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.

EVER CHANGING: Everything the public sector needs to know about the Ofcom communications market report of 2020

Was it not the Bard of Frodsham himself Gary Barlow who wrote the enlightened observation ‘everything changes but you?’

Change is the theme that runs between the lines of Ofcom’s Communications Market Report for 2020.

A long goodbye, Twitter.

Hello WhatsApp.

Hey now, TikTok.

What’s that you’re doing NextDoor?

But it would be a mistake to say the world has shifted. The word ‘shifted’ gives the illusion of permanence when the truth is that the world is ever shifting. We all know this deep down but the fear is that we don’t have the evidence.

With Ofcom’s data we have the hard evidence. So you don’t have to, I’ve read Media Nations, Online Nations and Connected Nations that form the backbone of the Communications Market report for 2020.

I’ve boiled it down into 15 soundbites back-up by data.

No, the internet still isn’t evenly distributed

A hard-to-shift 13 per cent refuse to use the internet a figure that hasn’t changed for three years.

While 97 per cent of the UK’s properties are covered by 4G only 67 per cent of its geography is. In Scotland and Wales that’s especially patchy.

But those that do use the internet do so extensively. We’re now at three hours 29 minutes use a day on average.

When people do use the internet they connect in a big way

You may know that 18 to 24-year-olds were going to be leading the way online. They’re connected just over five hours daily. But 25 to 34-year-olds and 35 to 44-year-olds both spend more than four hours and even 45 to 54-year-olds are on for three and three quarter hours daily.

More surprisingly, connected over 55-year-olds are no slouches online spending just short of three hours a day online.

Yes, we’re social

For over 18s 72 per cent use social media with 70 per cent of 12 to 15-year-olds having an account.

Goodbye, Twitter. You were fun

We need to talk about Twitter. I’ve loved the platform and got so much out of it and there’s still a community of PR people on it. Journalists are also all over it which in itself is a reason to maintain a corporate account but outside of that the platform has been fading for some time and the data again confirms this.

It’s unlikely to vanish overnight but any communicator needs to know that they’re unlikely to be speaking directly to big numbers of their residents by using it. Journalists and other PR people? Absolutely.

UK social media users 2020

Facebook 43.9 million

YouTube 43.4 million

Messenger 43.4 million

WhatsApp 30.2 million

Instagram 28.2 million

Twitter 25.1 million

Zoom 13.0 million

TikTok 12.9 million

NextDoor 4.0 million

HouseParty 4.0 million

Source: comscore / TikTik / Ofcom, 2020

Yes, there’s one account UK people can’t do without its Facebook if you’re old and Snapchat if you’re young

What’s the one account people won’t do without?

For over 16s it is Facebook.

For under 16s its Snapchat.

No, radio hasn’t gone away

Since The Buggles sank ‘Video Killed the Radio Star in 1979 there’s a feeling radio has been the poor relation. But RAJAR figures quoted in the report shows that 89.8 per cent of adults are reached weekly. That’s a pretty flat but impressive figure.

No, wearable tech hasn’t taken over

Clothes and jewellery with access to the internet has dropped five per cent to 18 per cent of adultsusing them in the past 12-months.

Yes, we’re watching more video and less telly

There’s no question the pandemic led to more time in front of screens watching things but how we do it continues to change.

We now spend on average three hours three minutes watching TV programmes. That’s about 10 minutes less than last year.

Where under 15s are watching video online

For eight to 15-year-olds, 89 per cent of them watch YouTube every week then TikTok (48 per cent), Instagram (40 per cent) Snapchat (41 per cent) Facebook (29 per cent) with YouTube Kids 25 per cent and Twitter on 16 per cent.

Where 16 to 24-year-olds are watching video online

Being told that this demographic are watching video is no great shock.

Overall, 90 per cent of this age group use video.

Whats extra surprising is the amount of time they spend.

A cracking 65 minutes a day is spent on YouTube by 16 to 24-year-olds watching video. That beats Snapchat by a third.

Perhaps also surprising is the 18-minutes spent by Facebook users in the demographic watching video.

A slight note of caution. The data dates from the end of 2019 but strong trends shows this group are hungry for video content.

Where adults watch video online

It’s not just kids.

