Media: Strategy Analysis - Taking the RSPCA into the digital age

Brand: RSPCA

Client: Julie Briggs, campaigns manager, RSPCA

Brief: Generate awareness, understanding and support for the RSPCA's

political and legislative campaigns

Target audience: MPs and Lords, pet owners and general public who are

concerned about animal welfare

Budget: £600,000 a year

AGENCIES

Media: Mark Swansborough, Rocket

Creative: Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO

DVD content: Drum PHD

Online: PHDiQ

STRATEGY Traditional forms of political campaigning are very slow - petitions, for example, take up to a year to generate 80,000 signatures. Also, we are becoming increasingly desensitised to animal welfare issues in the wake of the human suffering caused by events such as the 11 September attacks, the war in Iraq and the Asian tsunami.

PHD Group needed to develop a strategy that used new channels of communication to ensure the campaign messages would be heard in an increasingly cluttered news environment, as well as generating demonstrable support.

This is not a one-campaign solution. PHD Group has been developing new approaches to campaigning for more than a year across a number of key campaigns. These included the "ban hunting" campaign, which had a text-response mechanism at its heart. This was followed by the "firework" campaign, where text-response was employed to gauge the level of public support on the issue of firework noise, generating 40,000 text responses to a £125,000 press campaign.

The Animal Welfare Bill was to be the most significant piece of animal welfare legislation in the past 100 years. Critically for the RSPCA, it would allow the society to intervene to prevent cruelty.

Lack of public awareness meant Rocket's biggest task was to get the Bill on to the public agenda. This was a huge challenge on a budget of £150,000.

PR coverage would be crucial, as would demonstration of public support.

The campaign idea was to create an event forum to which the RSPCA could attract animal welfare groups, MPs and Lords to debate the issues of the bill. Journalists would also be invited to observe the debate.

EXECUTION

PEvent/PR A press conference would not be enough to guarantee a good turnout from MPs and journalists. The solution: a half-hour celebrity documentary called Inspector for a Day. The film (made in conjunction with Drum) follows Miranda Richardson, Gail Porter, Uri Geller and Emma Milne (TV vet) as they join an RSPCA inspector for a day and experience first-hand the daily frustrations of current legislation, which prevents RSPCA inspectors from helping animals.

The launch of the documentary included a screening and conference with Milne and Porter, attended by MPs. The national press covered the documentary, debate and campaign extensively. The Guardian Weekend dedicated a feature to the documentary and campaign story. Porter was invited on to GMTV to talk about the campaign issues.

PPress PHD Group used the Daily Mail to ensure broad understanding among a sympathetic audience. It distributed more than 500,000 Inspector for a Day DVDs to its readers as polybagged inserts. The wrap directed readers to watch their "free celebrity DVD". A text-message response was incorporated, asking readers to text postcodes and pledges of support, which would then be forwarded to local MPs.

RESULTS

The Daily Mail DVD achieved 5,000 text responses. Each MP then received a copy of the DVD with a personalised list of their local constituents who supported the campaign.

The RSPCA believes the campaign helped to achieve overwhelming parliamentary support for the Animal Welfare Bill, which has now progressed to the next stage of the legislative process.

As a direct result of the success of the text-response strategy, the RSPCA and PHD Group are now embarking on a committed CRM campaign through text-messaging.

THE VERDICT - Will Collin partner, Naked Communications

In the past, the RSPCA has run famously creative press advertising, such as the dead horse on a hook. The strategy was to use shocking images to propel an issue on to the news agenda and into the public consciousness.

But these three campaigns signal a change in strategy, from using media as a platform for shock tactics to using media as the recruiting sergeant for grass-roots support.

This is a smart approach. First, becausethe effectiveness of the old strategy has been blunted as we are increasingly inured to shocking images on the web and news channels . Second, because it harnesses the trend of people embracing communications technology to express their opinions and influence political debates, which in the past were accessible only within "official" media channels.

This phenomenon was perhaps most memorably observed in 2001, when more than one million Filipinos gathered in a spontaneous political demonstration.

This protest was stimulated by a simple mobile text message calling for a mass assembly, which was forwarded from friend to friend in a massive viral cascade. The presidency of Joseph Estrada ultimately fell as a result of this popular pressure.

Like the Filipino activists, the RSPCA is encouraging people to express their opinions by text message. Cleverly, it is tapping into the pool of passive sympathisers, which is far larger than the minority of committed activists: stimulating the sending of a text message is pretty easy, as we know from the Big Brother eviction votes.

With the Animal Welfare Bill, the RSPCA has shown itself to be abreast of another emerging trend in communications: branded content. Here again, it is harnessing popular technology (the DVD) to prod the jaded animal-lover into action. Whereas in the past it might have run full-page, long-copy newspaper ads to make its point, here we see it using newspapers as a mute vehicle to distribute its own TV content - surely far more involving than a press ad.

My only question is whether those who sent text messages can really be considered to have been recruited as supporters. I suspect these campaigns were successful because sending a one-off text is far less of a commitment than joining a cause for the long term.