'We needed to provide an uplifting narrative' - Behind the Campaign, with Anchor Hanover

Derya Filiz, head of external comms at Anchor Hanover, England’s biggest not-for-profit provider of housing and care for people in later life, gives the lowdown on the organisation's 'Creating positivity amidst a pandemic' campaign.

Coverage: a campaign picture made the The Daily Mirror front page
Coverage: a campaign picture made the The Daily Mirror front page

What was the campaign, in a nutshell?

Amid relentless headlines around social care and coronavirus, we needed to provide a counter narrative that reassured the public and ensured our staff and residents felt valued and supported. By capturing and championing the experiences of residents and colleagues, our campaign celebrated our staff’s dedication and how they’re supporting residents at this challenging time.

How did the idea come into being?

In March it became clear the world was on the brink of a crisis unseen in our generation. With the social care sector facing unprecedented scrutiny, we faced a profound comms challenge. Older people’s vulnerability was dominating the headlines, and the sector’s high staff turnover and ongoing recruitment challenges became exacerbated.

We knew we needed to adapt, to reflect and respond to this. From our conversations with residents and colleagues, it became clear we needed to provide an uplifting narrative. Our care homes have countless amazing initiatives and stories, so we set out on a mission to amplify these.

What ideas were rejected?

We needed to strike a delicate balance – not being critical of the Government, but instead focusing on the reality of life under lockdown for older people and social care staff. Initiatives we’d previously planned to launch, which focused on increasing community interactions, also had to be paused, to reflect lockdown and social distancing.

Briefly describe the campaign planning and process.

Working with our longstanding PR partner Stand Agency we focused demonstrating the resourcefulness and creativity of our staff in helping keep residents’ spirits up. We kept our ears close to the ground, sourcing positive and empowering stories.

From a care home in Ipswich curating a VE Day museum of residents’ wartime memories, a veteran resident receiving a salute through the window from Royal British Legion members and grateful locals (which made the front page of The Daily Mirror), to a Summer of Sport uniting all 114 of our care homes in a week of sporting activities, we created powerful, personal stories with strong imagery that secured blanket media coverage and helped redress perceptions of care homes.

The pandemic inspired many people to consider new ways in which they could help others. Faced with a striking workforce shortfall, we tapped into this sentiment. We launched a recruitment drive, identifying recruitment hotspots and highlighting how rewarding a career in care can be.

Lastly, we wanted to ensure that the sentiment behind ‘Clap for carers’ became a permanent societal shift. Our consumer research exposed the nation’s increased respect for the social care sector and a desire for it to be held in the same esteem as the NHS. We issued the stats three months after lockdown began, securing cut-through as a news story.

Combined, all three strands helped us achieve our ultimate objective of ensuring social care workers are valued and their efforts to provide quality care to residents do not go unnoticed.

What were the biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Every media tactic needed to be risk-assessed against stringent and evolving social distancing and PPE guidelines – with a robust internal risk assessment, we were ready to change tack every step of the way. We also needed to be mindful not to overburden our colleagues, so gathered what we needed efficiently. For all their help at this time, we will be forever grateful.

How did you measure the results?

We reached more than 45m people with over 800 media hits across national, consumer, regional and trade outlets.

We saw direct behaviour change. Our recruitment drive achieved 7,500-plus applications in a single month – a 9,767 per cent increase compared to the same period last year. We recorded a 16 per cent increase in staff believing Anchor Hanover cares about their wellbeing and more than 30 per cent of our care homes received messages of support and hope from their local community.

One frontline colleague said the campaign “had an overwhelming effect on morale”. She said it made her feel proud and special. It might not have been easy, but hearing her words made it all worth it.

What's the biggest lesson you took away from the campaign?

Stick to your strategy. Despite intense pressure to comment on all things COVID-19, we focused on telling authentic, uplifting stories presenting a different perspective to the narrative around older people during the pandemic.

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