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Leading from the heart: putting people at the heart of our comms

7 October 2016

What’s the first word that comes to mind when you think about single parents in Britain? When asked as part of research carried out for our brand refresh, 14% of the public said “benefit claimant”.

The fact that this was the most frequent response is disappointing, but perhaps not a huge surprise. Dip into the tabloids most weeks and you’ll see articles about single mums on benefits.

If you speak directly to single parents like we do, you’ll get a different picture. Single parents head up one in four families and come from a whole range of backgrounds with very different experiences. To truly understand life as a single parent, you need to have experienced it first-hand. 

During our recent brand refresh, we realised how valuable hearing directly from single parents with lived experience is to the families using our services. The insights from the project have had a significant impact on our whole approach to comms.  

How our brand refresh changed the way we speak

In 2014, Gingerbread underwent a brand refresh, reviewing everything from our photography guidelines to how we speak about our work and those we’re here to support. A key finding from the numerous workshops, surveys and interviews was that our tone of voice was seen as too impersonal. The way we communicated was described as being head-led, rather than heart-led.

As one member wrote about our website, “It is just, sort of, ‘this is the legal documents, this is what you can do, you must go there’… It’s written in a manner that is not particularly friendly; it’s more informative.” 

Another key revelation was the desire from our beneficiaries for more single parent fronted comms. Our forums are a great place for single parents to support and encourage each other, but our other communications lacked this peer-to-peer element. 

Applying it in practice – a shift in working culture

The findings have had a dramatic effect on how we communicate. Now, our campaigns are spearheaded by single parents, and our internal communications include stories from single parents to inspire staff. However, the biggest shift has been in our advice provision.

Instead of providing advice written by experts, steeped in legislation and exhaustively scrutinised for error, we’ve moved to advice fronted by single parents and drawn from real life experience. A big shift indeed.

We’ve worked hard with our advice team to ensure the quality of our advice is not lost. Advisers are involved in every step in the process, from selecting a topic to editing the final product, and we are careful to link to other, more detailed advice to ensure all questions are answered. 

Our first foray into single parent fronted advice was a video, which instantly showed the benefits of putting single parents at the heart of our comms. We decided to split test the single parent fronted video against an adviser fronted video on the same topic, to make sure our approach was correct. The results were dramatic – the single parent video received six times as many views as the adviser video on the same topic. We tested the videos against each other over three days, after which the remaining budget was allocated to the winning video, allowing us to channel spend to the most engaging content.  This test was incredibly valuable to strengthen our case internally for more investment in comms led by single parents and focused on real life experience.

Our next single parent fronted advice piece was a set of graphics we created from  single parents’ tips on separation. Again, this worked really well: they’ve been seen by 55,000 people on Facebook alone on an advertising budget of just £50 (and from a fan base of 13,000).

The challenges we’re overcoming

This new approach to comms has its own challenges but we’re committed to tackling them. It’s important that the advice we provide is robust and tailored to different parents’ needs, which means it’s impossible to simply substitute other advice products for single parent fronted support. They have to work in tandem, but producing additional content can mean adding to the workload. Furthermore, not every single parent will relate to the person in front of the camera, and not everyone asked will agree that a blog series on dating is the next thing they want to see on Facebook from us. 

Ensuring single parents’ diverse voices are heard and shared now forms part of our day-to-day comms planning. Aside from regular surveys, we are in the process of establishing a single parent panel to check our advice is answering the right questions. We regularly ask our followers on social media for their views on materials we produce or what they would like to see more of. All of this feeds directly into our content. Our brand refresh helped us better understand the community we want to support and how valuable it is to listen to them. 

Kathryn Excell

head of digital, MQ: Transforming Mental Health

Kathryn is head of digital at MQ: Transforming Mental Health. Prior to this, Kathryn was a communications officer at single parent charity Gingerbread. She’s worked in communications and marketing for the last five years helping colleagues and beneficiaries to tell their stories. In her spare time she sits on the board of Global Justice Now and runs along London’s canals as much as possible.