From a comms perspective, collaborating makes sense. It brings experts around the table and working together they become capable of making an even louder noise and more impactful change. That’s why two of the UK’s leading anti-poverty charities, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and the Trussell Trust, are taking a two heads are better than one approach. Tackling the issue of Universal Credit inadequacy together.
With the basic rate of Universal Credit now at its lowest ever level as a proportion of average earnings, combined with the cost of living crisis and rising interest rates, charity support such as food banks have become increasingly vital. People across the UK are having to go without the essentials we all need to get by. And with no sign of economic improvement on the horizon, time is of the essence to secure better support for those that need it most. That means reforming Universal Credit.
Universal Credit can be fixed
JRF and Trussell Trust both know first-hand from working with those directly affected that our circumstances can change overnight. A job loss, a sick family member, a relationship break up – they can all lead any one of us to need extra support.
Universal Credit should offer support to anyone in need of help. But right now, it’s not providing enough to cover the cost of life’s essentials – including food, utilities, and vital household goods. And nine out of ten low-income households currently receiving it are going without essentials.
That’s why together we launched the joint ‘Guarantee our Essentials’ campaign, calling on the UK Government to ensure the basic rate of Universal Credit at least covers life’s essentials and that support can never be pulled below that level. We know this principle has wide-reaching support, with 72% of the public supporting the Essentials Guarantee. We wanted to pull that through the main thread of the campaign to build a powerful rallying cry and motivate our audiences to join us in calling on the UK Government to take action.
Two heads are better than one
Prior to launching ‘Guarantee our Essentials’, colleagues from across JRF and the Trussell Trust came together to develop a joint campaign strategy. Using the Theory of Change process, we collaborated across the core campaign team in dedicated strategy setting sessions to generate a shared understanding of our audiences.
We explored questions, such as: “Who is the person (or people) who has the power to make the change we seek happen?”. “Who influences them and what are they motivated by?”. “Which stakeholders have influence on our issue?”. “Do they support or oppose it?,” and “Who are the key allies we need to get onboard?”.
This approach enabled us to develop a clear sense of direction and a shared understanding of our audiences. It also brought a direct focus to our combined communications approach.
Creating something we could share: deploying an explainer animation
As two charities working towards a shared goal, we had to convey the problem, the policy solution and show how it would benefit people in the simplest and most engaging way possible. Quickly, we all agreed an explainer animation was the best solution to help us communicate this to our target audiences. So, we embarked on creating one to a very focused and concise brief:
‘An explainer animation to help warmer audiences understand why people are going without the essentials, and introduce the Essentials Guarantee policy solution.’
As there were multiple stakeholders, it was important to keep the brief as short as possible. Keeping it to one sentence meant it was easier to reference and share to ensure everyone involved was staying focused on it.
Simplicity is often a key component in charity comms, but here it was vital given the impact we wanted to create and the timeframe we had to deliver it. Animation allowed us to transmit complex messages concisely and simply to our target audiences and on channels they were active on and could share it across.
There was no disputing that animation was the optimum way to convey visually what words alone cannot. Particularly on such an emotive level.
Keeping to a clear, concise script
During the strategy development phase, we worked with Thinks Insight on stress-testing the messages to understand what would resonate most with our joint audiences. We then fed these into a core campaign script, which was tailored to different target audiences.
It was at that point we brought campaign animation experts Flow Creative, in. They helped develop a script that worked for the animation in a simple and understandable way and allowed key messages to cut through. A character-focused animation style was also developed to convey humanity and relatability that would encourage people to get behind the campaign. The voiceover, narration and music track were also central pieces that we chose to set the right tone for the animation.
As a charity specialist agency, Flow regularly works with charities and NGOs to help reach their audiences, tell stories and create meaningful change. Working closely with the teams at JRF and Trussell Trust and bearing in mind the one-line brief, Flow developed a 90-second animation (and shorter cut downs). An animation that treated the subject matter seriously but added just enough optimism in the mix.
The thinking behind using the ‘trapped by circumstance’ metaphor in the animation was drawn from research and lived experience stories that spoke to the effect of adverse life experiences. It was a powerful way to communicate the message that, including low Universal Credit rates, people who are having to repay debts to the Government get even less. And of course, the main policy principle that Universal Credit isn’t set according to any calculation of the cost of essentials, when it absolutely needs to be.
The design elements also didn’t leave anything to coincidence. The characters and background art were kept consciously minimal, with just enough blocks of colour and minor facial detail to convey the emotion of the characters and the humanity in the subject matter, without distracting from the message. And the film itself is animated using a mix of digital and frame by frame animation. Creating subtle movements that help to tell the story with empathy and nuance and allow the campaign goal to take centre stage.
One key driver of working together was increased reach and engagement, which we achieved. The combined stats of the animation exceeded expectations, with over 101,000 views and 14,245 engagements over both charities’ social media channels. Plus, many notable celebrities, news publications, MPs and other charities shared the message by retweeting the video helping generate further exposure. So, while compromise was inevitably something we had to navigate, the results of doing so have benefited the campaign no end.
Lessons we learnt were:
- Collaborating meant we could both work strategically to make the campaign the best it could be
- Working together enabled time, resource, expertise and software to be shared in ways that made challenging deadlines reachable
- Streamlining and embracing useful collaboration platforms like Frontify, allowed us to gather all stakeholder feedback in one easily accessible, place to keep us all on the same page.
See how charities are tackling some of the biggest issues of our time on our dedicated social issues hub.
More articles on collaboration:
- How co-production can be used as a tool for systems change
- Four communications lessons from collaborative campaigns
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