The headline figures are that 90 per cent of over 18s use video sharing sites on average they spend 29 minutes a day with 40 per cent uploading content.

For younger people, it’s wall-to-wall with 98 per cent of eight to 15-year-olds using video sharing sites and spending 65 minutes a day on them.

The same number of adults as children watch YouTube weekly – that’s 89 per cent. Then Instagram came second on 36 per cent, Twitter 30 per cent and Facebook 29 per cent.

What’s also surprising is the demographics of video watchers. Starting at a peak of 90 per cent of 16 to 24s the 25 to 34-year-olds are close behind with 88 per cent.

People aged 35 to 44 are 80 per cent while 75 per cent of 45 to 54-year-olds and 63 per cent of 55 to 64-year-olds are online watching.

Older people are also watching with 53 per cent of 65 to 74-year-olds and a quarter of over 75s also watching video online.

Yes, we’re interested in news more than sites

We use news sites and unique users of the UK-based sites:

The Sun 75.4 million

The Mirror 58.5 million

The Guardian 53.1 million

BBC 52.9 million

Daily Mail 52.4 million

Reach (combined) 41.5 million

Daily Express 27 million

Microsoft News 17.1 million

News sites attracts more visitors even in a pandemic than Government websites.

Health 32.6 million

Government websites 30.7 million

Education websites 27.7 million

What does that tell us? It tells us: ‘hello, media relations. Where’ve you been?’ and it tells us that the strategy of sidestepping the media entirely is flawed.

Yes, younger people visit news sites they just do it far less

The idea that news sites alone are the answer isn’t the case. We can’t wind thwe clock back to a time when news was the only show in town.

Minutes spent on news sites per day:

Aged 18 to 24 12.9 minutes

Aged 25 to 34 15.4 minutes

Aged 35 to 44 22.4 minutes

Aged 44 to 55 25.5 minutes

Aged 55+ 25.9 minutes

Yes, WhatsApp is absolutely a thing

We’ve seen from the data that more than 30 million people use WhatsApp in the UK.

Of them, 40 per cent use it on a daily basis and 71 per cent of the population have used it in the last 12-months.

Almost a quarter of aduklts say that WhatsApp is their favourite platform.

The public sector are lagging behind political campaigns and others for a pro-active use of it but this will change.

Yes, NextDoor is a thing

The figures say that 4 million people use NextDoor which is a hyperlocal site for nextdoor neighbours to connect on a street-by-street level.

But don’t expect to find everyone.

Fifty per cent of users are over 50 with just 0.8 per cent aged 18 to 24.

Yes, we think the internet is a force for good but we’ve had bad experiences

For over 18s, 66 per cent believe it is a positive thing with 86 per cent having a negative experience.

For 12 to 15-year-olds 57 per cent think its positive with 89 per cent.

Picture credit: Flickr / Documerica.

DIGITAL VIEW: No,TikTok ads aren’t a shortcut to reach young people and crack a new platform

“We’re trying to get our heads around TikTok,” someone asked the other day. “Wouldn’t it be far simpler to advertise to reach an audience?

On the face of its a really straight forward potentially bright idea.

TikTok is hot with more than 11 milliuon UK users and mainly from the hard-to-reach U24 demographic.

Can’t you just get your credit card out and magic yourself in front of an audience?

For the purposes of reaching a younger audience in a local lockdown it feels like a magic bullet.

But I wouldn’t for these reasons

Until you’ve got to know your platform you don’t really know what good content looks like. Like chucking cash at a badly designed pdf, anything you did put money behind you may well be wasting.

Not only that, in summer 2020 TikTok advertising is very high level. You can have the UK. You can even have Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland or England. But you can’t select your town, city or borough.

If you’re a national agency that becomes an option. If you’re Birmingham City Council it doesn’t.

For TikTok, get to know the platform

If you are sold on TikTok then spend time with the platform to see how it works so you can create something of value. Then create something of value.

Or you can advertise on YouTube

There is more than one route up the mountain. If you are trying to find a younger demographic you may want to advertise via YouTube instead.

You can select the geographic location.

And you can sort out the demographic.


Picture credit: Flickr / Documerica.

