Bee comms

By | 5th February 2015

Warm, soothing and golden – honey is an old favourite in our modern world. Shelves stacked with creamy set or dripping orange colours, ready to spoon onto desserts, ooze onto toast or to create a magical, healing drink. Make sure you grab a jar, any one, as you journey around the supermarket.

It is 10 years since I was asked to first wrote a series of articles on bees which I have seen extracted in snippets in features and blogs, comments which were made to point out the irony rehashed as ‘bee facts’. I have even seen a line in a magazine article purporting to be from a ‘well-known environmentalist’ (which I am not). From a PR or journalistic perspective, you could say the campaign-style articles were a success. It delivered results and exposure, and the articles even developed a life of their own.

But measurement and evaluation, as the theorists and PR strategists tell us, are not just about retweets, column inches or plaudits. What behaviour was actually changed, what goal did it achieve or is it making a difference or deepening understanding? Public relations and journalistic principles can have a lot in common. They both, to quote the old BBC adage, exist to inform, entertain and educate.

What behaviour did the campaign change?

In the public, not-for-profit and corporate social responsibility arm of the business world, campaigns – be they PR or journalist-initiated – can improve understanding, challenge misconceptions and alter behaviour in the short and longer term. They can even change their direction and as history has shown put understanding and behaviour into a complete spin (yes, pun intended).

WI bee action plan campaign posterIt is five years since the Women’s Institute added its voice to the growing campaigns to raise the plight of the honey bee in 2009 and in 2014 the WI has been calling for a bee action plan. In 2007, mainstream ‘The Bee Movie’ film spurred greater interest in bees and more than a passing nod to their connection to the survival of the human race and the planet itself through its strong animated campaigning message. The film, with voices of A-listers like Renée Zellweger, has been back on our screens over the last few weeks and led to social media conversations on bees’ survival. I was asked by a radio interviewer on whether public perception and action about bees has changed enough to no longer need worrying about, meaning I suppose, the campaign is now dead, and is there a new campaign about doom and gloom for the planet? To prepare for the interview and a review of communications, I wandered around the range of supermarket and local shops expecting to see the understanding of bees that had been seen following the last major national and cross-organisational push on the plight of the bees. I searched for information on encouraging bees in your garden, and found that many had not been updated in years or deleted. The interviewer was right – public perception has changed.

Bees have been largely forgotten again. This shows how important it can be to provide campaigns with a long term legacy and opportunities for future activity if there are long term objectives or a need for ongoing behaviour change. In the supermarkets and some of the smaller shops, I struggled to find a jar of honey which came solely from the UK, never mind from a 50 mile radius. Most bottles proudly displayed that their contents were a mix of EU and non-EU honey. As Barry the bee said in the film: “No one works harder than bees”. Without bees and pollination, food crops would be in jeopardy. How soon we forget!

How will our communications campaign make a difference?

As communicators, how often do we think, ‘how has or will our campaign make a difference, and just as importantly, how will it build on what is already out there or contribute to or inspire what will follow’? What questions will it make someone ask who reads it in 1, 5 or even 10 years time? That used to be the strength of a campaign seen in long-running journalistic features and charity PR stories. Will it make people go away and think, and will that thinking lead to action now or in the future? Will it last more than tomorrow’s Twitter summary?

Copyright is important. I could take action against the plagiarism or crow about how often the words have been reused, but how would these things affect the important story itself? If like Barry the bee in ‘The Bee Movie’, we just focus on a short term objective (winning back the honey credit from man accidentally leaving the planet to die) through just counting the ‘column inches’ or the latest measurement trend, do we lose sight of the bigger picture and therefore fail to see the vision for a campaign which can grow and really result in ongoing change?

My suggestion to the next generation of ‘Be-e campaigns’, is to find ways of keeping the message alive past the initial energy of the campaign and leave ways for both future communicators and the public to build on the story. If we all looked at our past campaigns, what would we want people to still be talking about and changing their behaviours in response? Bee campaigns would certainly be on my list.

External links

Women’s Institute Bee Action Plan Campaign

Save Our Bees website

National Bee Unit

Plan Bee – Co-operative’s campaign and links to ‘The Pollinator’ game app

Daily Telegraph’s Bring Back Bees campaign (2010 article)

Women’s Institute Bee campaign at its 2009 start