Outstanding In-House Public Relations Team
English Heritage is a great example of an in-house team bringing creativity and innovation to an organisation facing a challenging future with a need to move to self-sufficiency by 2022. From jousting to moths, blue plaques to ghost stories, they work with diverse stakeholders to make history both fun and profitable. Working across 400 sites, with 9 staff in multiple locations, they have successfully increased visitor and membership numbers, consistently outperforming against budget and strategic KPIs. They have successfully used their skills and dynamism to illustrate the power of PR and shown that the English Heritage brand can be both authentic and fun.
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Number of staff employed – including executive / support staff – and annual public relations budget, showing areas directly under the control of the in-house team:
We are a team of nine. All planning and delivery are done in-house, using an agency to support us with one consumer PR campaign every summer.
Business objectives and analysis of team performance against budget over the past three years:
As a new charity, English Heritage needs to be financially self-sufficient by 2022 and to reach this goal, we need to grow our visitor and membership base significantly. Over the last three years, all performance measures have exceeded target, with the past three summers seeing us welcome record-breaking numbers of visitors to our sites. We are recruiting more members than ever before; we will reach one million in 2018, rising almost 150,000 in the period.
The PR team consistently outperforms against budget, for example the income from increased visitors to our jousting events in 2017 generated a return of 140% on the cost of the campaign while our 1066 campaign in 2016 doubled the income from the Battle of Hastings re-enactment alone.
A brief overview of business / team strategy:
English Heritage cares for – and welcomes visitors to – 400 historic buildings, sites and monuments. Our key challenge is to reach out to new audiences who have little or no awareness of who we are and to give them a reason to visit us. We know that once people visit our sites, they are more likely to recommend us and become a member.
We couldn’t afford to hide behind the walls of our castles and wait for people to discover us. We had to get out there and introduce more people to our fascinating stories and spectacular events. Over a series of successful campaigns and property launches, we did just that.
A summary of commitment to CPD and professionalism:
We are committed to empowering and supporting our team. Courses attended include crisis communications, leadership, and software training. Recently, our PR Assistant was promoted to PR Manager and our Deputy Head of PR was promoted from a regional PR role.
A summary of recent outstanding achievements:
1066: Year of the Normans – In 2016, to mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the PR team devised and delivered a year-long campaign that appealed to all our audiences, through a range of media and used tactics from news stories to experiential publicity moments. Highlights included moving the stone marking the spot where King Harold reportedly fell and re-creating Harold’s march from York to the 1066 battlefield. The campaign generated more than 100 pieces of national coverage, a 30% increase in visits to the battlefield site, and – a first – the advance sell-out of our annual battle re-enactment.
Blue Plaques – Of the 900 blue plaques across London, only 13% are dedicated to women. As guardians of the scheme, English Heritage doesn’t think that’s good enough and – to stay ahead of potential criticism – the PR team has proactively delivered campaigns to encourage more female nominations. Our film revealing that the public was far better at identifying notable historic men than women reached almost 300k people across social media, engaging over 6,000 people with the issue. Our appeal generated a spike in female nominations with the result that over half of the people shortlisted by our blue plaques are women.
Iron Bridge – The PR team has devised innovative campaigns to draw attention to English Heritage’s conservation work. At Iron Bridge in Shropshire, following our encouragement and support, the charity launched its first ever crowd-funding campaign to help save this industrial icon. Coverage on the Today Programme and elsewhere ensured that we surpassed our target in less than 48 hours. A feature about our project on The One Show led directly to a €1m donation. Business As Usual – All that while running a busy press office including manning the media tent during the Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, getting the Antiques Road Show to four sites, and launching 18 new on-site experiences with the substantial coverage for each contributing to an (on average) 30% visitor increase.
A summary of a campaign you are particularly proud of, including details of the brief, objectives, strategy, tactics, outputs, outcomes and budget:
Make Jousting an Olympic Sport
The medieval sport of jousting is a key – and profitable – fixture in English Heritage’s summer events programme. Over two summers (2016-2017) the PR team devised and delivered a multi-phase campaign, with the aim of strengthening our association with jousting and attracting an audience interested in sport but who do not regularly visit historic sites. Phase one was delivered in June 2016 after the PR team identified that – for the first time – a woman would be jousting against men at our events. We created a news story and commissioned photography ahead of unveiling Nicky Willis as English Heritage ‘First Female Jouster’. A month later, with all eyes on the Olympic Games in Brazil, we reminded the public that there was a sport closer to home that was just as spectacular to watch – jousting. We launched a call for jousting to be recognised as an Olympic sport, asking people to sign our online petition and inviting them to watch jousting first hand at our castles. Building on that success, summer 2017 saw us continue to position jousting as a serious sport. In early July, we teamed up with the
University of Bath’s Sports Science Centre to put one of our jousters through the same tests as leading athletes undergo. The results showed jousters combine the best skills of professional footballers, tennis players and F1 drivers – making them the ‘ultimate all round athlete’. Finally, at the end of July 2017 and working with an agency, we unveiled multi-gold winning Olympian Victoria Pendleton as our latest jousting recruit. We arranged a boot camp and media day at Kenilworth Castle with our first female jouster, Nicky Willis, putting our celebrity ambassador through her paces.
How did we do?
Overall the campaign delivered 43 items of national coverage including Victoria on the front page of The Times’ T2 and a live interview on the Chris Evans Breakfast show. Our Olympic petition achieved 5,675 signatures and research showed that almost 25% of the days-out market of potential visitors were aware of our campaign. Visitors to our jousts increased by 36% over the two years with almost 60,000 people attending a joust in 2017.