Holly Garner and Parveen Devi, communications officers from the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, share their innovative approach to getting people back to the high street and boosting the local economy, as part of the post-pandemic recovery.
Due to COVID-19, businesses and cultural institutions had faced closures or limited operation for 16 months. As a borough, Kensington and Chelsea had been particularly affected by the loss of tourism between March 2020 and July 2021. Encouraging post-pandemic recovery, spending, and footfall, was key to boosting the local economy and getting businesses back on their feet.
Before the launch of the 'Summer of Love' campaign at the end of June 2021, business support had been provided by the council throughout the pandemic in the form of:
- grants and business rates relief
- pavement and highways licences
- pedestrianisation of streets
- a Business Interruption Fund
- rent relief for market traders
- rent suspension for commercial property tenants
- a helpline for hospitality businesses
- a dedicated e-newsletter ‘Business Matters’
- launch of a COVID-19 web portal
- social media and other assets to announce ‘We are open’ and ‘Welcome back’ when COVID restrictions began to ease.
Thanks to the support provided throughout the pandemic, as well as the 6,500 contacts that the council had amassed through its business newsletter, the communications team had developed great relationships with local businesses and organisations. These relationships were crucial to gathering feedback, content and support throughout the new campaign.
As part of the ‘Welcome back’ campaign that ran earlier in the year, the council and businesses had worked hard to reassure people that businesses were COVID-safe. Videos and other materials were created by the council’s in-house communications team. These assets were glossy and positive and featured personal stories and content from businesses – once they began to circulate, businesses who had been slow to engage became keen to be involved.
Building on the ‘Welcome back’ campaign, the council decided to launch a dedicated summer campaign with the aims of:
- highlighting the unique selling points of the borough (including parks, markets, historical landmarks, shopping and dining)
- positioning the borough of Kensington and Chelsea as a destination to visit while travel was limited during the summer of 2021
- encouraging residents to rediscover what they have on their doorstep and encourage a positive post-lockdown feeling of reconnection.
After carrying out research with businesses and communities (using existing focus groups) the communications team decided to create its campaign around the ‘Summer of Love’. The message and the branding harkened back to the heydays of the Kings Road and Portobello Road. The message of ‘love thy neighbour’ was well-received across the borough’s diverse community.
The communications team had to work hard to get buy-in from members. After toning down the initial branding and designs (which were thought to be too psychedelic), explaining the strategy and sharing evidence of pre-testing, the campaign was ready to go.
The objectives of the ‘Summer of Love’ campaign were to:
- increase traffic to the new ‘Explore Kensington and Chelsea’ microsite
- drive footfall and spending to high streets in the borough over the summer
- generate engagement on social media and increase the use of the #OurRBKC and #KCSummerofLove hashtags.
The campaign was funded by the Government's Welcome Back Fund. The communications team got to work creating a calendar of more than 60 events and activities. Competitions were also launched on social media and other channels with prizes donated by local businesses. Events were led by both the council and external organisations, and were organised through relationships with local businesses, cultural institutions and partners.
Prior to the official launch of the campaign, promotional packs were issued, a press release was circulated to the media, the dedicated webpage was launched, leaflets were distributed to all residences in the borough, handout walking maps were printed, and the events were advertised in a local publication.
The campaign launched with a jazz band (in Duke of York Square) and a social media takeover with new banners bearing the campaign branding. There was also a chess event (that pulled together a niche crowd of all ages), Wildlife Bingo and a ‘Summer of Love’ trail created by the Museum of Brands. From each event, the communications team generated photographs and content to feed all channels.
Outcomes and lessons learned
The success of the campaign was evaluated by measuring:
- engagement and reach – through webpage visits and clicks, open rates and link-clicks of the e-newsletters, as well as news stories and media coverage
- social media engagement – through use of the hashtags, competition submissions, likes, shares and comments
- footfall in the borough – through attendance and ticket bookings at events as well as data on footfall and spending obtained from Vodafone and Mastercard (which the council’s ‘Planning and Place’ team had access to and shared with the communications team for evaluation purposes).
From the end of June, to September, the campaign webpage received 4,100 visits and visits to the ‘Explore Kensington and Chelsea’ microsite increased by 359 per cent from April to July.
From 1 June to 15 September, 77 pieces of campaign content were shared on Twitter and Facebook receiving more than 91,000 impressions. Videos posted received more than 2,500 views.
Despite the poor weather, COVID wariness and the easing of travel restrictions overseas, ticketed events sold out. Spending from April to July rose the most in Portobello Road, up by one per cent on normal spend at that time of year. Visitor footfall reached a peak of 25,000 in Kensington during the second week of July. In Chelsea, visitor footfall reached a high of 32,000 during the first week of July.
Specific successes of this campaign were the photo competition, the boost to numbers using the ‘Explore Kensington and Chelsea’ website, and the walking maps – which were very popular.
Learning points from the campaign were:
- making some of the competitions simpler to take part in
- engaging social media influencers to a greater extent
- planning ahead with signage for events
- checking requirements for the installation of a flower wall at an earlier stage.
The relationships built with local businesses throughout the pandemic, often through direct conversations and two-way engagement, were key to the success of this campaign. Through dedication and hard work, the communications team and other council colleagues now understand the needs of local businesses far better following the pandemic. These strong relationships are set to be a vital asset in future Kensington and Chelsea communications campaigns.