As you would expect from a communications campaign, the planning and preparation for our Christmas project started well before the festive season. In fact, the idea was conjured up last July.
We planned to build an online Christmas advent calendar that would capture the festive memories of older guests who attend Contact the Elderly tea parties throughout England, Scotland and Wales. Behind each door of the calendar there would be an audio story with accompanying imagery. We wanted to bring new visitors the website to raise awareness of Contact the Elderly and the service it offers; by doing this we hoped to increase volunteer numbers and encourage older people to join the tea parties.
With 24 stories to source, we had a lot of work ahead of us, including choosing suitable elderly people to interview who felt comfortable sharing their memories, deciding how best to record and edit the interviews and working out how to host the stories on the charity’s website. And of course, as a small not-for-profit organisation, we had a tight budget to work with.
We used three methods to record our interviews. Firstly, we purchased a digital voice recorder (costing around £40) for the face-to-face interviews we carried out in London, which allowed us to store and transfer large audio files to the computer. The digital voice recorder has come in handy for other comms work, including recording media training with staff members.
However, with individuals to interview in other cities and more remote corners of Wales and Scotland, we needed another way to capture the words of our older guests. One of the team suggested using Skype to connect with our older guests via the telephone, and we downloaded a free trial of Callburner to record the conversations.
If you talk to another person who is also using Skype there is no charge for the call. Using it to call landlines incurs a fee – but Skype credit goes a long way, and we were able to call a lot of our older guests on a small budget. We used a small webcam with an inbuilt microphone to talk to the older guests and headphones to block out distracting, background noises (both pieces of equipment were already available in the office).
Finally, we worked with a professional recording studio that kindly provided their workspace and equipment free of charge. If you’re not able to seek out this sort of opportunity, don’t worry, as a digital voice recorder and Skype are perfectly adequate and produce good quality audio files.
When it came to editing the audio, we were able to stick to budget with a member of the comms team using a free piece of software called GarageBand on their personal Mac. This was probably one of the most time-consuming tasks, but it was an absolute pleasure to listen back to the audio and be transported into another era of festive memories.
Although none of the comms team had ever used this software before, we were able to comfortably navigate our way through the process. Once you’ve edited the audio in GarageBand it allows you to convert the file into an MP3 format, which can be easily exported or uploaded to a host site.
Creating a slideshow
The final stage involved choosing complementary photos from free image banks and using a free tool called Windows Movie Maker to run each audio file over a series of images to create a slideshow. These were then uploaded to YouTube – another free service.
We purchased an advent calendar template from the internet, and with the help of a web designer contact – who was happy to offer his services for free – we were able to customise and host the advent calendar on the Contact the Elderly website, with the embedded YouTube files.
With just over 3,000 unique page views of the advent calendar on the Contact the Elderly website, the campaign was a great success in terms of encouraging visitors to the site. We record information on how individuals hear about us and also monitor where new volunteers and older guests find out about us – this will help us to evaluate the success of the advent calendar campaign and plan future campaigns.