CAMPAIGNS: Joint venture success for BT/Liverpool - Media Relations

Liverpool City Council signed a £350m partnership deal with BT in April 2001 to transform its customer relations and front-line services.

The deal, believed to be the first of its kind to be signed in Europe, aimed at improving the council's ability to talk to and service stakeholders and customers across Liverpool, by wiring up the entire city to the web and paving the way for continuous investment in information technology services.

The size of the task meant that around 700 council employees were seconded to work on it. Three 'integrated one-stop shops', where residents can access all council services and use the new electronic information kiosks, have already been launched.

The project also included building Liverpool's call centre, Liverpool Direct, which has grown from 12 staff to 126.

Objectives

To appeal to a diverse media audience at the launch stage - from specialist IT and personnel press to mainstream national, regional and local newspapers and TV.

The key objective was to position Liverpool nationally as a leader in the development of e-government and a pioneer in local government technology.

Strategy and Plan

The idea for promoting the joint venture came out of a regular staff meeting at Liverpool City Council's newscentre, where it was decided the announcement of the joint venture as a birth - with BT and the city council playing proud parents - would best fit its strategy and objectives.

The publicity would surround the donation of a new computer with a printer and digital camera from BT to every child born on the day of the launch of the joint venture company on 1 June 2001. This would almost guarantee media interest and create a strong photo opportunity as well as help community relations for the new partnership.

It was especially important to 'humanise' the deal as the actual arrangement was complex and detailed explanation of the deal would distract from the key messages.

In the event of the launch, 21 babies were born, and the PR team at Liverpool City Council managed to get ten newborn infants involved in a photo-shoot marking the launch.

On the day of the launch 'congratulations' cards with a teddy bear and dummy were sent to the media, and BT and city councillors headed to Liverpool's maternity units to meet the 21 babies born on the same day as the joint venture.

Two months later a VIP party was held for the 21 'BT Babies'. They were invited to the Town Hall (along with their parents) to meet the Lord Mayor of Liverpool Gerry Scott and city council leader Mike Storey, and were presented with their free computers, cameras and accessories.

Measurement and evaluation

The baby stunt was a significant hit with every media audience the council and BT were targeting.

BT's agreement to donate the computers was widely covered. The babies' day at the Town Hall, and a picture of ten of the babies with the Lord Mayor and city council leader, appeared in both the Liverpool Daily Post and Liverpool Echo. The Liverpool Echo devoted an entire page to the story, with two pictures, along with a taster on its front page.

The LGC (Local Government Chronicle), the MJ (Municipal Journal), Nursery World and New Start also used the picture and story. Coverage was also secured in The Economist, six specialist human resources publications including Personnel Today and IT Training; more than 20 IT and telecommunications publications including Local Government, IT in Use and Computer Weekly; The Financial Times, Merseyside radio station Radio City, Granada and regional BBC TV and radio. It also gained extensive coverage on the internet. These media were targeted because of their readership profiles, which covered key government, local and corporate audiences.

The city council's own colour magazine, City, also reported the event. This is delivered free to all of Liverpool's 220,000 households.

Results

Representatives from more than 60 local authorities, as well as private sector companies, senior civil servants and government ministers, have all visited Liverpool to see the scheme in action.

The one-stop shops now handle around 7,000 enquiries a week - more than four times the contact rate they achieved in their former role as housing offices.

Liverpool Direct now takes up to 25,000 calls a week (the two millionth caller was logged on 11 December 2001), operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is regarded as an example of Best Value and a model for the future of local government contact.

'We were delighted with the uptake and interest. It was a very strong story anyway, but the BT babies allowed us to put a human face to it all,' says Matt Finnegan, Liverpool City Council head of news.

Now that the babies - and computers - are delivered the focus on follow-up coverage has been on the groundbreaking joint venture itself.

This is being studied and visited by other local authorities, senior civil servants, politicians and business leaders and may become a model for similar innovations elsewhere.

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