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
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.