Television advertising was the first contact most people had with
the Government’s New Deal and it remains the principal form of
The advertising campaign started last February and moved into its next
phase in September. It uses real New Dealers and employers who talk
’straight to camera’ about their experiences of the scheme - encouraging
others to follow suit. This ’honesty drive’, so typical of New Labour,
is the key to the whole marketing strategy of the New Deal and will
either strike a chord with viewers or set their teeth on edge.
While the communications strategy for New Deal is being spearheaded by
advertising, it is underpinned by a national PR programme. On the user
side, the target is young people, and on the provider side,
Secondary ’provider’ targets, from whom support is crucial, include
voluntary groups, environmental groups, colleges and training providers.
Older unemployed people, the disabled, past offenders and lone parents
are being specifically targeted in other campaigns.
From his office in Westminster, employment minister Andrew Smith
stresses that ’credibility’ is driving the communications process.
’We had to demonstrate the New Deal was different from previous schemes
and the heart of that difference was both quality and a real response to
needs of individual. This is borne out by the care that has gone into
the programme - and we needed to communicate this,’ he says.
The outline of the New Deal was first floated while Labour was in
Opposition in the Autumn 1995. According to Smith, a decision was made
then to market the scheme on the ’basis of delivery and not simply on
the basis of promise’.
The pounds 3.5 billion New Deal programme is being funded from a
’windfall tax’, which was levied against utilities when Labour took
office in May 1997. Somewhat refreshingly, Smith has refused to make
bullish claims about the future success of the scheme.
’Our approach is absolutely in line with building credibility and the
delivery of performance. You won’t see any quotes from me saying that
New Deal is a stunning success, but you will see me quoted as saying it
has made an encouraging start and then I’ll give the evidence to back it
up,’ he says.
But no matter how credible the Government wishes to appear, just how
easy is it to coax 1.82 million (International Labour Organisation
figures) unemployed people into work and to twist employers’ arms into
providing them with training and perhaps even a job at the end of the
day? On past evidence, it is a difficult task. The bullying tactics
deployed by the previous Government succeeded only in alienating those
it was meant to target. Labour’s approach, characterised by soft words
such as ’partnership’, ’integrity’, and ’quality’, implies there is a
carrot to go with the stick - the stick being of course that the
programme is compulsory.
In reply, Smith says the New Deal will succeed because, unlike its
predecessors, it is based on a partnership between the unemployed,
employers and other interested parties. This ’pact’, Smith hopes, will
help convince young, unemployed people that the programme is credible,
offering them a real future.
However, advertising aside, it is the employers rather than the young
people who are being most assiduously targeted in PR terms. Smith admits
that young unemployed people are a captive audience, since they have to
sign on every week, giving at least one guaranteed point of contact.
That said, Smith has not underestimated the influence of the youth
media, such as the music magazines, on young people (see panel).
The New Deal was launched in ten ’pathfinder’, or pilot, areas in
January 1998, before it was rolled out nationally in April. The PR
campaign began around the same time. Smith himself is responsible for
some of the promotional work and in doing so he jokes that for a while
he became the ’minister for business breakfasts!’
Smith, 47, was appointed Minister for Employment in May 1997 and is MP
for Oxford East. His previous positions have included Shadow Secretary
of State for Transport, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, and
Opposition spokesman for Education, the Shadow Treasury and the Economy.
In his current role, Smith works closely with David Blunkett, Secretary
of State for Education and Employment. Smith is responsible for
employment matters, with of course particular responsibility for the New
Deal, including day-to-day political responsibility. He is also
responsible for labour market statistics and equal opportunity issues
within the department.
He says: ’David and I discuss every key strategic decision. We are both
members of a cabinet committee which has responsibility for overseeing
the implementation of the New Deal.’ Smith also works closely with the
Department for Social Security and the Treasury.
