Comms teams must tackle the ugly side of World Cup craziness

To improve public order during the World Cup, communicators need to change people's perspective and then their behaviour.

Amanda Coleman is corporate comms director at Greater Manchester Police
Amanda Coleman is corporate comms director at Greater Manchester Police

This week the country will go football crazy as the World Cup gets under way. It should be a time for celebration, but the event – like many others – has consequences for many public sector organisations.

Unfortunately, it is a time when there is an increase in domestic abuse and alcohol-related violence. The recent sunny weather meant a 30 per cent increase in reports of domestic abuse in Greater Manchester when compared with the same weekend in 2013.

The only way this can really be tackled is by encouraging behavioural change, and that is where comms teams come in. They need to find ways to be the agents of change. This means having an understanding of social psychology, philosophy and history to be able to develop campaigns that really make a difference.

It challenges the traditional view many PR officers have of their role. It is no longer enough to have a press release and do a bit of tweeting or Facebooking. It has to be much, much more.

To start with, there has to be a clear understanding of people’s behaviour and what makes them act in particular ways. Then you can start to find ways of changing their perspective on the issue. If you think about past campaigns that have successfully changed behaviour – such as the ‘Clunk Click Every Trip’ seat belt campaign – it worked because it presented a different view. It wasn’t just about saying it was illegal, and don’t do it; it graphically demonstrated what could happen by giving a different viewpoint.

Encouraging people towards viewing things in a different way has always been central to communication, but I believe the PR industry has been slow in acknowledging the skills required to do this. Advertisers and marketers have long been aware of the importance of understanding psychology.

We now need to make sure comms teams have skills that are relevant to the challenges of today. For example, are they able to develop campaigns that can make people look differently at things? Do they recognise how digital developments can galvanise people to a particular view? Or are comms teams still hung up on the press release and the method of delivering the message? I am throwing the old training plans out of the window to start again.

With the World Cup comes ‘fan zones’ where people will meet to watch the matches and drink. More than likely there will raised tensions, and we know the good weather has the potential to increase alcohol-related violence and domestic abuse. While the police do not want to be killjoys and dampen the party spirit, we – and other public sector agencies – will have to try to get people to understand the impact of their behaviour.

Developing the messages to try to prevent these problems will be tough and just the latest step in a journey that we are encouraging people to take.

Amanda Coleman is corporate comms director at Greater Manchester Police

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