GUEST POST: How and why the ‘Don’t be a Dick’ public health campaign was created

It’s always good to hear the story behind amazing campaigns. As public health fight tooth and nail to get their message across the more direct route was adopted by Lincolnshire Resilience Forum. SHAUN GIBBONS communications manager of South Holland District Council explains how it emerged.

Hello, how are you?
Let’s be honest: framing a public health messaging campaign around calling someone out for acting a dick comes with a fair amount of risk. Calculated risk… but risk, nevertheless.

In these heightened, sensitive ‘age of panic’ times the ability for people to find offence in anything that they’ve seen or read online is a headache for anyone working in communications.

This becomes even more relevant when communicators are searching for new ways to say the same thing. Just how many ways are there to say, “Stay at home”, “Wash your hands”? (It must be noted here that UK Government really need to develop the “how” and “when” messaging and consider employing more of the “why” …something they’ve been criticised for in the past).

It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals

who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.

So why the dick?

Cutting through the social media noise and the ‘vanilla’ messaging (a colleague’s phrase, not mine) was Dick’s primary objective. And with nearly half a million views in the first few days of the campaign, this spiky little individual did just that.

Remember the why? Well, we wanted to root this campaign in a particular (give it some bollocks, you might say). Dick represents, according to a UK Government’s Behavioural Insights Team survey, 8 per cent of people who are thought to be responsible for 60 per cent of the total transmission risk.

Put bluntly, Dick is a dick and his actions – and the inherent risks to everyone associated with him – need to be called out. And I believe that was done with a fair dose of humour which seemed to be appreciated by the vast majority who’ve shared and commenting on the campaign’s first
introductory post. Some are suggesting Channel 4’s The Last Leg parodied the campaign on its show last night.

Will this campaign change Dick’s behaviours?

Maybe, maybe not. Is Dick aware that his actions have consequences? Almost certainly. But does Dick know to what extent? I don’t think so, no. And if this campaign does nothing else it highlights the butterfly effect that even the smallest of behaviours can have a large affect.
But that’s enough about Dick.

What about Tom and Harriet?

These two heart-warming individuals represent those who continue to play their part in keeping the virus under control. These two need a voice and need to be championed for the sacrifices they’ve made. These are the majority who quietly go about their lives making a positive contribution to their communities. We need to hear more about the Tom and Harriet’s of this world. (Again, it’s worth noting that behavioural messaging lands much better when they are framed in a more positive sense rather than negative. Again, something the UK Government has been criticised for).

How did you manage to get this signed off?

Working in a multi-agency organisation with a number of instinctively command and control structures is often difficult and demanding, I won’t lie. As is the political dimension. But there’s three reasons why this campaign got off the ground.

Number 1: having a flexible communications strategy that said to partners: “Hey, if you don’t want to share our content, then that’s cool. We’re down with that. We understand you have your parameters and own audiences to consider. It’s all gravy.” All good content will stand on its own two feet.

Number 2: Gaining the trust of your team and those around you and being able to influence those you need to quickly, quietly and efficiently was key. I work with a fantastic group of individuals who know I’ve got their back and I know they’ve got mine. So, if you’re going to tiptoe around a minefield be sure-footed and know where the bombs are buried.

Number 3: Trust your own instincts and hold the line. As I said earlier, it was a calculated risk. But my instincts told me there was a very good chance this would land well with the audience it was intended for. Yes, of course there was pressure for me to take it down and stop the campaign – and I respect those individuals and the organisations they represent who asked for that to happen. But I kept telling colleagues hold the line and it worked out.

So what’s next?

Let’s face it: this campaign won’t appeal to every Tom, Dick and Harry…the curtain twitchers from number 7 down the road probably WILL find it either offensive or downmarket. But this campaign isn’t aimed at those. It’s aimed at those younger, thumb-activated and more risk-relaxed individuals
who have turned away from the stayed messaging that often gets little online traction.

Stay safe and thanks for reading.

Shaun Gibbons is communications manager at South Holland District Council.

COVID COMMS #15: What local local lockdown content looks like

There’s now a short window to get your act together if you’re a public sector communicator.

Week 10 of the lockdown and restrictions are being eased across the UK but at a different pace.

In England, there is the prospect of a local lockdown in areas where the infection rate spikes. That can be a school, a workplace or an estate or town.

So how to communicate it?

Why the need to create local lockdown messages?

It all points to the need to have a comms plan with full collateral ready and good to go within days.

