Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
When new charity Canal & River Trust launched last month, its PR team overcame a series of challenges to galvanize support from royalty, politicians and the public for its legacy of 200-year-old waterways held in trust for the nation.
Campaign: Launch of the Canal & River Trust
PR team: In-house
Timing: July 2012
The Canal & River Trust is the new charity set up to care for England and Wales' wonderful legacy of 200-year-old waterways, holding them in trust for the nation forever. It is among the UK's biggest charities, with responsibility for 2,000 miles of canals, rivers, docks and reservoirs, along with museums, archives and the country’s third largest collection of protected historic buildings.
The Trust has taken over responsibility from British Waterways in England and Wales and represents the first major transfer of state infrastructure to the charitable sector. Therefore the broad objectives of the launch were to not only raise awareness of the Canal & River Trust but also, importantly, to differentiate the new charity and demonstrate the very different way in which it will manage the nation's waterways.
The broad objectives of the launch were to:
- Establish the Trust to the general public as a brand - who we are, what we do and why the nation's waterways are a cause worth supporting.
- Launch the Trust's first fundraising appeal to general public and towpath visitors.
- Enable partners/stakeholders to celebrate with us and get involved.
Strategy and Implementation
Responsibility for devising and implementing a launch strategy fell to the Trust's in-house comms and campaigns team. The challenge for the team was stark – overseeing the launch of one of the nation's largest charities, in a unique move with no real precedents, without a fixed launch date (as the launch was subject to the completion of parliamentary scrutiny and approval) and with two of the largest national media stories in recent memory taking place (the Diamond Jubilee and London Olympics).
The team was responsible for planning a launch that would, with minimal budget, successfully raise awareness of the new charity, differentiate it from its predecessor and highlight how the move would enable communities to take a more active role in caring for their local waterways.
The most significant practical challenge was one of timing as delays to the parliamentary processes involved in the transfer of a state function to a new charity meant that a firm launch date could not be fixed until relatively late. From the outset the strategy was to implement a summer launch that would maximise potential for fundraising over the months in which the canals and towpaths would be at their busiest.
To overcome these challenges a campaign based around PR, social media and a new Canal & River Trust website was planned.
With a national network of waterways, but the charity's ethos encouraging localism, a launch appeal was designed that would work on both a national and local level, thereby maximising the potential for coverage. The appeal was based around gaining support for 50 local wildlife and environment-led projects - appeal themes which had great resonance with the public and which tested well in pre-launch focus groups.
To overcome the difficulties with an official launch date the campaign was structured flexibly and involved a phased launch that would stagger Canal & River Trust stories across the summer.
The first phase was a 'soft launch', primarily aimed at raising awareness of the Trust.
- Announcing that HRH The Prince of Wales had agreed to become the patron of the new charity.
- Announcing the Trust’s first Friends – people that have signed up to a monthly donation to the Trust. The first friends were David Suchet, John Craven, Miranda Krestovnikoff and Timothy West.
- Announcing major corporate partnerships with Google, People's Postcode Lottery and the Co-operative Bank – quite unprecedented support for a new charity
The soft launch was followed up by a full launch on 12 July which included:
- Lighting up Pontcysyllte Aqueduct (a World Heritage Site) as media film/photo opportunity on 9-10 July.
- Launching the Trust’s fundraising appeal on Thursday 12 July in national, regional and local media.
- Focussing on 50 appeal projects aimed at breathing new life into the nation’s waterways as a national media hook supported by Hugh Dennis, with local projects providing the angle for regional media.
- Putting together a strong video news release package, including a message from HRH the Prince of Wales, secretary of state for the environment Caroline Spelman and celebrated poet Ian MacMillan.
- Writing to stakeholders/partners to introduce the Trust, the appeal and invite them to a reception in September.
- Local stakeholder/media celebrations taking place at 11 venues across the country to emphasise the Trust’s local agenda.
- Holding a reception in the House of Lords for Parliamentarians on the afternoon of the 12 July.
- Launching a new website (www.canalrivertrust.org.uk) that includes greater interactivity, opportunities to donate or volunteer and videos supporting the launch appeal projects.
The launch was supported on social media platforms with rebranded Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and a Youtube channel. An overview of the launch day Twitter activity can be found here.
Further campaigns, such as launching a new wildlife survey app and a winter works campaign, are planned throughout the year to maintain awareness of, and interest in, the work of the Trust and to support the appeal projects.
The launch day was a great success and a fantastic platform from which to begin the task of recruiting donors and volunteers and building closer relationships with local communities and stakeholders.
The launch day itself saw:
- Almost one hour of national broadcast coverage including interviews and news headlines on BBC Breakfast, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio Five Live, Daily Politics and Sky News.
- More than two hours of coverage on regional TV and radio networks.
- National coverage in the guardian, The Times, The Financial Times and the Huffington Post.
- Around 1500 tweets generated about the launch of the Canal & River Trust which, after retweets, were seen by approximately half a million people in one day.
- 500 new followers to @Canalrivertrust (compared to an average daily figure of around 12).
- 15,418 visits to the Canal & River Trust website (the equivalent Thursday in June 2011 saw 7,901 visits to the British Waterways website).
The ongoing effectiveness of the campaign will be monitored as part of a fortnightly telephone survey of UK adults. Given the minimal above-the-line spend it will be an interesting measure of the effectiveness of PR.