Interview with Caroline Beaumont, Transaid’s Head of Marketing, about the "Transaid Challenge" Computer Game

Transaid is an international development agency that focuses on improving the availability and affordability of transport in the developing world, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. Founded by Save The Children and the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (UK), Transaid assists local partners in obtaining better access to such things as healthcare and education, and in improving the ability of individuals to pursue their livelihood.

What does this mean in practical terms? Through an improved transportation management system, health services workers in Ghana alone, for example, can cover 70% more kilometres at less cost and give approximately 90,000 extra children a year vaccinations. It also means that basic goods will become more affordable for the local population and that markets will open up for local producers (here’s a sobering fact: up to 40% of her turnover and up to 8 hours a day are spent by a female market trader in Ghana in getting her goods to market).

As part of its awareness-raising efforts, Transaid earlier this month launched the Transaid Challenge, an online game intended to showcase — in a fun and interactive way — the transportation challenges faced by health workers. Created by fishinabottle and sponsored by Barclays Transport and Logistics division, players take on the role of  “an African health services worker, delivering services and supplies from health centres to villages that need them.” The game ends when, apparently as in real life, the vehicle’s gas runs out or it is damaged and breaks down.

I’ve played the game three times now and it’s fun. But fortunately people in need aren’t relying on my ability to get supplies or services to them… each time I managed to drive my vehicle into a boulder and several bushes, slam into a hut or two, and then run out of gas.

Interested in the thoughts behind the Transaid Challenge and how it fit it into Transaid’s overall public relations and marketing stretegy, I contacted Caroline Beaumont, Transaid’s Head of Marketing, who graciously agreed to an e-mail interview:

Andrea Weckerle: How did you initially come up with the idea for the computer game?

Caroline Beaumont: Last year, with 2 days notice, we found out that we had a stand at Live8. We wanted to do something more than a few leaflets on a stand so set Mario, our intern, to work with some toilet rolls, paint and toy farmyard animals and trucks to create a track for a remote controlled driving game that demonstrated some of the difficulties of driving in Africa. Although it was pretty rudimentary it really helped us to explain our work to a completely cold audience and we got thinking about translating it to a computer game.

None of us are big games players, so we enlisted the help of a volunteer who is also a keen gamer, and he helped us to put together the brief and source our design agency, fishinabottle.  We are a really small charity with a correspondingly small budget so then we had to find a sponsor to make it happen.  Barclays Bank have a Transport & Logistics division and wanted to do something unusual with us, that also targeted their audience, so they came on board.

Andrea Weckerle: What has the feedback to the game been to date?

Caroline Beaumont: Since launch, on July 12th, it has been picked up all over the world. Feedback has generally being really good and it is appearing on lots of blogs and discussion boards. It is extremely popular in Slovakia, for some reason! Take up of the messages is harder to evaluate, but we will try and do some evaluation of this towards the end of the 2 month campaign period.

Andrea Weckerle: How many times has the game been played in total? And by how many individual players?

Caroline Beaumont: In the first week of launch the game, which is hosted on our site, was played 22,500 times. 2,691 click throughs had been made from the Challenge to the homepage.  Before the Challenge launched our web traffic over the same period our entire number of visits would have been about 350.  We have a small email list of warm supporters of about 350, and circulated the Challenge to them at launch. Approx 4,500 click throughs from email links have been achieved, indicating that the viral effect has been strong.

Andrea Weckerle: How does this game tie into Transaid’s overall PR and marketing efforts?

Caroline Beaumont: Transaid works to build transport management skills in Africa, predominantly among health service workers.  A lot of healthcare in Africa is delivered by outreach, because of the huge distances between communities and health facilities, and our basic premise is that it’s not always a lack of vehicles that prevents health workers from delivering services to people in remote areas, it’s how they are driven and maintained and how their routes are planned. It’s common sense stuff, but it is hard to communicate in an interesting and engaging way as it’s something quite intangible – you can’t see skills building in the same way you can see a vehicle!  We wanted people to understand that it’s not the 4×4, it’s what you do with it that counts.

We have a very strong core supporter base made up of companies from the UK transport & logistics industry but we wanted to challenge the perception, both internally and externally, that you need to work in the industry to understand the value of what we do, by demonstrating the issues in an interactive way.

We have a really good profile among our supporters at senior management level but we were not reaching operational staff, or a younger audience – a valuable constituency who can fundraise and advocate on our behalf. The launch of the Challenge coincided with our new website, and we we used it to add value to the site, drive people to the homepage and collect e-newsletter opt-ins.

