who described themselves as inactive. Our targeted Facebook activity achieved a reach of around 300,000 with engagement level at 22,000.
Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it
Adopting a multi-channel approach, which included both online and face-to-face channels was particularly successful as it allowed us to reach communities that might otherwise have been hard to engage with. Linking campaign activity to the months when people are enthusiastic about living healthy lives was also a big benefit as we could focus on promoting the services and benefits of a healthier lifestyle without having to overcome as much reluctance from our audiences.
In terms of our next steps, we’ll be continuing the campaign over the coming year but with a specific focus on engaging BME groups, men of working age and people over the age of 65 as our research showed that those were groups we particularly under-represented and would benefit significantly from being more regularly active.
Originally we had sought help from an external agency with our social media activity but we learned early on that it was better to run this activity in-house, not least because it provided us with such a rich data set that we could use to develop our campaign. We’re also in the process of reviewing our website as we discovered that while our target adverts achieved strong click through rates, our conversion rates were affected by the fact that the adverts took people to our website homepage rather than the activity itself. This led to some interested residents not completing their booking so we’re exploring ways that we can make it more straightforward for people in the future.
Want to know more?
For more information please contact Anushka Desai, Senior Customer and Communications Officer at Buckinghamshire County Council.