Campaign: Public Sector - Oldham strives to unite its community

Campaign: Oldham Beyond

Client: Oldham Local Strategic Partnership

PR team: Spin Media

Timescale: September 2003-July 2004

Budget: £14,800

The race riots in Oldham in May 2001 severely dented the town's image. A subsequent Home Office report accused Oldham Borough Council of failing to create stable and integrated communities. In response, the council formed a private-public sector alliance - the Oldham Local Strategic Partnership (LSP), funded by the North West Development Agency - and a team of consultants conducted analysis of the town's past, present and projected future. A PR strategy was needed to encourage residents to contribute to the final report, 'Oldham Beyond'.

Objectives

To involve the borough's young people, and those living in the poorest areas, in the consultation process.

To change the perception of the town by getting residents and the local media to believe the idea that Oldham could be improved.

Strategy and Plan

The local media had been dominated by negative stories about Oldham for some time and the council felt this was reinforcing the fears and perceptions that residents and others had about the area.

It was important to get the Oldham Advertiser and the Oldham Chronicle on side, so one-to-one briefings were held with editors and news editors to explain why Oldham Beyond was different from the Home Office report and other previous studies.

Spin Media supplied features to the newspapers for eight weeks and tried to ensure spokespeople from local businesses and voluntary and community groups involved in the LSP were available for interview. However, meeting the newspapers' deadlines was a major challenge because the editorial had to go through a lengthy approval process as so many organisations were involved.

An inflatable consultation room - dubbed the 'Thought Bubble' - travelled around the borough to help persuade residents to come forward and give their views. A competition organised with the Oldham Advertiser asked young people to describe Oldham in text-message shorthand.

Measurement and Evaluation

According to media monitoring agency Durrants, the campaign generated more than 160 articles, including coverage on Channel 4 News and Radio 5 Live and in the Financial Times, The Times and the Manchester Evening News.

The launch of Oldham Beyond was given exclusively to The Guardian's Society section to prompt other media to pick up the story. Stories also appeared in specialist regeneration titles. However, there was some negative exposure. The Daily Express questioned whether the Thought Bubble was the most appropriate way to tackle the town's race problems, and some residents complained that some people in their area were not consulted.

Results

The consultation achieved input from more than 2,000 residents, ten schools and a range of stakeholders, although it is too early to judge whether the campaign has changed attitudes.

'We had to do a lot of leg-work ourselves to get to speak to the people involved in the LSP, and we got a mixed response to Oldham Beyond when we talked to our readers,' says Oldham Advertiser news editor Jamie Whitehouse.

'But we will probably do a follow-up soon to see what impact it has really had in the town.'

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