The Department for Education and Employment (DfEE) works with external
PR agencies to promote the New Deal, including The Red Consultancy,
Media Moguls and ASAP. The latter two are communicating the key messages
to ethnic minorities, while the Red Consultancy is working on a
programme to encourage employers already signed up to the New Deal to
publicise their involvement. The DfEE is also involved in managing a
national organisations unit which has been establishing contact with the
top 500 UK companies, endeavouring to persuade them to come on
There are 140 New Deal units of delivery around the country, based on
employment service districts. Each unit of delivery is comprised of
personal advisers and managers and a New Deal business manager, who has
the specific responsibility to market the New Deal to local businesses.
One of the ways this can be achieved is by hosting events, such as
business breakfasts with local employers and information events. The
work of the business managers is co-ordinated by the DfEE, which ensures
the key messages of the programme are being communicated.
At regional level, additional support is given by the DfEE. Business
coalitions have been established in the UK’s ten largest conurbations -
home to the largest concentrations of unemployed people. These
coalitions are made up of key employers who advise on the marketing and
delivery of the New Deal in their particular area.
Although it is too early to tell whether the New Deal will succeed in
its aims, no one can deny that unemployment has become a key indicator
of the success or failure of a government’s economic policy. Does this
knowledge give Smith a few sleepless nights? Ever a politician, Smith
prefers to see this as a challenge.
’It’s one of the key things we have to get right and obviously our
pledge to get 250,000 young unemployed people off benefits and into work
is one of the five pledges on our pledge card. There is no doubt we have
to deliver on this and we accept that challenge.’
NEW DEAL VARIANTS: Weighing up the options
In September 1998, employment minister Andrew Smith announced that
23,000 young people had secured jobs through the New Deal. He added that
a further 8,940 young people are involved in work experience and
training on other New Deal options and in total almost 25,000 employers
have signed New Deal agreements.
On the surface, these figures look encouraging, but the true test of the
programme will come next year when employers who have signed up for the
New Deal are given the option whether or not to offer their New Dealer a
permanent job. The New Deal was launched nationally in April to young
people who have been unemployed for six months or more. This first wave
was taken through a four-month ’gateway’ period, during which they
received coaching and advice to help decide which of the four options
(employment, voluntary sector work, joining the Environmental Task Force
or full-time education or training) they wished to take up. The status
quo is not an option. These placements will last six months, meaning
that it will be February 1998 before it is known how many new dealers
have secured permanent employment.
Smith explains the philosophy of the programme. ’It is not so much a
question of convincing employers to take on a candidate - it is about
matching the right candidate with the right employer. Therefore we can’t
promise we’ll have a candidate right away, but when we recommend someone
they will be suitable.’
He adds: ’If anything, many employers are now wondering where their
first New Deal referral has got to.’
Now that the New Deal for young people is underway, the Government is
busy launching similar New Deals for people with disabilities, lone
parents and the long-term unemployed. Ideas for the future include a
self employment option.
Smith is keen to stress that his employment programme is different from
its predecessors in that the Government is willing to listen to the
views of the people concerned and if appropriate, adopt some of their
An example of this occurred earlier this year when the New Deal received
a major drubbing in the music press and by the music industry - leaders
of which New Labour had been courting. There was concern that budding
young musicians would be forced into ’inappropriate’ jobs and prevented
from developing a career in music. Smith says he met with leading
figures in the music industry and talked the issue through.
’We have put together a variant in the New Deal framework which will
allow musicians to practice and to either go on educational training,
which will help develop their careers in music, or indeed move onto self
employment as musicians. We are looking at this as a pilot - it might be
applied more generally in the creative industries.’
He adds: ’This variant received favourably coverage in the youth press,
but got more critical coverage in the more general press where it was
dubbed ’rock and dole’. That doesn’t bother me - what we’ve done is
apply the same philosophy to the music industry as we have to
construction, health service or engineering industries - working with
them to see how the New Deal best meets the demands of their
While the music press may have reacted favourably to the variants, it is
fair to say the media in general has been less than supportive of the
programme as a whole. The Government may be losing the current battle,
but the war could yet be won next year, when it is announced just how
many permanent jobs have been created as a result of the New Deal.