Case Studies

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Case Study – How the RAF is changing the way it reaches Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in Liverpool

Ardi Kolah


In 2015, Ardi Kolah FCIPR and Harris Beider, Professor in Community Cohesion at Coventry University and a Visiting Professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, New York were engaged by the RAF to undertake targeted interventions with Armed Forces Careers Offices (AFCO) around the UK, including Liverpool.

This was part of a national recruitment training programme Kolah and Beider had been running since 2015 targeted at getting front-line AFCO staff to understand how best to engage with diverse communities. Currently just 2.1% of a total workforce of about 31,000 is from a BAME background. The target is for 10% of recruits to be from BAME communities by 2020. This issue has been given further impetus in an opinion piece written by Prime Minister David Cameron and published in The Sunday Times1 where he observed that although progress over the previous two decades had been made and it is now much harder to see open discrimination and blatant racism than it once was, more progress is still required. “There are no black generals in our armed forces and just 4% of chief executives in the FTSE 100 are from ethnic minorities.”

The RAF has been giving serious consideration to the under-representation issue and also the negative perceptions of being a largely white-workforce for some time. Culture change cannot happen overnight and it takes strong and focused leadership and a real determination to want to embrace ethnic diversity at all levels throughout an organisation. The message that the RAF wants to deliver to all diverse communities is that it stands for talent, not tokenism and wants genuine engagement with BAME communities across the UK so that it can recruit talent at all levels and from a wide cross-section of society.


Kolah and Beider were aware that they had to present a business case for change in current selection and recruitment practices based on facts and intelligence. AFCO Liverpool was selected for the pilot project in 2015 with the aim that it would be developmental in the training design before the AFCO recruitment training programme was rolled out across the whole of the RAF in 2015/16. RAF Recruitment selected Liverpool as one of the best examples of working with BAME communities. The focus was on working with AFCO Officers in Liverpool to prepare the basis for effective BAME community regional recruitment plans in the North West of England.

Next, data on good practice, barriers and solutions on BAME community recruitment was collated. RAF College Cranwell (Head Quarters) for all training for the RAF set up a meeting in Liverpool for Kolah and Beider to meet with those charged with engaging with BAME communities in the NW of England.

Interviews were conducted on a confidentiality basis and were recorded so that any quotes used in were verbatim and unvarnished. A focus group and one-to-one interviews were conducted. RAF recruitment data was also analysed together with information relating to historical BAME recruitment. This showed that there had been a steady increase in applications from BAME communities when there was a dedicated Ethnic Minority Recruitment Team (EMRT) conducting outreach work up but this declined when these activities were rolled into the responsibilities for AFCO Officers. In addition, Kolah and Beider also wanted to get a community perspective on BAME recruitment. They reviewed secondary data and conducted snowball sampling with 15 individuals from BAME organizations and communities in the North West. These interviews provided a ‘reality check’ for the RAF on engagement with BAME communities and a new set of contacts to support BAME recruitment to 2020.

A regional workshop in Liverpool was attended by a cross section of recruitment personnel based in the NW region. Reflective discussion and small group working generated more data that was analysed and distilled later in a feedback report to the RAF Director of Recruitment.

Some of this input highlighted certain challenges facing AFCO Officers such as a very low level of awareness of what the RAF actually does apart from flying planes into areas of conflict. The wide variety of trades and professions available and the support for university students was almost unknown by the vast majority of community groups, despite information on the RAF website. Other issues centred on reduction of staff and resources and in the case of Liverpool the location and proximity of the AFCO Careers Office to BAME communities it wanted to engage with and attract. Office for National Statistics (ONS) national census data from 2001 and 2011 was reviewed and analysed relating to Liverpool, showing the extent of growth of BAME population. Social mapping was also undertaken, assessing the capacity, remit and reach of community and BAME organizations to work in partnership with the RAF to increase recruitment. A ‘top five’ list of BAME organizations was generated for Liverpool.

Data from different strands of the pilot project was collated, themed and analysed for the final report that included recommendations for expanding the Diversity and Inclusion Programme over the next 12-24 months.

Key Findings

The regional and social mapping of Liverpool reflected a city that is changing rapidly with significant rise of the BAME populations, alongside falls in the white communities and it was clear that an opportunity existed for the RAF to capitalize on the growth of mixed, Chinese and African communities as key areas for BAME recruitment over the next five years. Moreover, although BAME communities had increased by 113% since 2001, many remain concentrated in seven local authority ward areas with Princes Park having a BAME population of 52%.

Ethnic breakdown
Image © Ardi Kolah

The RAF had to target resources on reaching BAME communities in these neighbourhoods to reach 2020 recruitment targets. There were three established BAME organizations that could work well with the RAF to increase engagement and credibility amongst local communities Some of the verbatim comments received from senior community leaders in the North West are reflected in the small selection below.

RAF is not on the BAME radar

The main barrier is the lack of information out there about career opportunities in the RAF. There are BME cadets and maybe the RAF needs to do more through schools and through the Cadets.

Mixed perception of the RAF

Our perception is quite mixed. One angle – RAF servicemen are held in high esteem. The other perception is slightly negative because of Iraq War and engaged abroad and these wars are taking place in Muslim countries. It’s a mixed view.

An organisation that is ‘out of reach’ for BAME communities

Instead of exploring what it is about the culture that fails to attract a diverse pool of talent from all sections of the community, the focus tends to be on ‘fixing’ processes and procedures in isolation from any wider lessons which might be drawn about the organisation.

Whether the RAF uniform is a barrier to effective communication with BAME communities

It depends on the circumstances. If you are on the streets and looking to speak to young people it could be seen as a barrier.

Much of the work was of a confidential and sensitive nature, but the following recommendations could apply to other similar challenges facing other public or private sector organisations that also want to improve performance in recruiting from BAME communities.


Short term

  1. Roll out the pilot programme across other key regions in the UK. This will lead to recruitment plans based on outcomes, social and community mapping and a robust and measurable strategy linked to national BAME recruitment.
  2. The methodology - scoping, community interviews, regional workshops, and final reports - will be applied but take into account regional and local variations. The extended programme commenced in November 2015 and completed in July 2016.
  3. Review capability and commitment of existing recruiters. The development project demonstrated differing levels of capability and commitment amongst AFCO Officers related to BAME recruitment. Whilst there was evidence of unconscious bias among some AFCO Officers, the majority of those engaged in the pilot programme seemed willing to want to engage with BAME communities but did not possess the knowledge or capability to ‘get a grip’ of the task at hand; a select minority were excellent or had potential to become leaders of a re-booted approach to BAME recruitment. Working with RAF Cranwell HQ and Regional AFCOs, Kolah and Beider recommended a rapid review on capability of existing recruiters in key RAF Regions in the UK was undertaken to develop a committed team likely to achieve target BAME recruitment.
  4. Embed ‘Super Recruiters’ in regional areas: Kolah and Beider recommended three ‘Super Recruiters’ from each Region be selected. These were individuals who had demonstrated capability and commitment on BAME recruitment and had the capacity to lead regional recruitment teams. Kolah and Beider further recommended that the ‘Super Recruiters’ formed a peer network that meets six times a year to share good practice as well as challenges on BAME recruitment. This would be organised and initiated by RAF Cranwell.
  5. Mentoring support and encouragement. Regional AFCOs clearly enjoyed the opportunity for external reflection on BAME recruitment. Kolah and Beider recommended that AFCO leads and ‘Super Recruiters’ were mentored and challenged to achieve BAME recruitment 2020 outcomes. This mentoring would be conducted both ‘face to face’ and remotely via Skype or phone.
  6. Performance targets for BAME recruitment should become part of annual appraisal for all AFCO staff. BAME recruitment needs to be mainstreamed as an important part of the performance framework for RAF recruitment. Kolah and Beider recommended that delivery of a BAME strategy at the national, regional and individual levels should be measured as part of regular performance meetings including the annual appraisal of individual AFCO Officers. External moderation on the panel to select AFCO Officers would be useful in providing an independent assessment of the applicant’s ability to recruit BAME individuals in that region.

