In this feature, we discover how the Communications and Marketing (C&M) and SEND teams' six-month collaboration led to a successful and long-term communications strategy, while equipping SEND with C&M expertise for the future.
The SEND team had developed a new website focused on building parents' trust in the service, by ensuring that their children will get the right support where and when it is needed most. This team had a deep understanding of their offerings, the providers and the families they work with.
The C&M team came armed with expertise in developing communication strategies, auditing content, forward-planning content for social media and marketing, and sourcing suppliers.
At the beginning of 2023, SEND services faced challenges with service delivery that was beginning to affect its reputation. Research showed that there were misconceptions and lack of awareness among families about the SEND offer in Essex. Families also felt they could not easily access services their children needed.
Part of the strategy to address this involved improving the SEND website and increasing awareness about the service through Communication and Marketing activities.
The new and improved website was designed to ensure effective service delivery, and spotlighted all the services people could access. But the key element missing was communications, as the services were not being promoted to families and providers.
Louise Alabaster, Senior Content Advisor at Essex County Council said, “You’ve now got a greatly improved website that highlights all the great services and support available. But unless people can access it, unless we promote it, all of the hard work is gone to waste.”
Helen Wall, SEND Strategy Lead at Essex County Council said, “We spent a long time developing a new product without actually at the same time thinking about how to make sure that the user is attracted to it once it's developed.”
So, over an intensive six-month period, the two teams embarked on a mission to create awareness about SEND services. Together, they developed a communication strategy, blending the C&M team’s expertise with the SEND team’s thorough grasp of their product and audiences. In the process, the SEND team gained valuable insights and skills in the fundamentals of Communications and Marketing.
- raise awareness of the Local Offer among families
- promote the new, improved website
- raise awareness of ‘One Plan’ and signpost to content on Local Offer website
- recruit SEND and non-SEND providers to join the online directory
- raise awareness of the SEND roadshows
The project needed a lot of coordination as it involved many moving parts and evolving priorities. One of the major challenges the teams faced was managing two critical tasks simultaneously – recruiting providers and raising awareness among families. A fall in provider recruitment affected the family awareness campaigns. The fact that the SEND team was undergoing a brand refresh added another layer of complexity.
Another challenge was that the project was a steep learning curve for everyone involved. The SEND team was new to C&M activities, and needed to be introduced to fundamentals of C&M. The C&M team had to familiarise themselves with the SEND processes and project nuances.
Both teams had to continuously learn, adjust and prioritise tasks to keep the project on track. The teams used the MoSCoW method to help navigate conflicting demands and ensure critical tasks were addressed promptly while managing the project's various moving parts. The six-month communication plan was broken into two-week chunks, with a review and revision at the end of every two-week period. This ensured that the teams were not overwhelmed and were able to calibrate the project activity plan to any changes.
The SEND strategy
The project plan involved designing communications to promote the website as a one-stop-shop for SEND services, targeting families, parents, and carers. Additionally, it aimed to encourage service providers to register on the website and for those not currently offering SEND services, to consider modifying their services to align with the specific needs of the SEND community.
The communications strategy:
- included regular media releases about SEND services and key milestones achieved
- used internal communication channels to create awareness about SEND local offers, and find more internal and external promotional opportunities
- used the SEND newsletter to engage with providers and families
- used digital advertising to target families, providers and potential providers
- applied the new provider onboarding process as a relationship building tool
- included an organised social media content calendar focused on specific goals
- used web analytics to inform communications and promotion activity
The partnership between the SEND team and the C&M team was a resounding success and exceeded all targets. Here is a look at just a few of the performance indicators:
- visits to the Local Offer ‘advice for young people’ page exceeded the target by 962%
- the number of SEND providers, businesses and charities who visited “request a listing” webpage exceeded the target by 1,916%
- the number of visits by non-SEND providers, businesses and charities to the non-SEND provider page exceeded the target by 5,860%
Helen said, “For us, the biggest learning from this project was that Communications and Marketing activity should run through everything that we are doing. We were doing it as an add-on. Now we realise that Communications and Marketing should be part and parcel of what we are doing, as opposed to the last step.”
This case study not only highlights the success of this inter-team collaboration, but also serves as a blueprint for such partnerships in the future.