December 8, 2016 - No Comments!

5 PR Lessons from Heathrow’s “The Right Choice” Campaign

5 PR Lessons from Heathrow's "The Right Choice" Campaign 

f8cd2f4f-f0e2-4f9b-917b-be280cc23af1The most talked about strip of tarmac in the world was at last (almost) given the go ahead after 40 years of ‘we’ve very nearly made our minds up but we just need to check one more thing’.

It is of course no coincidence that this summer Alpaca were appointed to work on “The Right Choice” campaign to provide communications advice following Theresa May’s arrival at №10.

As a result of heroic (frantic) reading in, and briefly working alongside a number of the very clever people at Heathrow — we gained a small insight into how the campaign won.

Here, in ever imitable list form, are our ‘five lessons’.

1. Go all in on your strengths

When you’ve got someone’s attention and you want to impress them are you going to to tell them about the things you’re amazing at? Or the things you’re ‘actually not that bad at really, all things considered’?

Heathrow could have spent a lot more time trying to convince you of how it was good at the things it wasn’t best at e.g. it’s location in relation London. The economic / business case for Heathrow is light years ahead of that other airport. So they eventually went all in on that message.

This sounds so obvious, but in practice it’s a mistake comms teams make regularly. We are accutely aware of the weakest parts of our case, and so we try and sure them up as much as possible. Try making as much noise as possible about what you’re good at. Stop drawing attention to the things your not — let the others side do that — that’s their job.

2. Message Discipline

Once Heathrow figured out what they wanted to say, they made sure they stuck to it. When you repeat something enough eventually people say ‘OK I’ve got it”. Message discpline is that simple.

Ah but doesn’t that just annoy people?

No. You are grossly over estimating the amount of time that people are paying attention to you.

Yes…but it was really annoying when George Osbourne kept banging on about a ‘long term economic plan’ wearing hi viz.

It might have been for you, because you watch Newsnight every week day and Marr every Sunday. But you’re an anomoly. Most people prefer going out for dinner or the outdoors.

Heathrow were ruthless on this front. If they got an opportunity to get people’s attention, they pushed their economic message home. Again. And again.

3. Tell a good story

This wasn’t just a campaign to deliver a strip of tarmac near Housnlow, the campaign was delivering a manifesto for Great Britain. They wanted this to be a campaign about what Great Britain could be.

It’s ironic that the messaging surrounding an infrastructure project that was designed to deliver an ever more ‘connected’ GB ended up echoing Brexit’s vision for a stronger UK. Heathrow expansion could be seen as part of Britain taking control of its future. A lot of people are into that these days. This didn’t happen by accident.

Tell a story. Make it epic. Make it one people want to hear.

4. Get support (obviously)

Yes plenty of people didn’t want Heathrow expansion to happen, and a lot of those people happened to live under the flight paths of planes coming into London. But lots of people did want Heathrow expansion, often these were people that relied on Heathrow for employment for themselves or their family. Heathrow is like a town. It employs nearly 77,000 people.

Whilst motivating grassroots support for your campaign is hardly revolutionary, Heathrow’s execution of this simple idea was top drawer. Consider this. In 2015, a major public consultation by the UK Airports Commission received 72,000 responses of which 82% backed Heathrow expansion.

Not bad.

Have a good look here if you have want an idea of what a solid grassroots campaign looks like.

5. Persistence

Some campaigns get results quickly. Some don’t. Don’t stop. When you stop you lose. Heathrow was not always the front runner. Theresa May is on the record opposing Heathrow. How do you think that felt when she came into office?

Keep making your argument.

Stick to your guns.

If you’re right, you’re right. Make sure everyone knows about it. Keep telling them.

And then you’ll win.


Published by: Peter in NEWS

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