DIGITAL NUMBERS: What public sector comms need to know about the 2020 Reuters Institute Digital News Report

There is nothing so terrible as activity without insight, Goethe once wrote.

A scientist and a poet the German would have been the ideal communicator mixing hard numbers with poetry that could make your heart sing.

Numbers and stories are what’s at the heart of the Reuters Institute for Journalism Digital News Report.

What does that matter to public sector communicators?

It matters for several reasons. Media relations remain an important plank of how any organisation communicates with its publics. But beyond that, there is such crossover between journalism and communications. Both sides are trying to make sense of the changing landscape.

The Reuters study gives a useful snapshot of how people are consuming news. While its a global study there is plenty of UK data.

What’s to learn from the Reuters study

Most people don’t care about local news. Less than a third of people in the UK rank themselves as interested in local news. Public sector takeout: Think of other ways to engage people.

In the UK, COVID-19 has affected news patterns. TV news is more popular, print has dropped even further. Public sector takeout: the old regime is changing even faster.

Five times as many people use WhatsApp than read a newspaper in print or online. This bit of detail is huge. So huge in fact that I’m going to post a link to my comms chums I’m in WhatsApp groups with. But I’ll need to read the WhatsApp’d link from my brother first. UK WhatsApp use is 56 per cent against a newspaper readership of nine per cent. Almost as many – seven per cent – deliberately use it for news. Public sector takeout: WhatsApp has really developed as a place where people consume. Organisations need to think of ways to use it effectively.

Closed groups are huge. In the UK during COVID-19, 51 per cent of people are using a closed Facebook group or a closed platform like Messenger or WhatsApp. Public sector takeout: How the public sector gets its messages into closed groups is a topic we’re only starting to wake-up to.

Facebook groups on their own are huge. Globally, almost a third – 31 per cent – use Facebook groups for local news and information. Public sector takeout: it’s not enough to ignore Facebook groups.

Overall, trust in news has fallen significantly. A drop of 12 per cent in 12 months is significant. Public sector takeout: Fewer people trust the news they consume.

The BBC remains the most trusted news brand in the UK. While its news rooms diminish its reputation still remains. A total of 64 per cent trusted the BBC just ahead of ITV news (60 per cent). The Sun is trusted by 16 per cent. Public sector takeout: time spent on TV or radio interviews is worthwhile.

Local news titles are strongly trusted. At 55 per cent the local newspaper sits just behind the BBC in terms of trust. That’s music to the ears of the remaining journalists. Public sector takeout: Those that consume it value it, the only problem is not enough are.

Local newspapers’ print edition reach nine per cent of the population. Less than a tenth of the population get news printed on newspaper. So, a borough of 100,000 will see less than 10,000 reading all about it. Public sector takeout: Print gets even less important.

Local newspapers’ website reaches nine per cent of the population. Just as many people go online for their local news than buy the edition at the news stand. Public sector takeout: Local news on the web is important.

Most people get their news online and social media and over a smartphone. Over the past seven years, the web has overtaken the once all-powerful TV and print as the place where people source their news. A total of 77 per cent get their headlines online. Public sector takeout: News needs to work online above all. Content that works on the web should trump everything. So, skills to create online content should trump press release writing ability.

Facebook dominates online news. A total of 24 per cent of the UK population get news from Mark Zuckerburg’s platform. Second largest is Twitter on 14 per cent and then in third place YouTube with seven per cent. Public sector takeout: Facebook is your news priority.

People don’t start with the news website. Battling over whether or not to put news on your homepage? Meh. Only 28 per cent head to an app or website. Public sector takeout: Stop stressing about news on the homepage. That’s not where people start their journey.

They trust the doctor not the politician. Doctors are trusted by 83 per cent, health organisations by 76 per cent, national government by 59 per cent and politicians by 35 per cent. Public sector takeout: The human being talking is a lot more effective than the cabinet member. This reinforces and updates what we already know.

Everyone is worried about misinformation but it’s whether you are left or right depends on who you blame. The left in the UK at 61 per cent blames politicians. That’s six times as many who blame journalists. On the right, the gap is closer with a 27 to 11 per cent lead for blaming politicians. Public sector takeout: It doesn’t matter if we are left or right, politicians are blamed most for misinformation.

