Forestry Commission brings in Freshwater to promote Highway Rat Activity Trails

The Forestry Commission has appointed Freshwater UK to spearhead a national PR campaign and blogger engagement activity promoting its Highway Rat Activity Trails.

Highway Rat: Julia Donaldson's character is the face of the Forestry Commission's Activity Trails campaign
Highway Rat: Julia Donaldson's character is the face of the Forestry Commission's Activity Trails campaign

Freshwater is responsible for leading the PR as well as managing the social media and blogging elements of the campaign.

Award-winning author Julia Donaldson's Highway Rat character has become the face of the Forestry Commission's Activity Trails and will be central to the comms drive.

The aim of the activity is to boost the number of families with children visiting Forestry Commission woodland across the UK.

Work will primarily target families with children aged three to six years old, as well as nurseries and pre-schools, throughout 2018. Campaign objectives include achieving widespread media exposure, high levels of social engagement, driving click-throughs to the campaign site and boosting the number of visitors to Forestry Commission Activity Trails.

The agency will work closely with the Forestry Commission’s comms team, on earned media placement and blogger engagement in the parenting space. Social media users will be encouraged to share photos and comments on social media using the hashtag #TheHighwayRat.

The creative heart of 'The Highway Rat' campaign is an eponymous 2011 story by former children’s laureate Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler about a highwayman-style rodent who steals from various creatures, including a squirrel and a duck.

The characters from the story have been licensed for use by the Forestry Commission. The association kicked off when 22 trails were launched in December last year, coinciding with the BBC's debut airing of an animated production of the tale, starring David Tennant and Rob Brydon.

The Forestry Commission's Activity Trails are designed to entice families with children to go for walks through forests and woods across the UK. Ten illustrated panels are dotted along each trail, carrying information on the flora and fauna of the woodland using imagery from the story, and suggesting activities such as rubbings. Parents can buy an activity pack for £3 at visitor centres containing activities, stickers, puzzles and a rat mask.

Freshwater was appointed after pitching against other agencies in the UK Government’s Campaign Solutions Framework.

Josephine Lavelle, the Forestry Commission's national marketing and membership manager, said: "We use PR and marketing agencies to amplify the work of our small, experienced in-house team.

"Our new forest trails feature our latest collaboration with the creators of The Highway Rat. Appearing in 22 forests across England, they offer a great, cost-effective, off-peak offer for people wanting an alternative outdoor experience with their young children."

Freshwater joined the Campaign Solutions Framework in 2016, a process that saw an original 450 applicants whittled down to a roster of 27 agencies. The framework is estimated to be worth up to £350m over the course of four years.

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