Campaigns: WI strives to change jibes about its jam - Rebranding

Client: Women’s Institute

Client: Women’s Institute

Campaign: Changing perception of the WI

PR Team: In-house

Timescale: early 1999 - ongoing

Budget:pounds 30,000 per annum

The Women’s Institute has long been seen as a group of middle-aged,

middle England Conservatives whose primary function is to make jam. In

fact, the organisation has been a campaigning, educational, and rural

support group for decades - including campaigning for better pay for

nurses in the 1930s, and raising awareness of breast cancer in the


The WI, which now has 250,000 members, appointed its first dedicated PR

practitioner, Sangeeta Haindl, 18 months ago to draw up a communications

strategy to turn its image round.


To enhance the WI’s profile, marrying its modern and traditional


To recruit more members.

Strategy and Plan

Haindl started by looking at the WI’s logo, and the way the organisation

was communicating to members and externally. She worked with the board

of trustees to develop a new logo, ensuring that it was approved by

members via the national chairman and general secretary, who have both

come up through the grass roots.

Members who act as contacts for the local media were provided with their

first publicity materials, including posters detailing the activities of

the WI, with the strapline ’A modern voice for women’. A quarterly

newsletter and workshops were also set up to keep them abreast of


In June 1999, the WI held its annual event for members at the Royal

Albert Hall, to vote on a number of resolutions including for a five

year moratorium on GM foods. GM was the flavour of the month and most of

the nationals picked up on the story. In July, the WI had another hit

with the press when it produced its Changing Village report on the

plight of rural communities.

Last summer, representatives from Tony Blair’s office met the WI and

suggested he might like to attend an event. When the WI was planning its

now infamous triannual general meeting at Wembley Arena, No 10 said the

PM was keen to attend.

Briefings were held with Blair aides, on the issues the WI felt he

should be aware of, such as the resolutions to be voted on. They made it

clear that although the WI was a political organisation, it was strictly

non party-political.

The night before the meeting, the newswires announced the PM would be

making a political speech the following day. ’We were astonished to find

it was on our platform,’ says Haindl. The WI had not had a prior copy of

the speech, and during Blair’s delivery it had to act quickly. The media

all wanted the WI’s response, and Haindl and national chair Helen Carey

briefed around 30 broadcast and press journalists between them with the

message that the WI was a dynamic, political organisation.

Measurement and Evaluation

The WI’s ability to grab headlines has snowballed over the past year,

culminating in the blanket coverage of the reception to Blair’s


Formal evaluation of the results of the last 18 months’ campaigning and

research into whether the WI has succeeded in its objectives is top of

Haindl’s priorities. So far media analysis has shown that the key

messages are coming through. Membership has increased by 8,000 during



There’s still some way to go but the jam jokes are definitely on the way

out. The Blair speech was effectively used as an opportunity to get rid

of the stereotypes and position the WI as a radical organisation.

Thanks to a thorough internal and external PR effort, the WI is at last

been seen as a political animal which has a serious campaigning role to

play in women’s and rural issues.

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