Campaigning on a Shoestring

By Anna Rivers, Marketing Manager


Back in April 2017, the Royal Statistical Society launched a public affairs campaign which sought to end the pre-release access to official statistics – including market-sensitive data – at the time enjoyed by scores of Ministers, special advisers and departmental press officers.


This highly successful campaign involved virtually zero cost – just large amounts of time, initiative and professionalism from the Society’s in-house team. And such success with negligible expenditure led to the RSS winning the ‘Best Campaign on a Shoestring’ award at the 2018 memcom membership awards. This award highlights the budgetary restrictions many of us can be faced with and recognises the investment of time and effort which goes into making a low-budget campaign with impact.


“It is great that memcom has this category in its annual awards. It’s perfect for relatively small organisations, like ours, which have really limited resources. We simply can’t match the campaigns run by other societies with larger memberships, higher subscriptions and far more resources. But each year’s ‘Shoestring’ winner shows that you can still run successful campaigns through careful planning, creative thinking and ‘punching above your weight’. We found that it was also a great way of engaging our members, so we’d love to find the right idea for a similar campaign in the future.” Iain Wilton, RSS director of policy and public affairs


Background to the campaign…


The RSS wanted to promote statistical integrity, increase public confidence in official statistics and reduce the risk of sensitive public information being exploited for private or corporate gain. They were determined to engage RSS fellows in their campaigning work after a survey had shown the scope to increase member engagement and improve awareness of their public affairs activities.


The RSS built a credible and broadly-based coalition behind the campaign. They recruited 114 supporters including politicians from different parties; RSS members from the public and private sectors; think-tank leaders from across the political spectrum; eminent academics from several relevant disciplines; prominent figures from across the UK; plus senior figures of impeccable standing, including two ex-National Statisticians and ten ex-RSS Presidents.


Ensuring the campaign entered the public domain via an authoritative media outlet, the RSS approached The Times. This was extremely well-received as they were effectively offering them a package of a political news story, a clear call for reform (for publication in its Letters pages) and a 114-strong list of signatories.


The results…


The article appeared on page 2 of the print edition of The Times and the letter from the RSS headed its Letters page. Spin-off publicity included a Radio 4 interview and a subsequent Times comment piece, echoing RSS’s call for reform.


The campaign was highly successful in terms of engaging members, generating positive media coverage, improving stakeholder perceptions of RSS and, crucially, bringing about an important public policy reform. A perfect example of increasing awareness of a problem whilst at the same time promoting a credible solution and creating a climate of opinion conducive to reform.


Indeed, on 15th June 2017, the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) and the Office for National Statistics announced the imminent abolition of pre-release access to ONS’s official statistics. The announcement came via a public letter to UKSA by the National Statistician, who cited the central element of the RSS’s campaign as a key factor in bringing about this reform.


Looking to run a campaign on a shoestring? Here’s some food for thought…


“If your budget is only a shoestring, you have to make the most of every in-house resource that you have. So, create a broadly-based campaign team, engage your non-executives and involve your members from start to finish. It’s especially important to let them know when your campaign has been successful, so they can see how the society – through their subscriptions – has secured real reform which individuals, acting alone, could probably never achieve. As ever, effective communications is crucial.” Iain Wilton, RSS director of policy and public affairs