Medium – Long term

  • Regional checking-in workshops. RAF Cranwell HQ should convene a BAME regional recruitment workshop twice a year, bringing together Regional leaders, ‘Super Recruiters’ and frontline AFCO staff to check-in on progress, refine targets and share learning.
  • Amend training section on the Enhanced Recruitment Strategy in the core RAF Recruitment Training Manual to include some of the data Kolah and Beider presented to the Director of Recruitment as well as good practice from within the RAF and externally.
  • Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with community organizations that will enhance RAF recruitment activities within the BAME communities. Kolah and Beider recommended that Regional AFCOs agree a BAME Recruitment Compact with BAME organizations fixed on delivering recruitment outcomes. This should include an outreach programme, engaging with community leaders’ meetings, targeted recruitment fairs, schools and faith organisation visits; RAF personnel volunteering in BAME within BAME communities to increase their knowledge base as well as offering skills on STEM, addressing obesity and employment opportunities across the service.
  • Develop a national programme. AFCO Officers are an investment in securing BAME candidates. However, the current BAME recruitment strategy does not appear to be either understood or working to the extent of delivering the outcomes required. Resources should be geared towards outcomes by mapping communities, working alongside community partners, implementing a modified schools programme based on areas of high BAME populations and developing links with the RAF Cadets service.


The feedback from AFCO Officers in the pilot project has been enthusiastic and already engagement with BAME communities has improved considerably, as have applications to join the RAF, although there is still a long way to go to reaching the 10% BAME recruitment target by 2020.

The secret of success is for AFCO Officers to be confident in the RAF proposition and communicate this proactively rather than waiting for potential recruits to walk through the door. Another key ingredient is not to make assumptions in terms of the individual who an AFCO Officer may have the opportunity to engage with simply based on what that individual may wear or what they look like. Being aware of unconscious bias and cleansing ‘social filters’ that influence what we want to see rather than what actually exists is an important realisation for all AFCO Officers and necessary for being successful at RAF recruitment.

As recognised by David Cameron, there is a long way to go but the RAF is on track to reversing decades of unconscious bias as well as making itself more attractive to BAME communities based on an intelligent BAME recruitment strategy. A more nuanced approach that demands not treating every BAME person in exactly the same way will vastly improve RAF recruitment activity over the next four years, concludes Kolah and Beider.

Ethnic breakdown
Image © Ardi Kolah
1 The Sunday Times, 31 January 2016
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Case Study - Auckland Youth Orchestra

Averill Gordon

Post Graduate Public Relations students from “Outside the Square” (OTS), the Auckland University of Technology student PR agency, undertook the challenge to raise the profile of the Auckland Youth Orchestra (AYO) before its final concert of the year featuring Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. Attracting new concert goers, retaining the regulars, and gaining media presence for AYO were all essential goals for the OTS team. Over the course of four months the OTS team successfully created a strong brand for AYO through community engagement, a public street performance and significant media coverage.

PROJECT: Auckland Youth Orchestra


AYO is the premier full-time youth orchestral institution in New Zealand. Founded in 1948, it has a rich history of producing not only exceptional musicians but also exceptional people. After a long season of shows, AYO was set to play their end-of-year concert in October, at the Auckland Town Hall. The OTS team was approached to raise the orchestra’s profile and communicate about an end-of-year concert featuring a symphony that was largely unfamiliar and performed by a relatively unknown orchestra.

Preliminary Research

Although the campaign was to focus on the end-of year concert, the OTS team researched the July concert as a dress rehearsal. The team took the initiative to begin their work months in advance so they could gain better insight and knowledge of AYO’s existing audience and see how the orchestra was positioned in the public sphere. Before the July concert, the team attended a rehearsal to appreciate the calibre of the players and learn about the product.

As a trial in preparation for the end-of-year October concert, the team staged 8am performances outside the Auckland city central train station on the three days leading up to the July concert and flyers were handed out to the public. During the July concert, the team started to understand the AYO audience after engaging with them and carrying out an in-concert survey.


The organisation wanted to sell tickets and improve the brand positioning among a wider audience.

Public relations objectives:

  • To increase AYO’s social media engagement by 20% (Twitter and Facebook).
  • To maintain the AYO existing audience as well as encourage a younger audience.
  • To achieve AYO positive coverage in print, broadcast, radio and online.


  • AYO musicians’ family and friends. This group was AYO’s guaranteed audience base.
  • Existing clientele - people who already attend AYO concerts. This audience tended to be older with a passion for classical music. It was important that past clientele keep returning and keeping them up to date with show times was essential.
  • Classical concert attendees from high socio-economic areas in Auckland. Like the existing clientele this audience had money to spend and already had an interest in classical music. This audience enjoyed being active and participating in group outings. Reaching this audience was important as they were largely unaware of AYO.
  • Tertiary students in Auckland with an interest in music and the arts. This is a growing audience in Auckland, youth who enjoy the arts and are looking to become more cultural. They like to experience new things and are active on social media and blogs.
  • Professionals working in the city with a steady income.

Conversations developed around the AYO Concert:

  • Becoming engaged in experiencing a world class youth orchestra
  • Get in in touch with your inner muso through the AYO’s concert
  • Become more cultural through the AYO’s concert
  • Hear an exclusive piece composed by Robbie Ellis played for the first time at AYO’s concert
  • Hear the Auckland Town Hall’s 101 year old organ which was restored in 2010
  • Soak up one of Auckland’s historic sites and listen to classic music at AYO’s concert


Auckland came to life during the Rugby World Cup and that momentum had been created around new and exciting activity. The AYO’s main asset was the youthfulness of the players. It was essential that they maintained their classical music integrity while reaching new clientele and it was important that they did not lose their faithful customers. The strategy was to raise the profile and build awareness through leveraging the youthful talent of AYO performers in community activities which connected to a younger audience, while retaining existing clientele.


  1. Ambassadorial Programme
  2. Social Media Engagement

Ambassadorial Programme

Central city street concert: Downtown Auckland was brought to life on a morning before the concert with 50 members of the orchestra playing Russian music in Russian costumes. The music filled the streets and passers-by were astonished. Promotional flyers which were handed out with Hershey’s Kisses as an incentive. OTS knew social media was vital, so had posters with the #AYO hashtag which encouraged onlookers to share their experience. Press releases and media calls alerted media of the event and these were followed up with post event releases and attached photos. The OTS team designed a range of Russian propaganda style posters to promote the concert. These were posted around Auckland to promote the performance.

Retirement village performance: AYO performed at a retirement village which provided a strong photo call opportunity which the OTS team pitched to media. Playing at the retirement village was a community activity that built awareness and leveraged the youthful talent of the orchestra’s performers.

Media engagement: The OTS team arranged a media training session for the AYO media spokesperson with a key TV reporter which involved filming of an interview with constructive feedback.

Social media training: The OTS team invited two senior members of the orchestra to a social media training session. The team also produced a ‘Twitter Bible’ for them to take away to ensure the longevity of social media use within the orchestra.

Twitter: The OTS team created a social media content calendar to drive a consistent message and to engage with audiences on a new platform. The team reached out to prominent Twitter users to commence online dialogue about the orchestra.

Facebook: A similar approach was taken in regards to the Facebook activity. Content relevant to AYO’s audience was posted to create conversation and encourage users to share and engage.


The OTS team exceeded the client’s expectations with a 60% increase in ticket sales from AYO’s average concert numbers.

  • The AYO brand received successful media coverage and social media engagement. This was evident in a post-concert survey.
  • A younger audience was reached through a social media campaign, with 10% of concert goers finding out about the concert through social media.
  • Facebook ‘likes’ increased by 25% and the number of Twitter followers increased by 360%. The team also secured media coverage on television, radio, newspapers and magazines – including a reader competition, and online news sites.

Evaluation / Follow-Up

There were positive satisfaction feedback forms, a growing AYO social media presence, and AYO have developed their social media presence based on the social media training. They have continued to focus on their youthfulness as a key element that differentiates them from other orchestras.

This campaign won a PRINZ award – the Paul Dryden Tertiary Award


Nicely done with very sound objectives and creative tactics, plus good problem solving. Overall, well done on achieving outstanding results.

The team: Tom Frankish, Charlotte Milton, Harmeet Sehgal, Natasha Johnstone AUT University student PR agency (Outside the Square) supervised by Averill Gordon, Senior Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland

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Case Study – 189 Samobor Carnival 2015

Boris Hajoš


Samobor is a small picturesque town (40,000 inhabitants) just outside Croatia's Capitol Zagreb that every February welcomes tens of thousands of people during its carnival celebrations for the past 200 years. The carnival is called Fasnik and it has become the town's trademark since it is one of the oldest held in Croatia. During Fasnik, the town becomes a Free Carnival Republic when it mocks current political situations in the country and chases away the evil spirits of the previous year. Everything is allowed, so one can hear and see what people really think but dare not say out loud at other times. It happens on town’s main square where the big stage is set up and in nearby streets and many other public spaces and pubs.