Smart speakers are used for news by in the UK one in five. More use this than in other countries. Public sector take-out: Can your news reach people on a smart speaker?

News emails are used by 38 per cent in the UK. The average is three subscriptions. Public sector take-out: Hows your email content?

Young people aged 18 to 24 use Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok as a source of news during the pandemic. In the UK, 24 per cent went to Instagram pipping Snapchat on 19 per cent and TikTok on six per cent. Public sector takeout: if you want to talk to this demographic these three are important.

WINTER COMMS part 2: Using a Twitter thread to communicate a complex point

It’s the winter and of course the council never treated the roads. Ever.

Only thing is, yes, they do. But icy blasts can see things deteriorate quickly.

Perth & Kinros Council made that very point using a Twitter thread. This is the convention of linking a series of tweets. For me, this functionality is a gamechanger as it moves things from 140 characters to as many characters as you like.

They used two shots from a traffic camera. One to show you the road conditions shortly after the gritter passed and then a new shot 45-minutes later. They used GIFs in addition to sugar the pill and reinforce their points.

So far so good. Now the first image. The road that’s just been cleared.

Then a GIF that illustrates snow.

Now the second picture of the same scene less than hour later.

Now the two of them side by side.

And a round of applause for those doing the hard work.

A complex point simply executed. Bravo Perth & Kinross Council. Well done their comms officer Lisa Potter.

BEING HUMAN: The first 30 days of human comms… and what I’ve learned


When I started on a whim to blog #30daysofhumancomms it was to collect together some examples of human content that worked for me.

There were about half a dozen that had stuck in my memory and I’d hoped with a prevailing wind this could stretch to 30. Maybe.

But as I added more I spotted more and more people – thank you – came up with alternatives.

Over the course of the month a staggering 10,000 unique users came and read the content. Thank you for stopping by, for sharing and for coming up with suggestions.

I’ll continue the series

Not every day but because I keep finding things I’ll continue. Because they keep cropping up.

Why human comms?

The best content is the right thing in the right place at the right time. Yes, I get the need for evaluated calls to action. It’s not how many people see it. It’s what people did as a result of seeing it. So important. But if you don’t have an audience in the first place you’ve got nothing. If all your audience get are calls to actions you are not social. You are a pizza delivery company stuffing leaflets through the digital door. This is where the Paretto principle comms in in social media. If 80 per cent of your content is human and engaging this earns the right 20 per cent of the time to ask them to do something. It’s something I strongly believe in.

What have I learned blogging human comms for 30 days

Examples don’t take long to blog.

People respond to them.

They are the secret sauce that makes social media accounts work.

You know them when you see them.

They don’t just exist as a snappy tweet but can be a poster, a media comment, an interview or can be on Facebook too. Often they are not things thought up by comms at all.

What is striking seeing them together is seeing so many on Twitter and in the coming series I’ll look out for other channels, too.

31 days of human comms listed by subject area

Twitter update

  1. Hampshire Fire & Rescue’s rescued bench tweet. See here.
  2. Doncaster Council’s thread for their gritter World Cup. See here.
  3. London Fire Brigade remember the Kings Cross Fire. See here.
  4. Thames Valley Police’s drugs find. See here.
  5. Cardiff Council’s GIF traffic warning. See here.
  6. The Yorkshire motorway police officer and his wife. See here.
  7. The @farmersoftheuk Twitter account. See here.
  8. Lochaber & Skype Police talk to someone at risk of domestic abuse. See here.
  9. Kirklees Council’s GIF that reminds people that gritter drivers are human too. See here.
  10. London Midland sign-off. See here.
  11. The NHS Trust with a sense of humour. See here.


  1. Doncaster Council and Jake the sweet sweeper driver. See here.
  2. The basketball playing Gainesville Police officer. See here.
  3. Sandwell Council as car share for #ourday. See here.
  4. Burger King tackles the bullies. See here.
  5. Sefton Council’s message on a national subject. See here.
  6. Bath & North East Somersets singing food hygiene certificates. See here.
  7. A Welsh hardware shop’s Christmas advert. See here.
  8. Dorset police’s Christmas somg. See here.

