Case study: London Ambulance Service documentary boosts morale, public perception and recruitment

An uplift in staff morale, improved public perception and a boost to recruitment were among the benefits for London Ambulance Service after the service and its teams starred in a BBC documentary series.

The BBC documentary had a huge impact on staff morale, recruitment and improved public perception
The BBC documentary had a huge impact on staff morale, recruitment and improved public perception
Appearing in the three-part BBC primetime documentary series Ambulance, along with focused social media support, brought multiple benefits to the service, according to its evaluation of the project.

Headline stats following broadcast showed that 70 per cent of viewers felt more positive towards the service, while two fifths would think twice about calling 999 if the situation wasn’t an emergency.

Job applications for roles as emergency medical dispatchers and graduate paramedics, promoted during the series, also more than doubled.

Internal comms impact

Meanwhile, the internal comms gain was tangible, with more than 88 per cent of staff saying they felt proud working for LAS after the series was broadcast, compared with 54 per cent beforehand.

"It is clear that the documentary - and the multimedia campaign that we ran alongside it - had a huge impact on the whole ambulance service, our stakeholders, the media and viewers," said Anna Macarthur, head of media and campaigns, London Ambulance Service.

"It influenced how people will use the ambulance service in the future, made staff feel proud to work for the service and increased interest in working for us in the future."

Initial discussions were held between the LAS comms team, the BBC and production company Dragonfly, before the service’s executive leadership team approved the project in January 2016.

But at a time when LAS faced intense scrutiny, having been asked to improve by the Care Quality Commission, it was crucial the documentary would have a well-rounded impact.

PR goals for the documentary

LAS set out a number of goals for the PR activity, which included fostering a sense of pride in working for the service while boosting staff morale and retention, highlighting the skills of control room staff and clinical expertise of those on the front line, and showing how the service responds to increasing demand, while maintaining high levels of patient care. 

It also wanted to encourage viewers to consider a career working for LAS, increase public understanding of what is an emergency, influence behaviour and help people understand that not everyone who dials 999 will get an emergency ambulance with flashing blue lights and that people with less serious illnesses and injuries will wait longer. 

A casting period took place, when staff were chosen to appear in the show, before filming took place in April and May 2016.

During a post-production editing phase through the summer, a media and social media campaign, including publicity photos and interviews, was created to maximise the impact of the documentary among staff, stakeholders and Londoners.

Social media reach

Ambulance was broadcast on BBC1 in September and October 2016, during which LAS ran a social media campaign to promote the correct use of 999, encourage people to consider working for the service and promote the expertise of staff. 

A total of 18 Facebook posts had a combined reach of almost one million people, while 74 proactive tweets had 721,000 impressions, with an engagement rate of 3.8 per cent, more than double the usual average rate of 1.6 per cent.

Live Twitter events throughout the three episodes reached a combined total of 1.9 million impressions, with an engagement rate of 3.6 per cent. These included live tweeting while the shows were broadcast, as well as a Q&A with operational staff after one of the episodes.

Traditional media

On traditional channels, there were 39 pieces of regional and national media coverage, in newspapers including The Guardian, Radio Times, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, with a combined readership of around 28 million.

Meanwhile, there was a strong focus on internal comms, with regular updates on the LAS intranet site, The Pulse, the Listening Into Action Facebook group, and daily comms email bulletins to staff.

The London Ambulance Service’s evaluation of the project stated: "The documentary series boosted staff morale and recruitment and changed the perception of the service in a positive way."

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