Case study: How we used traditional PR in a public sector comms campaign

The Drive and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) comms team carried out a campaign to target vehicle tax evasion before the COVID-19 lockdown took place. This is what they did.

traditional PR is an important tool in the media relations armoury, writes David Jenkins
traditional PR is an important tool in the media relations armoury, writes David Jenkins

When launching our campaign to target vehicle tax evasion, we understood that the only way to generate engaging coverage for a potentially dry subject matter was to offer gritty, on-the-ground opportunities for local media in areas of the country where evasion rates are highest.

Our tried-and-tested approach involved inviting journalists to media days, to watch our enforcement action unfold.

Opportunities for the media included the chance to record footage of a vehicle being clamped and lifted, an interview with a DVLA spokesperson, and the chance to speak to enforcement officers about their experiences. To reinforce the local angle, we offered the media our latest stats on the number of enforcement actions taken in their area, helping them to tell our story against a familiar backdrop of the local streets.

Turning our proven blueprint for success into a successful media event meant weeks of preparation and planning.

Ensuring that our spokespeople had the media skills and training to deal with any ‘curveballs’ was integral.

Being experts on the subject matter, as well as undergoing intensive media practice, helped our spokespeople adopt the confident and assured manner that was needed to control the conversation effectively.

This meant that the press officer could feel comfortable about the interviews and focus on any other contingencies that might jeopardise an effective day.

Once, we discovered that the ‘local’ vehicle pound was considerably further from a local newspaper’s offices than anticipated; we solved this by securing permission to meet and film at a local race track car park instead.

There was also the unpredictable ‘human element’ to manage.

For example, when a vehicle-keeper reacted angrily to his car being clamped, the press officer discreetly ushered the media away from the scene.

We wanted to ensure that the media’s experience was authentic.

This meant the press officer needed to apply sound judgement to maintain the right balance between allowing informal chats with enforcement personnel to flow naturally, while safeguarding the key campaign messages.

Starting from 06:30am to catch live breakfast radio slots, we hosted back-to-back 90-minute sessions through the course of a morning, including ‘ride-alongs’, interviews and live clamping action.

One press officer and one media spokesperson delivered up to four slots in a typical morning for local newspapers, TV channels and radio stations. Through the campaign, they became very familiar with the residential areas of our key cities, while also juggling follow-up calls from journalists and being sure to capture high-quality visuals for our own social-media channels.

This activity all contributed to a high-paced stream of media outputs throughout the day, maximising the local ‘noise’.

Journalists clearly relished the opportunity to tell a locally focused story, featuring ‘real’ people – and the resultant coverage invariably reflected this.

We secured blanket coverage on local and regional television, radio and newspaper outlets – including the lead story on BBC breakfast radio in one location, who also sourced their own vox pops from a local shopping centre.

All the coverage carried our key messages, telling our story in a positive way.

Measured by the quality, quantity and prominence of the coverage we secured, this campaign shows traditional PR is an important tool in the media relations armoury.

A successful exercise using traditional PR.

David Jenkins is media relations manager for the DVLA communication team

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