this is local comms – for local people

Some people and things in life just punch way above their weight. Orkney Islands are one. They never ceases to amaze with their greatness - like the Spartans of the comms world. Here's another example to show why...

by Kirsty Groundwater

Coming from a remote island community you get used to the good humoured “League of Gentlemen” comparisons – this is a local shop, for local people and all that.  But from a local government communications perspective, how much truth is there in that kind of statement?  Is local best?

In late 2013, local councils across the UK were in the midst of encouraging their residents to nominate their community heroes to be ‘baton bearers’ for the Commonwealth Games Queen’s Baton Relay.  It was a challenge, not least in Orkney where Orcadians, although renowned for their immense community spirit and pride, are notoriously reticent to put themselves in the limelight.  This coupled with a tendency towards  a laid-back last-minute attitude to these processes led to a worried phone call from the Glasgow 2014 relay team concerned over the lack of nominations coming in from Orkney.

A well-meaning PR bod from the relay team ‘doon sooth’ suggested that perhaps they could send us a nice picture of Clyde, the Games mascot, standing (over 300 miles away) next to the Clyde in Glasgow for distribution to our local media.

Thanks, but no thanks.

The fact is that these national ‘call to action’ photos often do not resonate here.  Orcadians in general want to see local photos of local people.  Would it work then if they heard why that old school friend who they bump into in the supermarket every Saturday would nominate their old PE teacher?  Would they want to hear people they know, talking about local characters that everybody knows?

Our tiny comms team of 2 and a bit, set about interviewing some local ‘weel kent’ faces about who had encouraged them to become involved in sports.  We talked to a popular ex-deputy head teacher turned sports historian, a rugby- fanatic photographer, the guy who draws the cartoon strip in the local paper and the lead singer of a popular pub band. 

We then loaded these interviews up to our Soundcloud account, linked them to our website and across a week sent out teaser links to them via our Facebook and Twitter accounts.  This proved very successful and we watched, delighted, as the number of ‘listens’ on each sound file shot up following our tweets and Facebook posts.

The public heard some great stories.  They heard stories of inspiring gym teachers who spurred their pupils on to greater things, of much-loved Ba’ (Orkney’s annual street football game, if you don’t know about it you NEED to look it up) heroes and of a hugely talented goal keeper who was offered a spot in a major football team, but couldn’t bear to leave his home in Orkney so turned it down.

These were not only anecdotes and people that our interviewees remembered from the past, but they were stories that clearly meant something to them told in local accents.  In turn they meant something to those who listened in because they recognised the storytellers and knew the people those memories were about.  This familiarity got them talking and thinking about their own memories, giving them the push they needed to go online and nominate their own hero – which they did in droves.   In the week of the campaign, our nominations rocketed from the low teens towards one hundred.  Not bad for Scotland’s smallest local authority area with a population of just 20,000 people.

The baton relay travelled through Orkney in July last year and it was a huge success – 72 community-nominated heroes carried the baton through the county on a gorgeous Orkney summer’s day and it was a proud day for them.

And I have to say, for us too.

Check out our work here 

Kirsty Groundwater is Press Officer at Orkney Islands Council

Image by Mbmrock via Wikimedia Commons