Ladybird Magpie is one of the four main Carnival characters, together with her partner the Prince of Carnival, his Lawyer and the Judge. The Prince takes power from the legal Mayor and proclaims the Free Carnival Republic of Samobor. The climax of the Fasnik celebrations happens on Shrove when the Prince of Carnival, symbolically guilty for all things bad that have happened in the last year, is put on trial and prosecuted to death. His doll is burned on a bonfire, and spectacular fireworks symbolises the beginning of the year ahead.

In 2015, the theme of Fasnik was to take Croatian politics into the world of famous movies and to satirically mock national and local politicians as main actors in famous movies. The town was renamed as Cinema “Onlymud” (parody on Hollywood) and its carnival decorations came alive as redesigned famous movie billboards. The carnival's slogan was “Fly over the Magpie's nest“, and Magpie was presented as Marilyn Monroe. Fasnik started on Friday, 6 February and went on till the traditional closing on Shrove Tuesday, 17 February, 2015. The masquerade and traditional carnival were accompanied with concerts by prominent Croatian and regional pop music stars and a pageant of specially decorated allegorical wagons, criticising current political issues. Individual and group masks and costumes and the children's carnival were extremely interesting and the number of visitors was substantial.

Communication goals

  • to create a buzz before the opening of Fasnik
  • to keep the media and general public up to date with the programme
  • to promote Samobor as an attractive visitor destination in February


  • proactive communications to the public through media relations
  • strong online communications to promote the Carnival’s story


Four key audiences were identified:

  • Families - parents, grandparents, children, teachers in primary schools and kindergartens
  • Media - news and lifestyle, traditional and online, national and local,
  • Citizens of Samobor – and potential guests from Zagreb and the surrounding area
  • Online publics – social media followers and web visitors


Media relations and online communications were crucial since the organiser, the Tourist Board of Samobor, had a limited promotional budget for PR activities of 1,600 Lstg (€ 2,200) of its own. Additional budget of 33,000 Lstg / €43,000 was negotiated in sponsorship in kind - 30 billboards for 30 days from outdoor advertising company, (worth 9,000 Lstg/ €12,000) and sponsored adverts in media partner Vecernji (24,000 Lstg/ € 31,000 value). The overall budget of the event was 200,000 Lstg/ € 260,000 including money, goods and services in kind.


The following tactics were used:

  • Website - was used as a major means of communication. All media releases and other materials were made available through the site. During two months of the campaign from mid December to mid February, 65 posts on the web page were published and 33 photo galleries uploaded.
  • Social media – intensive communication took place on Carnival’s official Facebook page. 120 text posts, photos and videos were posted plus afurther 306 media posts. The number of Carnival’s fans rose from 17,000 to 18,000 (a 6% increase). On Carnival’s Twitter account, 139 tweets were posted, and the same with Instagram and Pinterest.
  • Media campaign - a list of 1,200 media contacts was developed and key opportunities for media engagement before and during the Carnival were identified. Media coverage peaked at the two press conferences, with Carnival’s opening featuring live reporting to all three national news shows. Thirty journalists attended the launch press conference on January 13 in Samobor. Twenty journalists attended the second press conference on February 3 in the art cinema “Europe” in Zagreb. There the cinema visuals were presented together with finalised programme. Contacts with media followed on a daily basis and 8 press releases were issued. Media partnerships were negotiated with the local radio station - Radio Samobor - and national daily newspapers - Večernji list.

Other activities

Other events were used to gain additional coverage.

  • Visit to the Feast of Saint Vincent - on January 22, St Vincent’s Day marks the mid-point of the vine’s growing cycle. The Prince of Carnival visited the vineyards of Samobor on January 21 where local winemakers gathered and celebrated their patron saint.
  • Visit to the Long Night of Museums - this event takes place every last Friday in January all over Croatia, when museums are opened long hours (until midnight with free admission and special events). On January 30, the Prince of Carnival visited the Museums of Samobor and Zagreb.
  • Visit to the Vrbovec Carnival - on February 1, a delegation from the Samobor Carnival visited the 19th Vrbovec Carnival (another local carnival) where the 8th Summit of Free Carnival Republics was also held.
  • Guerilla invasion on Arena Shopping Mall in Zagreb - on February 13 Samobor Carnival's characters accompanied by the Carnival's Guard – Dance club Bailatino - performed a flash mob and delivered leaflets and traditional carnival doughnuts to visitors in the biggest shopping mall in Zagreb.
  • Guerilla visit in kindergarten - on February 17 the Prince of Carnival together with an RTL TV crew “broke in” to one kindergarten in Samobor to see how children were preparing for the children’s Carnival and played and danced with delighted children.

Crisis Communications

The opening ceremony on February 6 was staged as a Grand Opening of a Film Festival with Magpie as Marilyn Monroe. A heavy snow blizzard occurred. The PR team was involved with co-ordination and organisation to ensure media coverage was successful. The ceremony was still covered with live reporting in the news shows of all three national TV networks - Croatian National TV - HTV, Nova TV and RTL.


The Carnival attendance was substantial despite bad weather and snow blizzard at the opening and there was extensive positive media coverage and commentaries on social media. There were 60 mentions in print media, 30 items on TV, and 378 items on radio. Over 390 mentions on web portals added to the coverage.


Total communication budget for PR activities was 1,600 Lstg (€ 2,200).

Top tips for organising a campaign

Good organisation and project planning are crucial to create such a big event

  • An experienced organisation team is needed – four employees of Samobor Tourist Board with two part- time collaborators for the children’s carnival, four actors (as characters) and three PR consultants.
  • Resources – even with a small PR budget of 1.600 Lstg, great work is still possible.
  • Good media relations – a wide range of media contacts were used and good relations maintained with them.
  • Deliver strong online communication – crucial for a younger audience.

For more info see:


Opening of 189 Fasnik
Closing ceremony of 189 Fasnik

Boris Hajoš, PR consultant

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Case study – Crisis Communication – Volkswagen emission scandal

Chiara Valentini, Aarhus University, Denmark


Volkswagen is a German car manufacturer established in 1946 in Wolfsburg, Lower Saxony, Germany. It owns twelve brands from seven European countries: Volkswagen Passenger Cars, Audi, SEAT, ŠKODA, Bentley, Bugatti, Lamborghini, Porsche, Ducati, Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, Scania and MAN (Volkswagen 2016). For many years Volkswagen enjoyed a very strong reputation with high brand loyalty across the globe. Volkswagen cars have been praised for their top performance and sustainable technology. According to the Reputation Institute’s 2015 survey on consumers’ opinions from fifteen countries, Volkswagen (VW) was considered the most liked and trusted corporate brand and among the world’s most social responsible companies (Fombrun 2015). Forbes ranked VW as the second-largest automaker in the world in 2015 (Murphy 2015).

Having a strong market position and reputation did not save VW from experiencing one of the biggest crises that the company had to face ever. The crisis exploded in September 2015, when the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a federal agency in charge of research, monitoring, standard-setting and enforcement activities in relation to health and environmental matters (EPA 2015), issued a notice of violation of the clean air act to Volkswagen Group after it was found that the car manufacturer had intentionally altered the testing on its vehicles so to meet the US air standards. Specifically VW was accused of making the vehicles’ turbocharged direct injection diesel engines to activate certain emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing so to improve the results, whereas when similar tests were performed in road conditions VW vehicles released forty percent of mono-nitrogen oxides (NOs) more than the legal limits.

When confronted with the EPA’s evidence, VW admitted that its cars were fitted with the defeat device. Specifically five models were found to have a defeat engine, the VW Jetta, Beetle and Golf, and Audi A3 produced from 2009 to 2015 and the Passat model from 2014-2015 (Rushe, 2015). Few days after the scandal became public, VW suspended sales of cars containing the company’s four-cylinder turbo direct injection (TDI) engine. By the end of the year, VW had to recall 8.5 million cars in Europe, including 2.4 million in Germany and 1.2 million in the UK, and 500,000 in the US as a result of the emissions scandal (Hotten 2015). The company had also to cover the costs of fixing the affected vehicles, those related to compensations to damaged consumers and any profit loss as result of reputational damage.


