RSS: Securing a multi-million-pound advertising equivalency value on a shoestring budget

Entry to the 2020 memcom membership excellence awards is now open


For the second year running at the memcom membership excellence awards, the Royal Statistical Society (RSS) took home the ‘Best Campaign on a Shoestring’ trophy. This award is an important one within our marketing category as it 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. Thanks to the RSS for sharing some of the details of their award-winning 2019 submission…



Following the development of Statistics of the Year in 2017, the RSS launched the initiative on a much bigger scale the following year, with far more demanding targets and many additional features – such as a promotional story via the BBC and Newsnight websites and a YouTube video – contributing to a six-fold increase in entries. The corporate objective of having the story “covered positively via at least four mainstream UK print or broadcast outlets” was easily surpassed, delivering international coverage, a spectacular ROI and increased public awareness of how statistics can provide fresh insights into pressing public issues.


memcom judges’ comments

“A very well executed campaign. The results and impact have been staggering, with a relatively small original outlay generating impressive results. In addition, there was a six-fold increase in number of entries, which was one of the defined goals. In relation to increasing media and public awareness of statistics that have real-world impact, the results have been phenomenal!”


The detail behind the win

One of the key strategic goals for the RSS is for society to be more statistically literate, leading to informed decision-making and better outcomes – for individuals and for society as a whole. The RSS identified that they needed a new means of increasing media and public awareness of both the insights provided by high-quality statistics and the real-world impact that such statistics can have.


In 2017 a new initiative, ‘Statistic of the Year’, was born. It was generally ‘right first time’ and worked well – generating a reasonable amount of media coverage for RSS. Building on the previous year, in 2018 the initiative was relaunched on a much bigger scale, with far more demanding targets and many additional features including:

  • a first mid-year promotional story, via the BBC and Newsnight websites, to encourage earlier entries
  • using promotional infographics on social media channels, for the first time, to illustrate the kinds of entries that they had already received and to stimulate further submissions
  • an inaugural promotional YouTube video, with people talking about the statistics they’d already nominated – to inspire others to follow suit.


These innovations contributed to a six-fold increase in entries year on year.

The RSS also improved the selection process to help 2018’s judging panel choose a balanced, robust and media-friendly set of winning and ‘highly commended’ statistics:

  • improvements included a new colour coding system for the entries, to help prevent the judges from choosing too many similar statistics
  • an extra ‘due diligence’ stage was introduced with volunteers from RSS’s ‘Statistical Ambassadors’ fact-checking the longlisted contenders
  • staff proactively researched several additional figures – enabling the panel to choose from some positive, uplifting and light-hearted statistics, as well as from the more serious and downbeat ones which dominated the public entries.


Again, this new approach worked well. The Ambassadors quickly identified the entries which were statistically robust; the colour coding gave them a broader spread of shortlisted entries than in the scheme’s first year; and staff suggestions ensured that the many earnest contenders (on subjects including poverty and homelessness) were leavened by others which were lighter and more populist in tone, but still insightful in nature.


The RSS’s formal ‘Statistics of the Year’ announcement also involved several new features:

  • the media release incorporated a short, user-friendly video segment
  • to increase the chances of securing positive media coverage, the release name-checked, for the first time, the journalists whose reports had led to the various statistics being nominated in the first place
  • a student intern translated the media release into her native Chinese, for use on RSS’s website and elsewhere
  • staff turned the best of the nominated statistics into a newspaper-friendly quiz.


The combination of the initiative’s inherent strengths and 2018’s many improvements meant that the RSS was always optimistic about the initiative. However, it easily exceeded expectations by securing coverage which included:

  • RSS’s Executive Director being interviewed on the BBC Breakfast sofa, as well as several local radio stations, on the morning that the Society officially announced the winning and ‘highly commended’ statistics
  • the Society’s Vice-President appearing on the Today programme, Radio 5 Live and Talk Radio
  • RSS’s President being interviewed on Radio 4’s More or Less.


Printed coverage included articles in The Guardian (two pages), The Times and the i newspaper, while City AM carried, prominently, the quiz. Other coverage from UK media outlets included pieces on the MailOnline, Metro and Week websites; it also became the fifth ‘most popular’ story on the BBC News site.


As a result, the RSS easily surpassed its corporate objective of having the story “covered positively via at least four mainstream UK print or broadcast outlets …” The same objective also committed the Society to securing international coverage for ‘Statistics of the Year’. Again, this goal was achieved in full, with highlights including:

  • a seven-minute report on CNN
  • extensive coverage on Radio New Zealand
  • a one-minute video and lengthy report on National Geographic
  • the Twitter account of the World Economic Forum, where an associated video, focusing on the winning international statistic, was viewed 69,500 times. This story also generated 1,100 retweets and 1,079 likes.


Above all, the RSS secured a huge amount of US coverage as its winning international statistic was produced by some American-based academics and the RSS worked closely with them, and their universities, to publicise their success. The story was duly covered by USA Today, the Washington Post and National Public Radio. In total, there were 558 pieces of online and broadcast coverage in the US – as well as 25 in Canada, 18 in India and 16 in China – in the month after the announcement was made. There has been significant additional coverage since then, too.


These figures come from a ‘Statistics of the Year’ evaluation that the RSS commissioned from Meltwater, who found that, during this month alone, the initiative received online and broadcast coverage with an advertising equivalency value of almost £5 million. And this hugely impressive figure doesn’t include the coverage in countless newspapers and magazines. This represents an outstanding return on investment as the initiative’s budget actual expenditure was just over £500.


In short, this was an innovative and creative project which built very successfully on the previous year’s foundations. Entries increased six-fold; media targets were all exceeded; and the RSS delivered a spectacular return on a shoestring budget. Above all, the winning and ‘commended’ statistics successfully increased media and public awareness of how statistics can provide fresh insights into pressing public issues, from ‘shrinkflation’ to plastic pollution.


The Royal Statistical Society did all of this, on a tiny budget, on an impressively worldwide scale.


Plans are underway for the 2020 memcom membership excellence awards and entry will open in the Autumn. In the meantime, please sign up to our newsletter for the latest membership sector insights and updates and offers from memcom.