Close-Up: Live Issue - Is the DoH sending out the right smoke signals?

An army of agencies have joined forces under COI to ensure England is prepared for July's smoking ban.

There can be few members of the English public for whom the 1 July ban on smoking in enclosed public spaces will come as a shock.

According to Department of Health research, 90 per cent were aware of the ban, even before the "Smokefree England" campaign, co-ordinated by COI and managed by the DoH, got under way.

So why spend almost £9 million on a multichannel campaign to tell us what we already know?

According to the DoH, there is still resounding confusion about the ban. Sheila Mitchell, its marketing director, explains: "There are lots of urban myths. For example, that the ban only affects pubs serving food. There has also been a lot of confusion about when the ban comes into force and what 'enclosed space' actually means."

Six agencies have been briefed to answer these remaining questions. Mediaedge:cia is responsible for communications planning; Farm is handling advertising; Partners Andrews Aldridge is producing direct mail; Fishburn Hedges is in control of PR; Profero is in charge of online activity; and i-level is planning the online media strategy.

The agencies' main challenge is the sheer scale of the target audience. They needed to inform 3.7 million businesses - including shops, cafes, pubs and bars - about the necessary signage and the obligatory removal of smoking rooms. The agencies also have to educate various stakeholders - including local authorities, student unions, minority groups and health bodies, not to mention the 49 million members of the English public.

Rachael Allan, the communications and stakeholder manager at the DoH, says: "With any piece of communications that the department does, it's always about how to reach audiences such as hard- to-reach businesses, organisations that don't work within a national structure and harder-to-reach groups of the public."

A key target is to inform people that the legislation is aimed at protecting health, not controlling social habits. Mitchell says: "It's not about a nanny state, it's about positioning the legislation as protecting other people in the community."

In the early stages of strategic development, the DoH sought inspiration and advice from other countries that had implemented a ban, including New Zealand, Ireland and Scotland. Allan says: "We looked at what other countries did, from how they managed stakeholders to when they started talking to the general public. We've taken the best bits and amalgamated those to produce the strategy."

Following extensive qualitative research and dialogue between the policy and communications departments at the DoH, it approached the agencies with the brief to convince stakeholders, businesses and consumers that the legislation was "needed", "wanted" and "workable".

The umbrella strategy was structured into two phases: the first began in December 2006 and targeted businesses and stakeholders through DM and PR; the second was predominantly aimed at the general public, and began 50 days before the ban, earlier this month.

To ensure all the complementary strands of activity came together as a unified product, the strategy was the result of a collaborative effort. However, some decisions were made by the DoH and COI before meeting with the agencies.

Kate Waters, a senior planner at Andrews Aldridge, says: "The decision to target businesses and stakeholders was taken by DOH and COI. The detail of how we talked to businesses, the creative and strategy decisions were then taken by us in partnership with the DoH and COI." Waters says it was a "happy accident" the media strategy MEC developed for the latter half turned out to be similar: "It wasn't a campaign where the DoH and COI briefed everyone at once; the agencies were brought on one by one."

MEC devised the strategy for the second phase, which it sub- divided into "announce", "inform" and "remind" stages. After creating a framework, a detailed strategic plan was presented to the DoH in a joined-up presentation by MEC, PAA and Farm. Ian Edwards, a group strategist at MEC, explains: "The DoH then worked with agencies to determine what their creative briefs were and COI then had the final sign-off on the plans."

Stuart Sullivan-Martin, the chief strategy officer at MEC, says: "The big challenge was getting the right balance between consumer and business-to-businesses messaging. There's no point just talking to businesses, you have to enlist the public's knowledge and compliance. But the TV, press and outdoor that will happen over this next month is the tip of the iceberg."

The direct marketing has been entirely focused on businesses, as these were expected to be the most proactive in implementing the policy. "The legislation requires businesses to make some potentially big changes," Waters explains. "So we've been very careful to position the information as practical help and advice to make the implementation as hassle-free as possible."

An initial mailer, which outlined the broad detail of the regulations, was sent to 700,000 priority businesses. Then, in April, a guidance pack was sent to 1.7 million businesses. This contained detailed guidelines, a wall chart and the option for businesses to sign up to reminder e-mails. The below-the-line activity was also supported by press ads aimed at businesses.

As 1 July draws closer, the DM activity will increase in a bid to get those laggards who have left compliance until the last minute to act.

The TV campaign launched on 14 May, with an ad following a man around the establishments covered by the ban. "We wanted to get across straightforward information and find a way of describing things concisely and in a way that is engaging, interesting and memorable to the viewer," Emma DiGiacomo, an account director at Farm, says.

A second TV ad will launch on 11 June to reinforce the date and introduce the idea that non-compliance could lead to a fine or legal action. The TV ads are supported by poster executions that explain when England goes smoke-free.

The website, smokefreeengland.co.uk, contains targeted information for businesses, individuals and health and community workers, as well as a countdown clock to 1 July and video footage from the chief medical officer.

Educating the largest UK territory about the ban has not come without its challenges. Edwards says: "It's a complicated piece of legislation, and achieving the Government-set 95 per cent compliance level by 1 July is very difficult."

Waters adds: "Another big challenge was overcoming the assumption by businesses that their office is already smoke-free and then getting them to understand the degree of change required."

Despite all six agencies having to synergise their output, everyone involved claims the process ran smoothly. Bi-weekly cross-channel meetings were instrumental in co-ordinating the campaign. Mitchell says: "The agencies had a really good ethos of working together; there was very little conflict about territory throughout the process."

TIMELINE

December: PR activity targeting stakeholders; website, www.smokefreeengland.co.uk, launched.

January: Direct mail push to 700,000 businesses.

February: National Stakeholder Conference and Parliamentary exhibition launched by Fishburn Hedges.

April: Direct mailer sent to 1.7 million businesses.

May: TV and poster campaign breaks, supported by press ads and a radio campaign aimed at businesses. Online ads go live.

June: Second TV ad breaks, backed with digital and outdoor executions.

July: "Smokefree" starts.

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