Five main stakeholders were directly and indirectly affected or had the power to affect VW:

  • VW customers –VW customers were the victims of this crisis since they owned vehicles that had a defeat device that produced up to forty times higher emissions than promised. VW customers were the largest and most heterogeneous group of stakeholders that VW had to take care of. It was estimated that about 11 million VW cars worldwide had the defeat engine and required adjustments to meet environmental standards: 500,000 of these cars were sold to US consumers and another 800,000 to European ones.
  • VW investors and shareholders – The second most important stakeholder group for VW were investors and shareholders. These stakeholders were also affected by the scandal, since the company lost credibility and market trust with consequent loss of share value and profit due to reparation and violation costs. In September 2015 it was not yet clear how much money VG had to pay to US authorities for the infringement of law. This could be up to $37,500 (t €34,650) for each vehicle that breached standards and up to $2,950 (€2,650) per defeat device, for a total cost of $18 billion (about €16 billion) (Hotten 2015). In October 2015 the VG posted its first quarterly loss for 15 years of €2.5 billion ($2.783 billion) and this loss did not include the possible fine by the US EPA. In Janaury 2016, a number of large VW shareholders were ready to sue the company in a German court, seeking compensation for the drop in its shares due to its emissions test cheating scandal (Wissenbach 2016).
  • US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – This regulatory stakeholder has the power to affect directly the company’s performance through the enforcement of specific laws. In this case, EPA’s research and monitoring activities showed incongruences on test results on VW diesel vehicles. Similar results were found by an independent group of researchers at the West Virginia University. The case was followed closely by EPA and after almost a year of investigation, the agency filed charges against the German carmaker. Specifically the US EPA accused VW of using a defeat device in cars to evade clean air standards and thus threat public health (Rushe 2015). EPA demanded VW recall all the cars, remove the defeat device and improve the cars’ NOx emissions, which creates smog and was linked to increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses (Rushe 2015).
  • German authorities –Federal authorities, such as the state of Low Saxony, a region in the south of Germany, and national authorities began investigations on the emission situation on the internal market in terms of sold vehicles with defeat engines produced by the VW brand but also by others. As political stakeholders they have the power to influence the company’s activities, especially if they perceived that this would have had negative effects on German industry. Worried that the VW emissions fixing scandal would have put at risk the reputation of the country’s automotive industry, the German economy minister urged VW to clear up the allegations with firm and concrete corrective actions (Rushe & Farrell 2015).
  • European institutions – As VW is a German carmaker and that 800,000 European consumers owned VW defect vehicles, different EU institutions decided to take specific actions. The European Investment Bank (EIB) has granted loans worth around €4.6 billion ($5.2 billion) to VW since 1990 for the development of engines with lower emissions and manufacturing sites in South America (Automotive News Europe 2015). After the scandal emerged the EIB initiated a thorough investigation to examine whether VW used any EU loans to cheat on emissions tests and whether it could demand money back (Kollewe 2015). In January 2016, the European Commission tried to pressure VW to pay compensation to European drivers who bought cars with emissions test-cheating software. The European Commission had, however, no formal powers to force pay-outs. VW promised to remove the device, but had no plans to pay compensation, claiming that it had done nothing illegal under EU law (Rankin 2016). A few days later, the European Commision announced plans for new rules to test car emissions following the VW scandal, with new laws that would give it more control across the EU (BBC 2016).

Company’s Crisis Responses – Strategies and Tactics

The VW scandal can be considered a preventable crisis. Specifically it is an organizational misdeed type of crisis based on management misconduct (Coombs 2014). The company has a high level of responsibility due to the fraudulent manipulation of emission data. The most affected stakeholders were customers followed by its investors and shareholders. The most dangerous stakeholders were the political ones as these had the power to affect future corporate activities. In these situations, literature suggests applying a rebuild crisis response strategy by combining apologies with corrective actions (ibid). Rebuild strategies attempt to improve an organization’s reputation by offering material and/or symbolic forms of aid to the victim, in the form of compensation or apologies.

After the US EPA accused VW of selling diesel cars that gave false emissions data, the company ordered an external investigation. Initially VW applied a denial strategy and disputed the test results, citing various technical issues. It then recognized the problem but tried to minimize the severity. Finally, it admitted its responsibility and officially apologized. “I am personally deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public. We will cooperate fully with the responsible agencies, with transparency and urgency, to clearly, openly and completely establish all of the facts of this case”, said Martin Winterkorn Volkswagen’s CEO (Rushe 2015).

The company’s first action following the apology was the resignation of its chief executive, Martin Winterkorn. Moreover, the VW brand Audi suspended two engineers with the accusation of deliberately manipulating emission-control devices (Guardian 26 November 2015).

In terms of corrective actions, the company offered discounts, gift cards and other incentives to aggrieved customers in the US, and recalled a large amount of cars to fix them. Because VW could not remove the illegal software from VW diesel cars with 2.0 engines, VW offered US owners $500 ( €450) on a prepaid visa card and $500 (€450) in dealership credits. The same treatment, however, was not offered to European car owners, despite the request by the European Commission. A VW spokesperson stated that the US customers were compensated because the VW cars sold in the US were “technically different” than the European ones. They had to pass stricter tests, and the company had not yet found a fix for the cars (Rankin 2016).

VW did not use any specific communication tactics to improve its image. On social media the company remained silent for some time before answering stakeholders’ comments with apologetic statements. At the December press conference, VW announced its future corporate strategy relying on five top priorities; these were:

  • - Helping its customers through communication and effective technical solutions
  • - Uncovering what happened and learning from the findings
  • - Creating a new structure by launching a more entrepreneurial and decentralized group structure
  • - Developing a new corporate mind set
  • - Creating a new corporate destination by re-evaluating what VW does and re-defining its target (Volkswagen 2015)


VW crisis demonstrated the huge economic costs that companies face from failing to anticipate the material and reputational consequences of their actions. The investigations on vehicles emissions started several years ago and the discrepancies among the test results conducted by different authorities were known to VW. Yet, the company did not do anything until more evidence was collected and revealed. Thus, the company was reactive in handling this preventable crisis.

Furthermore, the actions undertaken to restore its reputation and stakeholder confidence seem rather conservative. VW applied crisis response strategies after the crisis became public, being transparent and admitting the alleged claims. Yet, the company did not engage in any specific action to mitigate stakeholders’ anger apart from apologizing and promising to fix the problem. VW Facebook and Twitter accounts received high levels of negative sentiment from car owners towards a brand that had cheated them. In preventable crises, research shows that stakeholders are more likely to become angry and may even enjoy seeing the organization suffer. In the VW case, investors and shareholders reaction to the scandal and their willingness to seek compensation through legal means indicates that this group of stakeholders was not satisfied with the company’s apologies and senior management resignations. Similarly, the fact that EPA sued VW and that the European institutions were still investigating the company some months after the scandal show that VW has also not satisfied the requests of these stakeholder groups. In the case of the European Union the lack of a proactive approach in the management of European political stakeholders could cost the company a lot in the future if the EU passes stricter environmental policies.

When this analysis was conducted the crisis was still current. It was not yet possible to assess if the compensation to US customers and fixing of customers’ vehicles were sufficient corrective actions for VW to regain market trust and stakeholder confidence.


Automotive News Europe 2015, ‘VW may have to repay EU loans, bank chief says’, Automotive News Europe 12 October. [7 February 2016]

BBC 2016, EU plans new rules for emission tests following VW scandal’, BBC Business 27 January. [7 February 2016]

Coombs, T W 2014, Ongoing crisis communication: Planning, managing, and responding (4th ed.), Sage, Thousand Oaks.

EPA 2015, About EPA, Our mission and what we do, 29 September. [7 February 2016]

Ewing, J 2016, ‘Volkswagen may buy back diesel cars it can’t fix’, The New York Times International Business 28 January. [31 January 2016]

Fombrun, C 2015, About Volkswagen, reputation, and social responsibility’, Reputation Institute 7 October. [31 January 2016]

Guardian, The 2015, VW's Audi suspends two engineers in emissions-rigging inquiry’, The Guardian, 26 November. [7 February 2016]

Hotten, R 2015, ‘Volkswagen: The scandal explained’, Business Report, BBC News 10 December. [31 January 2016]

Kollewe, J 2015, ‘Volkswagen emissions scandal – timeline’, The Guardian 10 December 10.

