Case study: Ambulance TV series breaks comms records

London Ambulance Service capitalised on the primetime exposure it received from the BAFTA award-winning BBC One series Ambulance in the autumn, boosting its own comms ratings.

Paramedics who featured in the recent series of 'Ambulance' on BBC One
Paramedics who featured in the recent series of 'Ambulance' on BBC One

It was the second time around for the LAS, which had featured in the very first series of Ambulance in 2016, when former LAS head of media and campaigns Anna Macarthur capitalised on the PR and comms opportunities around the documentary.

Powerful events captured on camera, showing the impact on ambulance crews, boosted the levels of interest in LAS.

During the filming of the series, in Autumn 2019, an ambulance crew responded to a horrific crash that killed a London bus driver and injured 14 others. The series also showed paramedics fighting in vain to save a woman who had been stabbed, allegedly by her own son. In another harrowing episode, ambulance staff comforted a mother whose son had taken his own life.

The comms objectives for LAS included showcasing its work and building support for the organisation. 

It adopted a proactive strategy of issuing news releases tagged to individual episodes throughout the duration of the series, which was broadcast at 9pm on Wednesdays between 16 September and 4 November.

The approach paid off, resulting in three broadcast TV packages, seven national news and feature articles, and numerous pieces on radio. 

LAS also capitalised on the series by posting live on internal and external social media channels during each episode. As George Emery, Ambulance project manager and digital comms lead at LAS, explained: “The social media plan for each episode was pretty comprehensive in order to capitalise on the opportunity that primetime television provides. We issued more than 250 tweets during the episodes each Wednesday and achieved record levels of engagement.”

About 775,000 Twitter impressions were achieved per episode, on average – an almost tenfold rise from what would normally be expected. During the series LAS broke the one million impressions barrier on Instagram for the first time. And in October it received 67,000 likes on its Instagram posts – more than four times the number it received in October 2019. Reactions to Facebook posts were up by a similar proportion, as was the growth in followers on Twitter.

The series became a platform to boost recruitment, with about 3,000 visits to the recruitment pages on the LAS website on the evenings episodes were shown – a record number.

Describing the overall impact of the series, Pauline O’Brien, head of external comms at LAS, said: “The additional PR we achieved, across not just local and London media but national print and broadcasters, including BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning, demonstrates just how much Ambulance captured the imagination of the media.”

She added: “It was a privilege to lead the project – it promoted London Ambulance as a great place to work, we encouraged debate and discussion about really pressing issues affecting healthcare services in London, including poor mental health and drug abuse, and we boosted morale among our 7,600 staff and volunteers.”

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