The role of the public information campaign

Andrew Wigley explains how public information campaigns are used to raise large scale awareness and change mindsets

On 5 May, we experienced a very rare phenomenon in the political culture of the UK. The referendum on the Alternative Vote was only the second time ever a plebiscite has been held in this country. Used by politicians for only the most significant decisions that affect the UK and its unwritten constitution, the referendum is a political tool designed to reach the widest possible audience, and also has the capacity to create high drama and surprise results.

However, the AV referendum created little drama and for most of us, the ‘No’ result was not a surprise. The disappointment was that the referendum campaign felt distinctly lack lustre and failed to engage the public at large.

There were, in fact, three campaigns – the campaign by the Electoral Commission to raise public awareness of the vote, plus the two campaigns led by the ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ camps. With an estimated combined expenditure of £200m, a lot of money was thrown at a public information campaign. The Electoral Commission alone sent out 27.8 million information booklets on the referendum and elections – one to every UK household. It was supported by a nationwide advertising campaign on television and radio. And the net result was a turnout of 42 per cent.

The failure of this campaign shouldn’t distract from the role of public education campaigns and their influence. Done well, they have a considerable capability to inform a diverse range of audiences and affect enormous change.

Information campaigns are nothing new. The Reformation that swept across Europe in the 1500s was fuelled by an information campaign brought to life by means of the printing press which had been recently developed. The Reformation campaign and its core ideas of change were disseminated by means of printed material delivered through a network of over 200 printing centres in Europe.

In later years the Victorians became adept at running campaigns to promote the virtues of being a colonial power and communicating the civilising values that the British were taking to the colonies. It was important to ensure the general public understood the tangible benefits of its overseas expansion in terms of trade, as well as being positioned as part of the great education mandate that the Victorians embraced culminating in the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886.

More recently public education campaigns have been deployed by Government and lobbies alike to promote a range of causes and issues. Notably, and where they add the most value perhaps, is on promoting health awareness and changing behaviours to improve well-being. The famous AIDS advertising campaign the Government ran in the 1980s was criticised for stigmatising sufferers of the condition but remains widely credited at having changed the course and reach of the disease among the British public.

The last decade saw significant expenditure on campaigns that addressed food safety, breast cancer and road safety. Drawing on a mix of visual and print, television and radio, advertising and PR consultancies have benefitted from the splash of campaigns. And they’ve served a purpose; fewer road traffic accidents and reduced incidences of breast cancer deaths can point both to both advances in technology /medicine but also greater awareness, and in the case of early disease, earlier diagnosis.

The challenge facing the Government now is how, in the age of austerity, how it can continue ensuring its messages about public health and safety continue to be disseminated with few resources. We’ll likely see a shift away from expensive advertising and direct mail to cheaper services such as public relations.

Public information campaigns play an important role in educating, informing and affecting change. It’s just a shame that the vote for electoral reform proved to be such a shoddy public education campaign.

For more information, videos and advice for SMEs, visit www.freshbusinessthinking.com

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Software Development Manager

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Assistant

£13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Pension Specialist was established ...

Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive

£23000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Market Research Executive...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links