Murphy, A 2015, ‘2015 global 2000: The world’s biggest auto companies’, 6 May. [31 January 2016]

Rankin, J 2016, ‘VW rejects call to compensate European drivers over emissions scandal’, The Guardian 21 January. [7 February 2016]

Rushe, D 2015, ‘VW software scandal: chief apologises for breaking public trust’, The Guardian 20 September. [31 January 2016]

Rushe, D & Farrell S 2015, ‘German minister tells Volkswagen to clear up emissions scandal’, The Guardian 21 September. [7 February 2016]

Volkswagen 2016, The Group, Volkswagen Group Homepage. [January 31, 2016]

Wissenbach, I 2016, ‘Volkswagen faces shareholder claims over emissions scandal’, Reuters 18 Janaury. [7 February 2016]

Volkswagen Group 2015, ‘Volkswagen Group – Moving ahead. Investigation, customer solutions, realignment’, Press Conference Presentation 10 December. [7 February 2016]

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Case study – The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers

Jason MacKenzie

Managing Director, Liquid
President-Elect, Chartered Institute of Public Relations


The Federation of Quebec Maple Syrup Producers is an association of 7,400 producers in Quebec , Canada. It is responsible for more than 70% of worldwide maple syrup production. The Federation identified the UK as a potential export growth market and appointed Liquid as its national consultancy at the beginning of 2015.

Maple syrup is synonymous with Canada – so whilst messaging was multi-faceted, it always emphasised the importance of provenance and purity: ‘Pure maple syrup from Quebec and Canada’.

Many UK consumers only use maple syrup once a year – on Pancake Day. There is a lack of understanding about its flexibility and diverse uses. The objective was to persuade UK consumers to buy more pure Canadian maple syrup or, in simpler terms, to ‘make maple a staple’.


The primary strategy to increase consumption was to heighten awareness of the product and to improve perception amongst three distinct, yet interconnected audiences. This was carried out by a sustained integrated marketing communications and public relations campaign.


Liquid’s first task was to conduct market research in order to understand the stakeholder environment. A series of focus groups across the UK, and an online survey of 2,000 potential consumers provided key findings:

  • Maple syrup had good levels of trial, and widespread but infrequent usage in the UK
  • There was significant interest in healthier alternatives to sugar
  • Honey was the established reference as an unprocessed natural sweetener

Thus it was importance to send a clear message that maple syrup is 100% natural and unprocessed.

The research helped to identify three target audiences:

  • Foodies
  • Sporty consumers
  • Health and wellbeing consumers

Other key publics included the media (both traditional media and the foodie blogosphere), maple brands selling in the UK and buyers at the major supermarket multiples.



Liquid designed, wrote and built a dedicated site for the UK market. A content strategy featured mini-campaigns such as a festive ‘Christmas wreath’ microsite allowing consumers to create customised cakes, promoted through a paid twitter campaign: The campaign resulted in 123,000 impressions and almost 2,000 engagements.

Recipe creation and sharing

Liquid’s consultant chef created new maple recipes, shared through the website and via social media. There was an ongoing programme of gathering and sharing maple recipes and content from sister sites in Canada and the US, as well as from other sources.

Media relations

Proactive and reactive media relations played a major role in the campaign, including themed releases, recipe submission, product sampling, one to one press briefings and engagement on social media. This resulted in more than 70 pieces of broadcast, print and online coverage, including Channel 4’s Sunday Brunch; Daily Mail online; Good Things; Cycling Active and Veggie magazine.

Press trips

Liquid co-ordinated and hosted two UK media visits to Quebec.

  • A cycling media visit in September generated six positive articles in specialist media with a potential audience of 116,000 in print and over a million online.
  • UK food journalists representing five titles with a potential audience of almost four and a half million were taken to the Maple Festival in Quebec and visited maple production facilities and farms.

Chef engagement

Through face to face briefings, a maple dinner at the Canadian High Commission and sampling, Liquid engaged with chefs from high end restaurants in London, Brighton and Birmingham. This resulted in maple products from Quebec being included in their menus and repeat orders being placed, as well as social media exposure through the restaurants’ own channels.

Blogger engagement

Through social media activity, media relations (sample requests, releases) and events (Christmas in July, a media dinner at the Canadian High Commission) Liquid engaged key UK food bloggers including The Boy who Bakes (original Great British Bake Off winner), Frances Quinn (Bake Off winner 2013), Ms Marmite Lover (blogger, 19.3k followers) and Eat Like a Girl (41k twitter followers).

Social media

The twitter account @welovemaple was created in March 2015 and gained a loyal and engaged following through exposure gained by media relations activity (e.g. appearing on Sunday Brunch), engaging with influential media figures (re-tweeting relevant recipes and including the blogger’s twitter handles to encourage retweets and mentions), posting coverage of recipes, links to the website and twitter competitions.

Notable followers include reality TV star and ‘I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here’ 2015 winner, Vicky Pattison (1.88m followers), as well as boy band Union J member George Shelley (870k followers). Other celebrity followers include Natalie Lowe (BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing, 115k followers) and celebrity chef Aldo Zilli (82.8k followers). Frances Quinn, Ed Kimber, Lavender & Loveage and Ms Marmite Lover are all followers who wield significant social media influence.


Liquid have created 17 videos so far, including ‘Taste Test’, posted in August 2015, which was viewed more than 11,000 times.

Staff Canteen

Liquid created an account on The Staff Canteen, a catering industry website, and populated it with more than 50 recipes, news articles and video content, viewed almost 8,000 times. The banner and MPU on the website saw a click through rate to the website exceeding industry averages.


The Maple Christmas Showcase event at the Canadian High Commission combined maple sampling and cookery demonstrations and was attended by more than 50 food writers. A series of face to face trade briefings were held at the High Commission, with representatives of M&S and Sainsbury’s and major UK maple brands Clarks and Pure Maple.

Literature and collateral

  • Designed and delivered direct marketing boxes of the four grades of maple syrup to key media.
  • Produced a trade report, distributed to category managers at all major UK retailers including Tesco, Asda, M&S, Whole Foods and Morrisons.
  • ‘We Love Maple’ chef aprons and goody bags were produced for use at events.


Exports of pure maple syrup from Canada to the UK increased by 36% year-on-year from 2014 to 2015. This was an unprecedented success.

Top tips for organising a campaign

  1. Understand the proposition – why your product/service/brand is different from and better than its competitors. From this, shape and articulate your unique selling proposition and key messages. It is your source of sustainable competitive advantage.
  2. Understand your stakeholders and publics – and their rational and emotional triggers. Insight is key to making the connection with your audiences and changing awareness and perception.
  3. Ensure that everything you do strategically and tactically aligns itself to achieving your business/commercial and communications objectives.
  4. Use as many or as few tools as you need to get the job done. The goal is to be effective and cost-effective in delivering results.
  5. Manage the campaign well, reviewing and recalibrating where necessary.
  6. Emancipate team members from fear, encourage innovation and celebrate success.
  7. Keep focused on the goal of the campaign – and aim to exceed objectives.
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Case Study – Making a Global Difference: The KiteTM Mosquito Patch

Mark Button



It’s not that often public relations practitioners get a chance to work on a campaign that could solve a global issue and make a tangible difference to millions of lives. The campaign highlighted here is something that will stay with me forever, and I feel lucky to have lived and breathed this for six months in 2013.


Based in Riverside, California, Innovation Economy Crowd (ieCrowd) has developed a crowd-powered platform designed to transform innovations into solutions to global challenges. Based around a philosophy of “doing good, doing well, together” ieCrowd’s mission is to acquire innovative assets and transform them into high-growth businesses powered by passionate entrepreneurs – building innovative companies capable of enhancing the lives of people around the world.

The ieCrowd team has a holistic approach to investing in innovations, developing links with academia and sole inventors. They champion technologies that otherwise might not have the capability to scale up. ieCrowd gives everyone the opportunity to invest in products and services that can actually make a tangible difference in peoples’ lives. Their mission is to transform innovations into high-growth ventures capable of solving global challenges – while having positive social and economic impact.

The problem

In the US and Europe, mosquitoes are a nuisance, but the solution is to use scented candles or spray (despite those sprays invariably being highly toxic).

However, mosquitoes pose a significant threat to life in many other parts of the world. They spread malaria, West Nile virus, dengue fever, elephantiasis and yellow fever, amongst others. At the time of writing, the Zika Virus has emerged as a significant health threat.

