Earlier this year, Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games handover and homecoming celebrations gave the world a glimpse of to expect from the city when it hosts the event in 2022. Eleri Roberts, Birmingham City Council’s assistant director of communications, explains how with just four weeks’ notice, the council and its partners engaged residents in Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games story and launched the city onto a global, live stage. Birmingham City Council was awarded a bronze award for this work at the 2018 public service communications excellence awards.
As part of winning the bid to host the 2022 Commonwealth Games Birmingham was invited to participate in the handover celebrations. It was a fantastic opportunity to showcase the strengths of the city and get a global audience excited about what Birmingham could offer after the amazing Games that the Gold Coast hosted. But with limited time we needed to find a way to not only deliver a great handover and homecoming, but also get our residents and stakeholders engaged in the process.
We had won the bid based on a campaign that emphasised Birmingham’s youthfulness, energy and the strength of our diversity, so it was important to keep that message consistent. We needed to create content, and a handover/ homecoming experience, that engaged young people in the spirit of the Games, but we also needed to make sure that residents across the city were a part of the experience too and felt proud of the way we were presenting the city to a global audience. On a practical level, we also had the challenge of working out how to put on a spectacular handover live event and a homecoming celebration with just a few weeks’ notice.
To reiterate our bid messages of youth and diversity, we commissioned several of Birmingham’s leading young talents to develop work specifically for the handover. This included a film by local filmmaker Daniel Alexander called ‘We’re from Birmingham’ to champion the people and places that make the city unique. We also enlisted the help of Birmingham rapper MC Lady Sanity to perform her track, ‘Go the Distance’ in the Gold Coast and commissioned local poet Amerah Saleh to create a short spoken word piece about the city. Although all the artists were well known in their own fields, it was important to introduce them and their work to the widest possible audience to help create excitement about the handover and pride in the Games, and Birmingham, more broadly.
To achieve this we created video shorts of all of the performers which were shared with the media and through the council and our partners’ social media channels to help build familiarity and pride in the run up to the actual handover ceremony. By using young talent we wanted to appeal to young people across the city who might be considering getting involved in the Games as volunteers (research had shown is that in the 2018 IAAF World indoor championships 26 per cent of volunteers were under 30), while also making sure that residents and visitors of all ages had sufficient time to get to know the acts and the story that we were telling.
For the live event we knew we needed something spectacular. We commissioned choreographer Rosie Key to create a dance with more than 400 young people from the city set to Mr Blue Sky, by ELO; an iconic Birmingham band. We wanted to create something that harnessed the talents of our young people but also hinted at how slick the city would be at hosting a live event. We shot the performance in one continuous take live as the Gold Coast handed over to us. It was a never wracking few moments which were executed perfectly – we’ve even been nominated for a Royal Television Society Awards for the technical work behind the performance.
For the homecoming event we working with partners across the city to stage ‘have a go’ taster sessions of the sports that would be on offer the gamers and staged live performances by acts from across the city to make it truly special.
From a communications perspective we had an important role to play in communicating two very different messages for two connected events. Specifically, we needed to limit people coming into the city to see the handover performance by emphasising that is was content made for television and encouraging people to stay at home to get the full impact. We then had to reverse that messaging for the homecoming event and encourage people to come down to the city centre and get involved. This required careful planning across our channels and working closely with our partners to make sure that the right messages were distributed at the right time.
We saw some impressive statistics for both our handover and homecoming events. The video we made of MC Lady Sanity’s Go the Distance track was viewed 14,000 times and there were 111,000 view video views on all our social accounts in the week of the handover event. We trended on Twitter on handover day with over 30.8m potential impressions and secured some fantastic media coverage including 24 national print and broadcast articles. Both the handover and homecoming events saw followers on the Commonwealth games social channel increase by 42 per cent and 82 per cent of respondents to a homecoming party survey we ran said they believe Birmingham hosting the Games is positive and will boost jobs and investment in the city.
Why it worked / how we’re sustaining it
In some ways the limited timescales made us braver and more determined to make things work. We didn’t have the luxury of endless discussions or meetings about ideas so we had the opportunity to be bold which I think was key to the events success.
A big part of the success was also the way we worked with partners, including those who we might not ordinarily have worked closely with as a council, including Edgebaston and the Hippodrome. Involving a wider range of partners across the cultural, sports and arts sectors gave us access to a much wider range of creative talents and contacts that we would have had if we were delivering this alone. I also provided extra resilience to help promote our creative messages which we as a council had to also continue with our day to day local government communications. I also think our choice of artists was key. They highlighted Birmingham’s vibrance, youth and diversity which made sense with our other messaging while creating visual content helped us to reach a wide audience in an easily digestible and interactive way.
Perhaps the biggest lesson was the importance of looking outside of normal local government relationships to deliver place-based events. As councils we can sometimes find ourselves relying on our traditional partners who are hugely important, and we absolutely need, but we can be more imaginative about who we involve in work like this, especially when it concerns our areas as places rather than services. We also learned that continuous video shots are really complicated to film!
Want to know more?
For more information about this campaign please contact Eleri Roberts, assistant director of communications at Birmingham City Council.