Facebook update

  1. Sydney Ferries name their new boat Ferry McFerry Face. See here.
  2. Queensland Ambulance Service takes a dying patient to the ocean a final time. See here.
  3. A missing dog pic from New Forest District Council. See here.

Customer service

  1. Edinburgh Council’s out-of-hours Twitter. See here.
  2. The human railway conductor’s announcements. See here.

Stopping your job to being human

  1. The busking police officer. See here.

Media interviews

  1. A newspaper interview with medics who treated Manchester bomb patients. See here.

Media comment

  1. North West Ambulance Service’s response to a man abusing a paramedic. See here.

Posters and signs

  1. Dudley Council’s spoiled tea sign. See here.
  2. Welcome to Helsinki place marketing. See here.
  3. Virgin Trains’ new trains poster. See here.


  1. The BBC respond to The Sun newspaper. See here.

If you have a suggestion I’d love to hear from you. Drop a note in the comments or @danslee on Twitter.

NICE, NICE BABY: Seven examples of good icy weather comms


Oh, the weather outside is frightful… and its the time to baton down the hatches.

If local government can get icy weather comms right they can keep people happy.

Here is a round-up of some content that worked well:

The myth-busting web page

There is a regular set of moans. You weren’t out. You didn’t grit. You didn’t grit enough. Having a web page like this is an excellent resource to have at your finger-tips. You can see it here.


The video from the cab of the gritter

It’s a video that is the perfect length to work on Twitter. Less than 20 seconds and shoots down the allegation that there were no gritters out. Great work.

The snowman post

This post from the Mayor of Walsall asks people to chip in with their snowmen pics. It prompted people to respond with images from across the borough.

The video of the gritters heading out

This is perfect. Gritters loaded up and heading for the exit at the gritting depot. Evidence that the work is taking place.

The shared hashtag and the conversational response

The #wmgrit hashtag works in the West Midlands as a 20 minute journey can cut through two or three council areas. So 10 councils have joined together to share the searchable hashtag.

The news jacking of the big event

Ahead of the Merseyside derby Liverpool Council were telling people of the work that is going to take place to keep the game running smoothly. It fills a vacuum and was well shared.

Getting the message out early

With cold weather ahead this tweet to ask people to look after each other was well recieved.

Thanks to Viki Harris, Andrew Napier, Liz Grieve, Kelly Thompson, Paul Johnston and Dawn McGuigan.

30 days of human comms #29 Kirklees Council’s GIF to remind people that gritter drivers are human too

There’s an easy target when the snow falls. It’s the council’s fault that the roads were not gritted fast enough, thickly enough or enough times.

On the very pointy part of the sharp end are the gritter drivers who have to be up and out.

This tweet and GIF from Kirklees Council is a reminder that those at the wheel are human too:


30 days of human comms: #28 A newspaper interview with medics who treated Manchester bomb patients


So far in the round-up of human comms we’ve looked at digital content that the organisation has shaped itself. But it doesn’t have to be digital to be human.

More than 20 people were killed in the Manchester Arena bomb earlier this year.

Manchester as a city rallied and there was an outpouring of pride and determination.

Leading all that was the public sector across the city with police, paramedics, hospital staff, fire and the Mayor’s office.

In the very front line in all this were the paramedics and the hospital staff.

In the weeks after the bombing, the Press attention turned from the immediate impact to the stories of survival and recovery. Requests for interviews were made. But not all requests for granted.

Careful handling by Salford Royal hospital’s comms team led to a set of interviews and pictures with the local newspaper the Manchester Evening News. You can see the full story here.

Human comms is not just what you create but also what the Press can create with you.

Be more human. Like the A&S staff of Salford Royal.

30 days of human comms: #27 Lochaber & Skye Police talk to someone at risk of domestic abuse

A while back a colleague ran a campaign against domestic violence that stays with me. 

They researched how best they could reach women in particular who are at risk and the men – and it is often men – who are the perpetrators.

Their research showed that beer mats were a way of reaching people.

I remembered this when I saw these tweets from Lochaber & Skye Police to someone who was following their account. They are written as a letter and they’re written in a thread.

And then a second tweet.

And a final tweet.

A deeply personal message written in plain English. It’s so beautiful it’s poetry.

Be more human. Like Lochaber & Skye Police.


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