Figures published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in March 2014 estimated that “around 3.4 billion people – half of the world's population – are at risk of malaria. In 2012, there were about 207 million malaria cases (with an uncertainty range of 135 million to 287 million) and an estimated 627,000 malaria deaths (with an uncertainty range of 473,000 to 789,000).” The vast majority (86%) of malaria cases occurred in children under five years of age. More than 90% of cases occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. One person dies from malaria every minute of every day. That’s 1,440 per day, 10,080 every week, the equivalent of the entire population of Boston or Copenhagen being wiped out every year. In addition, over one million people worldwide die from mosquito-borne diseases every year.

The direct costs (for example, illness, treatment, premature death) of malaria have been estimated to be at least $12 billion per year.

A cost-effective and safe solution

ieCrowd’s first initiative to be developed was called the KiteTM Mosquito Patch, a 2” x 2” adhesive patch that is stuck onto clothes or some other surface (a rucksack, sleeping bag, burkha, etc.) that emits a benign scent, generated by non-toxic compounds, creating a “football field-sized shield” offering protection for up to 48 hours from attack by mosquitoes. The ‘Kite Patch’ is the world’s first product containing breakthrough compounds that blocks mosquitoes’ ability to detect CO2 – their primary method of tracking humans.

The technology underpinning Kite has its origins in academia at the University of California, Riverside. That nucleus was harnessed and further developed by Olfactor Laboratories, Inc. (OLI), an ieCrowd company, and was the culmination of over four years of research and three years of development work on a class of non-toxic compounds, all of which are approved for human consumption by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The product design for Kite has focused on delivering the repelling compounds in a simple, affordable, and scalable sticker that can be used by individuals for recreation, work, play, and particularly by those in regions hardest-hit by malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases. Each patch is colorful and bright, reflecting designs and colors important to various communities around the world.

“We want this small patch to change peoples’ lives, and we’re designing Kite to deliver everyone protection from mosquitoes no matter where they are in the world,” commented Grey Frandsen, project lead at ieCrowd. “It will provide a new level of protection for children in Uganda, for young families in South Africa, and hikers in Seattle or Wyoming or Florida seeking a safer, socially-responsible solution. It is simple and affordable – a small colorful sticker that will appeal to children and adults and survive the rigors of extreme climates, play time, or outdoor recreation.”


In order to raise awareness of its work around the Kite Mosquito Patch, and to generate support for further product development and extensive field trials, ieCrowd linked up with Indiegogo using public relations, social media, feature-rich content and relationship building in a comprehensive campaign that identified and targeted key influencers to highlight four main elements:

  • (1) Raise awareness of the critical issue of mosquito-borne diseases, and in particular malaria, and that fact that diseases which have all but been eradicated in the West still pose a threat to life on a daily basis for almost half the world’s population.
  • (2) Promote and raise awareness for the Kite Patch Indiegogo crowd funding campaign to provide everyone with an opportunity to work towards minimizing and eventually ending mosquito-borne diseases, and to fund field trails of Kite Patch in Uganda.
  • (3) Raise awareness of Kite Patch as a product line.
  • (4) Raise overall awareness of ieCrowd and its mission, unique offering and strategic partnerships.


The Kite Mosquito Patch has significant appeal to a wide and global audience. The campaign had health, medical, scientific, technological, lifestyle, business, educational, travel, innovation and regional angles which were all be exploited. People had the opportunity to get involved and help to make a difference for as little as $10.

Key influencers were identified as:

  • Business media
  • General news media
  • Science, health and medical media (trade and mainstream)
  • Technology media
  • Regional news media
  • Lifestyle media
  • Broadcast media
  • Bloggers in all of the above.
  • Social media accounts for key influencers.


Campaign planning and strategy: A planning, briefing and strategy-setting day at the client’s offices in Riverside, California, was instrumental in honing messages and plan of attack. Significant research was undertaken to include key editorial contacts, bloggers, producers, with bespoke pitches and story angles created for each segment and platform.

An integrated plan was put together that involved the video production team from Sparkhouse, in-house social media team, creative personnel from Tank Design and the PR team from nineteen67. A campaign timeline was charted, and a file sharing system was set up. Finally, a campaign activity report provided an ongoing overview of all activities within the campaign.

Content development and website: Prior to the campaign breaking, media assets were created including:

  • Kite Patch page on the ieCrowd website
  • Kite Patch page on the Indiegogo website
  • Various short videos to support the Indiegogo campaign and launch Kite.
  • B-roll video footage (made available for broadcast media)
  • Product concept photography (for media)
  • ieCrowd and Kite logo treatments
  • FAQ document for the media
  • News release
  • Executive biographies
  • ieCrowd backgrounder

Social Media: Feeds were set up prior to launch and built out during and after the campaign as coverage came in.

Media campaign: Kite was launched via a media campaign that broke on July 16 2013, the same day that a funding campaign launched on Indiegogo’s crowdfunding site. The initial funding goal was $75,000, which would help to pay for the first Kite Mosquito Patches to be built and tested in districts of Uganda hardest hit by malaria. ieCrowd partnered with Pilgrim Africa, an NGO with operations in Uganda, to implement the field test, from which the data will be utilized to complete the manufacturing process and be used to begin scaling production of the Kite Mosquito Patch.

News releases: Only two news releases were sent during the campaign, for the Kite launch and the campaign wrap.

Media Briefings/Interviews: A ‘virtual’ press office was set up as the contact for media enquiries, providing media assets and scheduling interviews globally. Nineteen67 conducted outreach, fielded media calls and responded to media requests. We scheduled interviews and arranged logistics with local broadcast media bureaus, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, NPR, CBS, BBC World Service, and Al Jazeera, amongst others.

We had direct dialogue on 544 occasions with the media and made over 300 indirect contacts via media distribution. A total of 42 interviews were arranged via TV, radio, phone, Skype audio and video and email. Media requests were responded to within an hour and key spokespeople were on call.

Other Activity

Online and broadcast coverage was responded to through the ieCrowd and Kite social media feeds, as well as agency and personal feeds. Together with a showcase on the Kite Patch website, a further snowball effect of additional interest and media enquiries was generated.


  • Number of recorded media items: 418 (as of August 30 2013)
  • Global adult audience reach 7.4 billion
  • Exceeded funding target by almost 650%

On the day of Kite Patch going live on Indiegogo, news about the product broke across the globe. Coverage appeared in almost 40 countries across every continent, with a combined circulation of over 7.4 billion people. The story hit print, broadcast, and online news, as well as blogs and social media. The campaign went viral on day four, and continued to grow in popularity throughout the entire six-week campaign, with 2,350 people mentioning #KitePatch,#HelpFlyKite and #ALittleStickerChangingTheWorld on Twitter, generating over 6,100 retweets. Bill Gates Tweeted about Kite Patch to his 12 million followers.

The $75,000 Indiegogo target was reached within four days and Kite remained the most popular project on Indiegogo throughout its funding period. The funding target was exceeded by $480,000. Kite raised $557,254 - over 640% more than the original goal.

Kite was the most funded in the ‘Small Business’ category ever on Indiegogo at the time. More than a quarter of a million (271,449) Kite Patches were reserved during the limited six-week offering.

The media campaign generated global coverage over the six weeks of the funding campaign, including CNN, ABC, NBC, Fox, Al Jazeera, Wired, BBC, Forbes, Fast Co, and Entrepreneur. The Kite Patch campaign was featured in over 400 publications and TV and radio broadcasts.