Andrea Weckerle: Is there anything else about the campaign or Transaid that you’d like to share?

Caroline Beaumont: We had to think very carefully about how what the gameplay said about our work and fishinabottle, our agency, really tuned into what we were trying to demonstrate. They kept us involved at every stage of development and, as they do a lot of charity and public information work they were brilliant at interpreting our brief into something playable, but on-message.  For example, we wanted the game to have a time element, but an over-emphasis on speed would have completely gone against a safe driving message, so the time is actually represented by a fuel guage that runs down – when you’re out of fuel, the game’s over.  It’s also much harder to avoid the obstacles if you drive carelessly so you are more likely to end the game by irreperably damaging your vehicle.  The route planning aspect is represented by the dilemma of whether to take the faster but more indirect, tarmac road or the more direct but much slower off-road route.

We had to strike a balance between the game being fun to play and the serious message that we wanted to convey and we’ve ended up with something that is quite simplistic, but is a good entry point for those that are new to use to find out more about us.

The expectation was for our core audience, the transport industry, to remain the primary audience but actually it has had far greater appeal and attracted players from all over the world. It is the first serious piece of e-marketing that we’ve done and it has really brought home to me that, once something takes off on the web, you have to think completely internationally about your communications. For example, the e-newsletter that we drafted to send to our sign-ups had a lot of content about UK fundraising, but about 75% signed up so far are from outside the UK, so we are changing the content and emphasis to suit.

To monitor the Challenge’s growing web presence we’ve been using Google Alerts and also technorati.com to find out who is blogging about it, and posting responses if relevant.


Technology Helps Manage Logistics & Maintain Parent-Child Bonds Despite Divorce

Divorce is always a sad thing, but especially when dependent children are involved. However, regardless of any past animosity between former spouses, communicating effectively with each other on a regular and ongoing basis — and approaching the raising of kids as a team effort — is usually beneficial to everyone in the long run.

Fortunately, there are tools available to help adults manage the logistics of two or more households and schedules.

The KidsNCommon site (fee-based, free for 30 days), for example, helps parents establish a “community” within which an invited person — the other parent, a relative, a friend, or even the child — gets access to customized information. This information can include the Parenting Plan (a good resource on parenting plans is ParentingPlan.net), the Documents page, the Bills page (with tabs for Shared Expenses, Child Support, Spousal Support, Bank Accounts and Service Vendors), and the all-important Calendar page. The Calendar allows invited community members to see upcoming events organized according to categories such as Payment Reminder, Work, School Event, Extra Curricular, Recreation, Travel, Vacation, Holiday, Co-Parenting Meeting and Legal — with optional email reminders sent out as well.

KidsNCommon offers other services and benefits as well. For example, community members get their own email address, such as suzysmith@kidsncommon.com, that helps everyone stay in touch and receive schedule reminders. The site also offers information on topics such as child health, dealing with the psychology of divorce, and balancing families, careers and other relationships.

ShareKids.com (fee-based) is another site that offers an easy online location to share information and manage schedules, keep track of shared expenses, create photo galleries, and even create private chat rooms.

Sharekid.com also links to other valuable resources such as the Family Mediation Inc.’s downloadable (and, at under $20, affordable) Child Custody Parenting Plans book with forms, and the international non-profit Bonus Families that coined the beautiful term “bonus” to describe “a stepfamily or a single parent living with their children and another adult partner” (I highly recommend this site).

In addition to the importance of streamlining communication and schedules for the sake of the children, maintaining and fostering strong parent-child bonds is crucial to helping kids adjust to their new family status, particularly in cases where physical or legal custody is awarded to only one parent.

Virtual visitation can be an important part of helping the non-custodial parent maintain close ties with his or her children, whether the parent lives nearby and can’t see the child every day, or lives further away, precluding frequent in-person time together.

InternetVisitation.org describes virtual visitation as “using tools such as personal video conferencing, a webcam, email, instant messaging (IM) and other wired or wireless technologies over the Internet or other communication media to supplement in-person visits and telephone contacts between two people.”

The site offers practical how-to information on what’s needed to set up a call and a related forum discussing such things as VoIP, Skype, Vonage, video calls and video call accessories. Internet Visitation also lists the latest legislative developments; to date Utah, Wisconsin and Missouri have passed virtual visitation laws, with fifteen other states showing activity.

Finally, there’s also a must-read blog, Virtual Families and Friends.com, written by “virtual dad” Jim Buie and co-authored by his son, Matthew Buie-Nervik. An absolute gold mine of information.