Last week I blogged on why this was needed. In summary, data suggests the Cummings effect has had a measurable effect on trust and getting a message across. But communities are hugely trusted. It points to the tactical need to create your own stuff.

But from a practical need you’ll need to create your own stuff, too. Whereas previously people could troop to their national public health website and download the content that’s probably not going to be an effective option.

Government designers won’t be busting a gut to create content for any lockdown for say, on Walton High School in Stafford. Or Dorman Diesels in Stafford. Or the town of Stafford itself.

So, you need to crack on with your own content as part of a comms plan.

What does local look like?

Here’s a few examples of local messages that have caught my eye.

As with anything, don’t wait for best practice create your own.


Welsh Government have created something that could work as a broad approach for England. They’ve created a national message and content that can work on a very local level. Like here for Powys.

STRENGTH: It’s ready and good to go. It identifies with a local area.

DOWNSIDE: It serves Welsh needs but the approach would need to be more granular and re-designed for a more local lockdown. A template that comms people could adjust and deploy out-of-hours makes most sense.


Wigan have done great things over the past couple of years and I really like the way they’ve adapted national messages but made them their own.

STRENGTH: Adding the Wigan Council logo makes it clearly content endorsed by one authority and for one area.

WEAKNESS: While this is for the council, would council branding make it harder for other public sector organisations to share? No doubt they’ve tackled this in Wigan but a conversation with fellow ahead of a balloon going up may be helpful for you. Is there other branding that everyone can buy into without the need for logo soup?


Jason Leitch is National Clinical Director for Scottish Government. More than anyone I’ve seen he nails scientific rigour with clear explanation. Find your local version whether that’s NHS or Public Health and have them explain the thinking behind the local lockdown. Engage with the media as Jason does here. Answer questions. A Q&A in a Facebook group or on a newspaper’s page makes sense.

STRENGTH: The scientific advisor is more trusted right now than the politician so encourage them to deliver their advice.

WEAKNESS: There’s only so many hours in the day and some will be better at it than others.


I lived in the North East for three years as a student and so always missed the summer. The beaches in the region are fabulous and can attract thousands of visitors. This content takes local images with a local message.

STRENGTH: Local images with a slightly light hearted local message postcard-style. A lack of logo can be a strength.

WEAKNESS: While the approach hits the nail on the head for broad tourism messages it couldn’t be cut-and-pasted entirely into local lockdown warnings. But , I’m sure the originators of this know that. A lack of logo can be a weakness.


Similar to North Tyneside, the postcard approach takes a gentle route to encourage people to keep away. But with added logo.

STRENGTH: As with the North Tyneside, a light hearted message delivers a balanced prod. I also like the fact they’ve re-purposed a creative commons image of Formby beach so they have a local view without cost.

WEAKNESS: Again, this can’t be cut and pasted onto a specific lockdown warning. But I’m sure they know that.


If council-branded comms may be a frustrating and needless obstacle to partners sharing then a joint approach can sidestep that. So, this example of Local Resilience Forum branding can avoid that.

STRENGTH: It has a Suffolk flavour from the text to the image which is a piece of public art in Ipswich. Using elements of the national message can be seen as positive. It comes from the LRF so NHS, council, police and others should buy into this.

WEAKNESS: The light-hearted approach won’t work for more serious matters but I’m sure they know this.


Of course, create a local message. But be mindful that you need to spread it locally, too. Luton Council have downloadable assets that is the starting point for sharing a message. Where communities have English as a second language this makes sense.

STRENGTH: Downloadable means that others can share the information for you. A poster can be a poster in the community without the need to print and deliver.

WEAKNESS: You still need to get the information in front of people so they can download it. There’s also a small risk of fake messages circulating.


Sharable content with recognisable local content and a local voiceover makes sense to get local information out. Rhondda Tynon Taf Council have made this strong video, for example. For a local lockdown, date stamping may be an idea.

STRENGTH: Sharable and local.

WEAKNESS: Can take hours to create something local and a lack of technical skills can be a barrier.


Sealing off a park as part of a local lockdown involves more than a chain and lock with a message online. There’s a need for posters and signs, too. Like this from Liverpool City Council.

STRENGTH: A local sign helps deliver a local message.

WEAKNESS: Can be torn down and vandalised easily.

Thanks to Adrian Osborne, Sally Clark, Carwyn Meredydd, James Moore, Rachael ill, Rachel Ridge, Elena Michelle Lloyd, Paula Elwood and Louise Powney.

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