Coverage highlights

Major news interviews:

  • CNN – Live on air interview with senior executive
  • Network 9 (Australia) – Today Weekend show – Live on air interview with senior executive
  • MSN News
  • Right This Minute – Segment and interview with executive
  • Fast Company ‘Change Generation’ – Three-minute piece. Interviews with senior management and scientist
  • Al Jazeera America – Three different interviews aired
  • Yahoo!/ABC – ‘This Could Be Big’ segment – interview with senior executive
  • KSL, Kansas City – News piece using b-roll and images
  • ABC 7 News (Los Angeles) – Video segment – interviews with senior executive and lead scientist
  • Studio 11 Fox LA – News item with b-roll video
  • Right This Minute – Segment and interview with executive
  • Fast Company ‘Change Generation’ – Three-minute piece. Interviews with senior management and scientist
  • RTL TVI Belgium – Footage and images supplied for new item
  • CBS Channel One News – B-roll video supplied for segment
  • Fox Tampa – Interview with ieCrowd executive

Radio interviews:

  • BBC World Service Morning Show – interview with senior executive
  • BBC Newsday – interview with senior executive
  • Newstalk 1290 CJBK (Canada) – interview with senior executive
  • John Gormley Live (Canada) – interview with senior executive
  • Voice of America’s Daybreak Africa – interview with senior executive
  • Open For Business (Malaysia) – interview with CEO

African Media:

  • Iroko Heritage – dedicated article on Kite and a follow up article on the campaign’s success
  • Mark Schenkel – Q&A and associated materials for article on malaria in Uganda

Business Media:


  1. Seek out the human interest within a story and present in a way that audiences can relate to, whether it be solving a problem, highlighting an issue, moving a conversation forwards or simply launching a new widget.
  2. Think laterally about who the story might be relevant to.
  3. Quality rather than quantity is best. Research key influencers thoroughly. Know what their hot buttons are. Get to know them and present compelling narratives.
  4. Be objective. If a story is weak, work with the client to build it. Quality control is paramount.
  5. Set expectations with the client. Stories can snowball pretty quickly, and instinctively a good practitioner knows when a story has legs. Quick turnaround and availability for interview will endear you to the media and give you (and your client) credibility.
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Case Study – Communication campaign "Tell a friend!” promoting Bulgaria's first national drug hot line

Consultancy: Apeiron Communication
Client: Solidarity Association
Period of implementation of the campaign: February - April 2010
(Active phase of the project: April, 2010)

Nely Benova


The Solidarity Association (SA) is a non-profit organization whose mission is rehabilitation and resocialization of drug-addicted young people. The association also works for greater tolerance by society and prevention among risk groups. In 2008, SA launched the Bulgarian drug hotline, which was funded by the MATRA program of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

SA needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the only Bulgarian hotline for drugs and alcohol (IHDA). At the beginning of 2010 people were not aware of the existence of the hotline and were not using it.

SA approached Apeiron Communication to promote the hotline among relevant social groups, to achieve more active usage and to increase public understanding of the role of prevention.


Research included:

Analysis of survey results conducted by SA in partnership with the youth website Teenproblem. This found that only 20 percent of respondents would turn to their parents for more information on drugs. Those under 18 said they had discussed similar issues in the family. To the question "Where do you get information about drugs?" 63% of the respondents answered "the internet", 57% listed "friends", 20% "parents” and 14% "personal experience”.

Focus groups with young people (16-25) to identify information needs. The study aimed to establish the level of awareness of young people about drugs and their use; their attitude towards drug users; the preferred channels for them to get information about drugs, who were opinion leaders on the subject. Young people had detailed knowledge,though often inaccurate, about the effect and influence of drugs - mainly from personal experiences (friends,classmates, themselves). Knowledge obtained from reliable sources was significantly lower. The most reliable sources of information for young people were their close family circle, where they learned about drugs, their use and consequences.Opinion leaders tended to be a person that had personal experience with drugs and had passed ‘through their hell”. Doctors, psychologists, teachers or other professionals were not regarded as opinion leaders. Anonymity was also an obstacle for honest sharing.

The main communication challenge for the project was to "start talking youth language” in order to win their confidence and to provoke them to seek the consultants on the hotline for information and assistance.


Specific objectives of the project

  1. To raise awareness among young people (16-25) about the existence of the drug hotline.
  2. To raise their awareness on the effects and risks of drug usage.
  3. To increase the number of calls made by young people to the hotline.
  4. To inform youngsters, parents and teachers about the possibilities offered by the hotline.
  5. To provoke discussion on the prevention of addiction in Bulgaria and to work with community groups.
  6. To develop a sustainable work model and network to allow long-term effects of thecampaign.


Key public: young people aged between 15 and 25 years - the most at risk group.

Additional audiences:

  1. Schools and educational institutions - directors and school counsellors, have professional responsibility to counsel students about the impact of drugs on their health and behaviour, but have limited knowledge and experience on how to gain their confidence. Natural long-term partners of the project.
  2. Non-governmental organizations with similar objectives- such as organizations of mothers of children with drug addictions, health organizations working with vulnerable groups.
  3. Institutions - Ministry of Education and the Regional Inspectorate of Education - Sofia, the National Addiction Centre and others.
  4. Media including specialized media and teen-oriented mainstream media.
  5. Business organizations whose clients are mostly young people and who might partner with SA.


For the drug hotline:

  • you can ask anything you want about drugs and alcohol.
  • you can get reliable and objective information about drugs and alcohol, the effects and risks of their use and the places where you can get additional information and assistance.
  • the team provides information that can help you make your own choices.

On information materials:

  • Tell a friend!
  • Learn about drugs
  • Call the hotline

Every information sources had the IHDA’s number and website address.

Strategy, tactics, implementation and results.

‘Tell a friend!’ Campaign

The core concept to involve the main target audience was “Tell a friend”. Young people were encouraged to share with at least one classmate or friend the phone number of the drug hotline.


  1. Information tour of Sofia schools
    A popular Bulgarian TV host and Svetlana, a member of the SA team who had personal experience with drug addiction were the main figures. In addition, psychologists and advisers working for the information hotline attended. They travelled in a car that branded with the campaign’s slogan "Tell a friend!" and the hotline’s phone number. Meetings were held with students in 5 schools in Sofia presentating the hotline, followed by a Q&A session and distribution of posters and flyers with the campaign message and the number of the hotline.

    Results: The tour reached over 500 students and their school counsellors. Calls to the hotline doubled. Research had shown that one of the psychological barriers for young people to turn for support to the hotline team was that they were contacting strangers. The tour helped to raise awareness of the effects of drugs and to increase confidence of students in the hotline’s staff. A contact database of school counsellors in over 30 metropolitan schools was built and submitted to SA to continue the campaign. This provided an opportunity to hold meetings with students in other schools.

  2. Meeting with media representatives.
    A press launch publicising the start of the information tour featuring the TV host was held at the gallery of the National School of Fine Arts in Sofia - the first stop of the tour.

    Results: 56 publications in over 40 print and online media (67% of media invited). The media coverage was 100% positive in tone and included the key messages of the campaign. In accompanying photos the hotline’s phone number was clearly visible.

  3. Video contest on Facebook.
    A competition for the best amateur film on the topic of "Meet the drugs not to love them” was announced on Facebook.

    • 1089 people supported "Tell a Friend" on Facebook.
    • young people in other schools were informed about the hotline and shared it with their friends on Facebook
    • students were motivated to gather additional information about the negative effects of drugs
    • 17 people entered the competition and became informal ambassadors of the leading values of the campaign, helping it to "speak in the language of youth”.
  4. Partnerships with broadcast media
    A promotional video, audio clip and online banner were made available, as well as printed flyers. The design was pre-tested during the focus group.

    Results: 10 media were attracted as partners, providing free airtime or online space. All media had a strong base of young viewers.

    bTV – over 1 month (70 broadcasts)
    BNT - over 10 days, 20 broadcasts, coinciding with spring vacation.
    Radio / TV The Voice - 1 month
    Radio / TV CITY - 1 month
    Radio NOVA - 1 month
    DARIKWEB - 9 months
    DIR.BG – over 14 days the banner was displayed 560,513 times - publication of campaign information, 201 views

  5. Partnerships with business organizations and institutions
    Several organizations partnered with SA:

    • Chevrolet –provided free transportation for the information tour.
    • LOOP - the youth mobile network of Mtel published the online banner and video on their website. Over 1 month, 978 visits.
    • Arena cinema (East and West) – the two cinemas broadcast the video for 2 weeks in their food court area (18 screens x 2 times per hour) in Sofia, as well as distributing 2000 flyers.
    • Metro Media – broadcast of the video on screens in subway stations for more than 1 month.
    • Dialogue Ltd - distribution of 1000 flyers n the offices of the alternative telephone operator in Sofia and free calls to the hotline through their system for over 9 months.
    • Universities in Sofia (UACG, Technical University, NBU, UNWE) – distributing 50 posters and 1500 flyers.
    • NGOs - HESED Foundation and the Children and Youth Alliance distributed 1000 flyers and 20 posters.
  6. Roundtable on "Drugs and Our Children: early prevention of delayed decisions" (November 2010)
    Representatives from the non-governmental and public sector, Deputy Ambassador of the Netherlands and media attended the forum. The objective was to attract public attention to the problem and the need for prevention of addiction. 25 national media published information about the forum.

