Entertainment Can Change Lives

I attended an inspiring session this morning at the 2006 IABC Heritage Region Conference. William Ryerson, President of the Population Media Center, and Esta de Fossard, Senior Advisor of Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Communication Programs, spoke about using entertainment as a vehicle to communicate health and social messages to people in developing nations.

William gave examples of how serial dramas are able to significantly raise awareness about family planning options, HIV prevention, arranged marriages (in reality abductions and violations of young girls) and exploitative child labor and child slavery. He also showed where this awareness resulted in changed behavior. For example, he told one moving story where the family of a 14-year old abducted girl was reluctant to let their other daughter attend school for fear that she too would be attacked on the way to class. However, after hearing a serial radio drama discussing “arranged marriages,” they and the other villagers decided that they would band together to prevent further abductions.

Esta explained that the success of serial dramas, one of several types of entertainment-education vehicles (others include telenovelas, series, sit coms and docu dramas), lies in the identification of the audience with the characters, and in helping audience members believe that if a character can improve his or her life, perhaps they can too. Esta also provided an overview of the steps involved in using serial dramas to bring about change: Audience, analysis, access, articulation, artistry, auxiliaries, advocacy, advertising, assessment, and adjustment.

Katie Paine, who writes KDPaine’s PR Measurement Blog and will be presenting at the conference this afternoon, also enjoyed the session.

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.

Adaptive Abilities More Important Than Detailed Contingency Plans

The May issue of Harvard Business Review has a special report containing thirteen articles about Preparing for a Pandemic that focus on different areas such as the science behind H5N1, the role of leaders, the importance of communication, and modeling, among others.

However, the article on organizations, Survival of the Adaptive by Nitin Nohria, the Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, is particularly enlightening for PR and and other related professionals counseling clients on crisis management. Nohria writes:

“In the complex and uncertain environment of a sustained, evolving crisis, the most robust organizations will not be those that simply have plans in place but those that have continuous sensing and response capabilities…

We know from complexity theory that following a few basic crisis-response principles is more effective than having a detailed a priori plan in place….

The goal is not to create specific rules for responding to specific threats but to practice new ways of problem solving in an unpredictable and fast-changing environment.”

Nohria recommends that organizations have a global network of people in place that can help out as needed if internal communications systems break down, or as either human or physical resources are compromised.

He also compares the characteristics of organizations that will be less, and those that will be more, successful in surviving an outbreak:

  • Hierarchical vs. networked
  • Centralized leadership vs. distributed leadership
  • Tightly coupled (greater interdependence among parts) vs. loosely coupled (less interdependence)
  • Concentrated workforce vs. dispersed workforce
  • Specialists vs. cross-trained generalists
  • Policy and procedure driven vs. guided by simple yet flexible rules


Legislation Seeks to Avoid a Repeat of Katrina’s Pet Failure

When Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast, pet owners were either forced to abandon their pets or risk their own lives in trying to protect their animal companions. Some people decided to stay behind, others were heartbroken by the decision they felt forced to make.

While stories of happy reunions between owners and their pets provide a small feel-good element in an otherwise tragic series of government failures, there are still reports of animals who are barely alive and desperately waiting to be rescued.

Seeking to avoid a repeat of Katrina, Reps. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) and Chris Shays (R-CT) recently introduced the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act of 2005 (H.R. 3858) to require state and local emergency preparedness operational plans to “take into account the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals following a major disaster or emergency.” PETS currently has over 60 co-sponsors. As explained in Congressman Lantos’ introductory statements:

“This legislation … requires states to include how they plan to accommodate their incumbent pet population as well as people with disabilities that are aided by service animals. FEMA will require the jurisdictions to submit their emergency preparedness plans in order to be eligible for FEMA funding assistance in the event of a disaster.”

While the legislation doesn’t require any specific rescue efforts by state or local governments, it serves as a starting point for discussing the practical steps needed to rescue people and their pets. So are any non-profits or advocacy groups using this bill as an opportunity to educate their members and the public? Here’s a partial list of national organizations that are:

· The Humane Society of the United States (go here)

· The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (go here)

· Last Chance for Animals (scroll to bottom of page here)

· United Animal Nations (go here)

· Doris Day Animal League (go here)

At a time when the wounds of Katrina are still fresh and people around the country are wondering what they would so if disaster struck them, all animal advocacy groups, whether national or local, large or small, should be using this legislation to raise awareness and mobilize their audiences into action.