Surfing the political agenda: A public affairs campaign that drove a tidal wave of stakeholder opinion in 2014

Friday, 12 December 2014, 9:27 | Category : General
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This week Kate Hinton, Senior Associate at The PR Network, shares her insights into what makes an impactful public affairs campaign, following this years’s successful Car Lite programme for our client Zipcar UK, the leading car club operator. Kate has been a member of The PR Network since 2010 and was previously in senior communications positions at the Energy Saving Trust and London First. 

“The exhilaration of surfing – the rush of the surf as you race towards the beach – is beginning to feel like a dream as winter is now fully upon us. But all is not doom and gloom as there is always something to look forward to whether it’s the sparkle of Christmas, New Year parties, Valentine’s Day or the beginnings of spring.

Public Affairs and stakeholder campaigns are pretty similar to surfing – action-packed with the thrill of success and the long wait for a decision, and also fraught with potential pitfalls. The whims of politics are like rip currents that can either take you completely off track, or bring the joy of a wave that can take you to the shore and your final destination.

Much as I love surfing, not much can beat the sheer sense of achievement when you achieve policy backing for a campaign that will ultimately mean a better environment and a more liveable capital. Zipcar’s Car Lite Campaign – to enable car clubs to be a mainstream part of London’s transport system – is a great example of a campaign that has had its twists and turns but has achieved a great deal in an unusually fast timescale. Car clubs have the potential to deliver significant reductions in congestion and improve air quality, as they enable people to have access to a car, without owning one. The removal of a car outside your front door not only saves money, but encourages smart travel behaviours such as cycling, walking and public transport.

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Within less than a year the Car Lite campaign has been notable for its rapid progress. Its five key ingredients for success include:

1. A clear set of evidence, written by established and well-known policy makers, such as Malcolm Fergusson and Frost & Sullivan, that demonstrated the benefits of car clubs to London. These are: congestion reduction, reduced need for parking and air quality benefits. Critically, these benefits addressed key challenges that London faces and appealed to a wider set of policy makers.

2. Building a coalition of key stakeholders – ranging from environmental and transport and cycling campaign groups, to some of the leading policy and London decision makers – has helped to amplify the case and benefits for car clubs and helped put the campaign on the political map. This alongside media relations including briefings with the FT has helped drive the campaign message home.

3. Developing partnerships with the key players and decision makers in London’s political framework including TfL, GLA, and London Councils led to the staging of London’s biggest event on car clubs. This provided the platform for inviting Transport Minister, Baroness Kramer, and the Deputy Mayor, Isabel Dedring to speak at the event.

4. The launch and the development of car club best practice guides for boroughs at the event. These were developed in partnership with TfL and London Councils and have provided the mechanism for car club operators such as Zipcar to work more closely with the Boroughs.

5. At the close of the year the ultimate goal is now within sight – leveraging the event to create a coalition of car clubs and the drafting of London’s car club strategy. It is this strategy that will ultimately provide the vision, framework and the policy support that will ultimately take car clubs mainstream. This will achieve huge benefits for London as well as deliver high growth potential for car club operators such as Zipcar.

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This may now all sound like an easy surfing ride, but there were moments where the team was concerned about those rip tides, particularly around the stakeholder event. The event nearly got cancelled several times due to transport strikes, concerns about attendance figures and so on. A combination of the fantastic relationships (some very late night texts!), strong communications, staying calm and a momentum of support kept the event on track and made it a huge success with over 100 attendees from boroughs and stakeholders.

The Car Lite campaign is now firmly on the political agenda. The right mix of ingredients has enabled it to rapidly build, but its ultimate success has come down to two key components. Firstly, our great client contacts at Zipcar who are driven about making London a better place to live and work, and secondly building great relationships with the stakeholders and partners who have joined us on the journey to make London a more liveable city in 2015 and beyond.”

Contact Kate at kate.hinton@theprnetwork.co.uk / @kateahinton

Visit the Car Lite content hub for more information about this important campaign for Londoners, and follow Zipcar on Twitter @ZipcarUK for news, views and promotions for consumers and businesses wanting to use cars without owning them. 

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