The Homes for Britain campaign held the biggest housing rally ever in the heart of Westminster to get the housing crisis firmly onto the general election radar – and on the national news agenda. What's the comms story?
By Anne Arnold
It used to irritate me that the housing crisis wasn’t in the news more. House prices sure, but not the housing crisis. That sinking feeling when you realise you’ll never be able to afford to buy near your family, not now, not ever.
Couples delaying having babies because they’re forking out half of their wages to live in a flat the size of a shoe box, graduates bunked up back in their childhood bedrooms, people having to move further and further out of the cities and towns where the jobs are, commuting for hours each day to get to work.
People view their housing problems as personal failures, their own fault for not being clever or rich enough. For decades charities, trade bodies and pressure groups have all said their individual pieces about housing, and no politicians listened or really did anything. As a result we have a huge shortage of homes. England housebuilding figures hovered below the 125,000 mark for the sixth year in a row in 2014 - the lowest peacetime levels since the 1920s. For decades only half the 245,000 homes needed have been built.
But what if we could change things, make government listen? Get the housing crisis in the news and get more homes built? I’m currently working on one of the most challenging and interesting projects of my career, managing the PR for the Homes for Britain campaign. We held a rally with more than 2,500 people at Central Methodist Hall in Westminster last/this week (change as appropriate!). It was unprecedented because for the first time ever, the entire housing sector - those who build homes, rent homes, plan homes, design homes, and campaign for homes - came together behind a simple, clear message. To demand that the next government set out within a year a long-term strategy to fix the housingcrisis within a generation.
The PR for Homes for Britain has been managed in-house by the National Housing Federation (we represent housing associations), in an integrated campaign with our talented digital, campaign, external affairs and corporate communications colleagues. We commissioned a website, organised a clever digital campaign including online advertising, sponsored Facebook posts, set up a twitter account, did the branding, identified amazing speakers for the rally (leading politicians from all the main parties, political commentators, the Bishop of Rochester, film director Ken Loach, Frances O’Grady from the TUC), booked the Central Methodist Hall in Westminster, organised a stunning stage show and a million other things. We took out advertising right across Westminster tube station, directly opposite the Houses of Parliament, showing how expensive housing is in London and across the UK (space the size of an elevator step in central London would set you back more than £6,000).
And in terms of PR? Well firstly we worked with our members – hundreds of staff and housing association residents who decided to walk, run and cycle to Westminster from all corners of the country in the #RelaytotheRally. In the South West they even commissioned @BetsytheBus. We provided our members with PR collateral and they were incredible, gaining (literally) thousands of pieces of regional media coverage from local print to television. They also provided us with the celebrity supporters and case studies that brought the campaign to life.
In the months leading up to the rally we at the National Housing Federation focussed on PR stories about certain target groups impacted by the housing crisis – older people, families, renters and young people – commissioning nationwide polling and working with our research team compile the evidence of the UK housing crisis. We then turned our attention to promoting the rally and Homes for Britain. We personally met or spoke to more than 100 journalists about the Rally - national news correspondents, columnists, diarists, regional journalists, consumer media and many more. We set up bespoke packages for the day, a killer stats package on the numbers behind the housing crisis and also heavily trailed the Rally on twitter. Then we worked with our campaigns colleagues to arrange for a 7 metre squared inflatable house to be raised above Parliament Hill on the morning of the rally, symbolising that housing is out of reach of many. We negotiated with our celebrity speakers to maximise media coverage, offering exclusive interviews and stories to target journalists.
All the hard work paid off. In three days we secured more than 200 pieces of media coverage and more than 25 journalists attended the Homes for Britain rally including six television news. We trended on twitter throughout the day and reached more than five million twitter followers. We were present on the national and regional news agenda throughout Rally day, with interviews with our spokespeople on the Today Programme and BBC Breakfast right through to extended pieces by Home Editor Mark Easton on BBC News at Six and a live interview with Ken Loach on Channel 4 News. Sky covered the story throughout the day, as did BBC Radio 5 Live. We secured a leader in The Times, comment pieces in G2, the lead letter in The Times, stacks of online coverage (including lots of online video from The Guardian) and coverage in many national newspapers including the tabloids.
So what next? Well, from the start of April you’ll start to see billboard Homes for Britain advertising right across the country. We’ve worked with AMV BBDO (the advertising agency who worked on both the Sainsburys and John Lewis adverts at Christmas) to draw attention to the housing crisis and urge people to be a voice, not a victim. Homes for Britain isn’t over, it’s just beginning.
As well as the support of people across the country the Homes for Britain campaign brings together organisations from every corner of the housing world.
It is led by seven organisations:
· National Housing Federation
· Chartered Institute of Housing
· Home Builders Federation
· Royal Institute of British Architects
· Residential Landlords Association
· Royal Town Planning Institute
Hundreds of other housing organisations are actively involved in the campaign. These include everyone from Shelter and Generation Rent to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and Town and Country Planning Association.
Anne Arnold is the Public Relations manager for the National Housing Federation and is based in Manchester.