The judges recognised the complexity of the scenario that Durham University was faced with, and the compassion that was required to manage a tremendously emotive situation. This entry impressed by being both compelling and powerful, and displayed a great depth of empathy. The judges were particularly pleased with the great efforts Durham University had made to understand their audiences and were also impressed with the execution. This was a very strong, well-planned campaign which was successfully delivered with sensitivity.

Mark of Excellence:

  • Transport Scotland, Traffic Scotland and associated Operating Companies
    Battling the Beast from the East

The panel were impressed by the clear strategy shown in the application, and the partnership approach employed by Scotland Transerv, illustrating to its audience that the efforts made to tackle the ‘Beast from the East’ were strengthened by recognising where additional support was required.  The application benefited from the multi-layered approach to delivery.

Finalists:

  • British Geological Survey
    Managing outrage in a ‘fractured’ democratic landscape
  • British Horseracing Authority
    British horseracing’s equine influenza crisis
  • SGN
    Getting the gas back on in Sidcup
  • UKTV
    UKTV blackout
  • University of Glasgow
    Our handling of the 2018 Pension Dispute
  • Wiltshire Police Corporate Communications Department
    Response to nerve agent attacks

Winner entry:

Explanation of issue/crisis and objectives:

This campaign concerns the reburial of 17th Century Scottish soldiers, discovered on Durham University land, following a five-year excavation and research project led by our Department of Archaeology.

Durham University aims to be an “active partner” in debates and issues and achieve a positive, far-reaching impact (University Strategy 2017-2027). This set the framework for three equally weighted objectives for the reburial project:

  • To respect the remains of these historical prisoners of war, whose beliefs and values we could not assume.
  • As custodian of the remains, to maintain the trust and approval of the soldiers’ descendants and stakeholders, mapped early in the project and engaged on a continuous basis.
  • To operate within UK law and reflect and inform international ethical best practice for reburial, communications and engagement.

These objectives formed the core of our communications strategy. Professional communicators and CIPR members have been embedded in the project team since 2013 to build relationships and advise. The communications activities detailed here took place between January 2018-January 2019; the reburial was held in May 2018.

Research, planning and strategy:

Reburial of historical human remains, especially those of prisoners of war, is ethically sensitive. Our campaign focused on the story of serving soldiers who were due a dignified burial. The question of reburial (Durham or Scotland) had been previously resolved, involving stakeholder engagement.

The PR campaign was informed by theory and best practice including the CIPR Code of Conduct and ethics decision tree. An integrated, multi-channel engagement and communications approach was used, drawing on Dozier, Grunig & Grunig’s ‘mixed motive’ model, to help develop collaborative, two-way symmetrical communications where possible. The stakeholder map was reviewed and updated. 17th Century burial traditions and international best practice regarding the reinterment of historical remains were researched and implemented.

Delivery of tactics, creativity and innovation:

Pre-reburial:

  • Stakeholder engagement during planning, including consultation on the epitaph.
  • Close working with Church of Scotland and Scottish Episcopal Church, to develop a respectful, ecumenical service.
  • Selection and rehearsal of 17th Century burial practices, readings and psalms.
  • Proactive engagement with national, regional and specialist media following the story.
  • Continued promotion of a 3D facial reconstruction to engage people in the ‘real life’ stories of the soldiers.

On the day of reburial:

  • Inviting all stakeholders to attend and meet the project team.
  • Respectful messaging and scheduling on owned channels (website and social media).
  • Choreography of media attendance, especially filming and photography.
  • Updates to project website, including new video and blog content.

Post-reburial:

  • Website video content targeted at stakeholders unable to attend (e.g. USA-based descendants), enabling them to watch the reburial and a background explanation.
  • Follow-up media opportunities with global reach:
    • Filming for Who Do You Think You Are USA – actor Jon Cryer has an ancestral link to the Scottish soldiers – aired May 2018;
    • History Hit podcast with Dan Snow – August 2018;
    • New Books Network podcast – January 2019.
  • Support for a dedicated exhibition about the Scottish soldiers in Durham (summer 2018) which engaged over 30,000 people from 30 countries.

Demonstrate how negative impacts were avoided, positives achieved and improvements made:

We avoided losing stakeholder trust through:

  • Engaging stakeholder organisations and individuals in reburial planning.
  • Extensive research providing an underpinning rationale for reburial form and structure.
  • Ensuring the reburial was open to everybody.

Possible negative reaction to media attendance was managed by:

  • Clearly stating journalists would be present in all stakeholder communications.
  • Careful media dialogue and management, agreeing on respectful and ethical conduct on the day.

Achievements included:

  • Attendance by over 60 stakeholders who gave entirely positive feedback.
  • Positive engagement with materials on owned channels and via the mass media.

Measurement and evaluation:

We had extensive positive engagement across channels: note that paid channels were not required to achieve our objectives.

Earned:

  • The 100% favourable stakeholder feedback was a major success indicator:
    • “I want to say how beautifully you all managed this difficult and emotional reburial, and how much I appreciate the fullest of efforts you made.”
    • “Thank you all so very much for all that has been done to care for and respectfully put these men in a proper burial ground for their eternal rest.”
    • “The ceremony was very moving. I’m very pleased that it can be seen in its entirety online. It’s a piece of history.”
    • “What a job you have all done for those soldiers and the nation as a whole. You all must take great credit and be proud of the way you have conducted this whole final chapter in British history.”
  • Widespread TV, print and online coverage was gained in England and Scotland, including BBC Online, regional ITV and BBC coverage and Scottish print titles. It focused on the reburial service design and research into the soldiers’ lives.
  • 80,000 hits on the History Hit podcast to date.

Owned:

  • Our project website received over 5,600 unique visitors during the campaign and we gained a combined social media reach of >57,000.
  • YouTube views during the campaign totalled >4,500 for new and existing content.

Shared:

  • Social media posts achieved >2,300 engagements, including Facebook video views.
  • YouTube analytics show that up to 20% of views were generated through third-party websites sharing our video content.

Budget and campaign impact:

We delivered all campaign activity in-house, except for videography and media image distribution. Total cost: £1,210.20

Additional impacts:

  • The campaign has informed a new ‘massive open online course’ (MOOC) by the Department of Archaeology, bringing the project to many more thousands of people worldwide.
  • The Communications Lead delivered an ‘Ethical Communications’ lecture to archaeology students using the project as an example of best practice.
  • The campaign also won Gold at the North East CIPR PRide Awards in the Issues, Crisis and Reputation Management category. Judges commented: “This was a sensitive, inclusive campaign built on respect and with an ethical approach at its core. The involvement of public and religious groups ensured support for messaging and the use of the CIPR ethical tree in demonstrating the theory evolving into practice was particularly impressive. Well done to all involved.”