    • Summary of quantitative results:
      Visits to Information hotline’s website in the active period of the campaign (April 2010): 8967, with 75% new visits
    • Number of calls for the active period of the campaign: 71 (compared to 36 the previous month)
    • Registered media publications / live appearances on TV shows during the campaign: 81
    • Number of students participating in meetings with Information Hotline’s team: 500
    • Distributed campaign flyers: 6500
    • Distributed posters: 200
    • Number of supporters of campaign’s cause in Facebook: 1089
    • Partnerships with media and other organizations: 26

    • Budget
      The campaign was implemented with a budget of 5,000 EUR, covering the costs for:
    • Design and printing of information materials (flyers, brochures, media materials).
    • Conducting 2 focus groups.
    • Organizating of Information tour.
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Case Study – Crisis Management for Campus Living Villages

Sarah Heron


Campus Living Villages (CLV) manage and run 14 properties and 10,957 student beds across the UK and this is continuing to grow. Originally started in Australia, the company came to the UK in 2008 to provide quality accommodation for students requiring halls of residence.

They are the number one on-campus accommodation provider in Australia and New Zealand, and one of the largest providers of student accommodation globally, with total gross assets of AU $2.0 billion. Globally CLV owns, manages or is developing over 40,000 beds at more than 60 properties in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The head office based in London has a small team of seven staff, mainly working in communications and campus development/management, with an additional larger team in Manchester.

Prince Consort Village

In 2015, CLV was developing a £14 million campus in Chiswick for The Royal College of Music (RCM), called Prince Consort Village. It was to offer accommodation designed specifically around the needs of music students; and included 24-hour practice rooms and acoustically treated bedrooms, as well as a gym, cinema room and performance space.

While this campus was due for completion in August 2015, ready for the students in September, sadly building work was not completed. Therefore, students were moved to alternative accommodation in South Kensington in September 2015. The students were told that they would move to Prince Consort Village in November 2015.

In early November the builders informed CLV that the Chiswick campus would not be ready for November habitation, and would need a further five months before completion. The 500 RCM students could not stay in their temporary South Kensington accommodation, as it was dated and in need of renovation by the management team which owned it.

In November 2015, CLV asked ma’am PR to assist in the second round of crisis communications, as the company was worried that the additional delay would cause problems with the students and their parents, resulting in negative press coverage

ma’am PR worked closely with the CLV’s in-house marketing team to develop an integrated crisis communication campaign, providing clear and continuous information to all the audiences involved. In addition, traditional trade media PR campaigns and social media content programs were developed as needed.

CLV was concerned that students would use college and individual social media profiles to vent.


  • To position CLV as providing a beneficial solution to the housing issue.
  • To provide positive information in a timely manner to students and stakeholders and handle any issues from these parties.
  • To maintain the CLV’s reputation as a leading on-campus accommodation provider.
  • To maintain a good working relationship with the RCM


  • 500 resident RCM students
  • Parents and guardians
  • Senior staff and communications staff at the RCM
  • CLV Australian head office
  • Regional and trade media
  • Academic social media


It was decided to provide the students with as much information as possible, to stop the crisis communication ‘fire’ and keep messages positive and upbeat. This tactic had worked during the last delay.

A week prior to the announcement at the RCM a full guidance document with Q&As was written for the Hall Staff Managers. The document answered most questions that might be asked by the students and their guardians regarding dates, rooms, reasons, costs, how to pack their belongings, compensation, etc.

This ensured that any student who came to the front desk in the halls of residence, or parent that rang from the UK or abroad, received the same positive message. Students answering the phone or on the front desk were asked to stick to the provided script, and to forward any problem calls to a special phone/email set up by CLV.

Accompanying the document were full details of the new premises the students were moving to from December 2015 to March 2016, until Prince Consort Village campus was ready. All the benefits on the new accommodation over their current rooms were highlighted such as being able to practice their musical instrument in their room, Freeview TV, serviced apartments with great communal areas, and close to the RCM Key figures to be involved at RCM were discussed, and a team put together from the communications staff at CLV and the RCM.

A speech was written for CLV to present to the students at the RCM, which was to be backed by John Constable, a very well respected musician and teacher at the RCM. John carried a great deal of gravitas with the music students, and his endorsement was designed to dispel concerns, and show the RCM’s support of the new ‘temporary’ accommodation. John was to attend and give a speech at the announcement to students at RCM.

An online system was set up to monitor social media using keywords as it was impossible to check 500 students’ individual social media profiles.

Activity – The week of the announcement

It was agreed that no information would be sent to the local and trade press announcing the delay, but would be handled reactively should calls be received. This was a different approach to usual crisis communications. A statement was written and approved for the press, but not distributed so CLV could see if the situation would be contained within the student population.

This decision was not taken lightly, but based on the lack of press involvement after the first delay in September 2015.

On 10 November an email was sent to all 500 students asking them to attend a meeting at RCM. This was checked for link opening and bounce back.

The meeting was planned for lunchtime when most of the students would be free. Posters were put up in the hall of residence in South Kensington. It was a simple call to action with no additional information to curb rumors. The students assumed the meeting was about their accommodation and move to Prince Consort House, but not about further delays. This prevented any negative publicity before the announcement, and no comments were made on social media prior to the meeting at RCM.

If students emailed or called they were simply asked to attend the meeting and told they would have full information on email after the meeting on 11 November.

During the week CLV had many meetings with RCM to discuss tone of voice, the message and possible outcomes. It was always agreed to keep all messages upbeat and positive, as the students would hopefully adopt this attitude. The messages focused on the benefits of the new accommodation with serviced apartments, modern building and students able to practice their instruments in their bedrooms.

CLV’s finance team drew up a package of compensation for the delay, offering a reduction on the rent depending on the type of room the student had.

Activity - The Day of Announcement

7am – The morning of 11 November a reminder email was sent out to all 500 students on their college emails.

8am – 500 packs were printed to hand out to students, which contained FQAs, details of the new hall of residence from January till March 2016, how students would be moved over the Christmas break by CLV and the compensation package.

8.30am – Email written with FQAs, and full details of the new halls was set up to go out to 500 students at 2pm, duplicating the packs handed out at RCM for anyone who missed or mislaid the handouts. Only 61 emails were not opened on the day.

9am – briefing at CLV to go through the speech to students by the CLV UK President, and amendments made.

11am – briefing at RCM with their key communications staff to go through the speech and ensure all were communicating a positive and upbeat message of the great new halls before students were finally moved to Prince Consort Village in Chiswick.

1.00pm – List of students kept to check attendees as they came into the hall.

1.30pm – Speech from CLV President and John Constable of RCM. Q&A session and briefing pack handed out to every student as they left. All staff remained behind to answer questions about the move – from whom they would share with, to details of where the students would arrive at after the Christmas holidays.

2pm – Supporting email sent to every student affected by the late completion of Prince Consort Village.

Out of 500 students, 450 turned up to the meeting. The announcement was met with cheers about their new halls, and the ability to practice in the bedrooms. Many students stayed behind to ask questions about the new accommodation, and how to stay with groups of friends. They were told that any groups who wanted to be together would, where possible, be accommodated.

2.30pm – 5.30pm ma’am PR stayed with the team in the halls on the front desk to answer any questions from students. There were several queries about moving, storage of music equipment and a tour of the new halls.

A tour was set up the following week for any students wanting to see the new halls at Go Native Kensington to prevent students from individually descending on Go Native.

12 November: ma’am PR helped again in reception for the whole day to support the student staff and answer queries.


Social media monitoring showed that only 8% of students used social media to comment on the delay. Out of that only 5% of comments were negative, and two students asked if they could find their own accommodation, and not move with the others. Other comments were about the facilities at Go Native, and the fact that the apartments would be serviced.

Two people were prevented from filming the announcement on their phones at the RCM, to prevent negative comments when being shared.

A further 10 calls from concerned parents were received, wanting to know about compensation for their child. All of these were handled so that the parents were happy with the outcome, apart from one who withdrew his child from the RCM accommodation.

No students took to regional media, and as no announcement was made CLV avoided any bad publicity in the local London and trade papers. CLV, Prince Consort Village and the RCM all posted positive stories on their websites about the move and Prince Consort Village.

As CLV staff and ma’am PR were on-hand for two days to talk through issues at the students’ halls of residence, this also allowed students to discuss any concerns, and limited any issues escalating.


Each of the following was measured during the campaign:

  • Potential reach via media
  • Event attendance
  • Twitter report #PrinceConsortVillage #CLV (Tweetreach)
  • Web traffic to Prince Consort Village’s website
  • Student and parent enquiries (which were limited and all handled within the first three days)

Students moved into Prince Consort Village campus as planned in early March 2016.