A press and PR strategy for a health union’s ballot then industrial action
How we took the Society of Radiographers from a low media profile to the Today programme in three weeks.
The Society of Radiographers is a trade union and professional body representing more than 20,000 radiographers.
With patients waiting longer and longer to see a radiographer, and professionals leaving due to high workloads and uncompetitive pay, the SoR decided to ballot members for strike action to convince the Government to talk to them.
Given the intensity of the ballot and strike campaign, the SoR looked to Agenda’s trade union and PR expertise to help achieve their aims.
What was our challenge?
Conducting ballots and taking strike action demand significant time, resource and understanding of trade union laws and procedures, so the SoR wanted PR support which could extend comms capacity, engage knowledgably with the media and advise the team on strategy and tactics.
In particular, the SoR sought help to refine its narrative and messaging around the ballot, and later the action, to: secure positive media coverage; share their story with the public; convince members to vote yes and then take action; and persuade the Government to negotiate on pay and conditions.
With no dedicated press team, the SoR also needed processes, systems and ideas that would allow the team to: scale PR work as the ballot and strike activity grew more intense; support members and reps to get involved; learn from the project; and build for an election campaign.
How did we approach the problem?
Having been asked to join the SoR’s campaign, we identified four colleagues from Agenda who had the right balance of: running comms during trade union ballots and strikes; press and PR skills and contacts; and project management to keep us on time and task.
Expertise and capacity
To anchor our work, we created a PR group with the union’s comms and industrial teams, arranged daily review and planning meetings and set up shared document spaces so we could easily manage evolving messaging and media opportunities.
Create messaging and support for the wider union
We crafted a narrative on the importance of radiographer recruitment and retention to tackle waiting lists and improve diagnosis times and treatments. From here we drafted FAQs, press release templates and interviewed case studies so we had consistency of message across the union and for the press.
Using insights to secure coverage and build relationships
Finding strong media hooks from the SoR’s workforce statistics and our case study interviews, we created stories for the press which made the case for the ballot and later strike action. We built relationships with the press – finding spokespeople and members, further statistics and exclusive angles – taking the SoR from low media recognition to the Today, BBC rolling news, Sky and beyond in three weeks.
Supporting SoR colleagues
To make the most of the media attention, we drafted ‘how to guides’ and refined FAQs for reps dealing with the press on picket lines and we offered coaching and feedback to staff, reps and ‘case study’ members on speaking to the media.
What was the outcome?
Voting yes in a ballot for action then going on strike is hard for members who don’t want to let their patients or colleagues down.
Using media coverage to engage members
We used regional press to share the personal stories of radiography professionals and their patients in local hospitals, to encourage members in the area to return their ballot papers and to then take action. We targeted areas where we expected a yes vote to be harder to achieve, and we saw an uptick in returned papers after each story.
Improved media relations and profile
Knowing the ballot and subsequent strike dates would require momentum to capture the media’s initial and ongoing attention, our focus on building relationships, creating positive stories, and being available for comment, led to significant media coverage and an increased profile for the SoR. Our England strike day PR was well covered in more than 165 articles and segments, including BBC, ITV and Sky’s news cycle, national news titles and the major regional outlets.
A bank of resources
A steady flow of case studies, constantly updated press release templates and FAQs, project tools, how to guides and other useful documents has left the SoR with a ‘toolkit’ for future campaigns. We’ve also captured which titles and journalists covered the story, so the SoR can maintain those relationships as the election campaign unfolds.
Our shared resources coupled with our coaching approach has boosted the SoR team’s media confidence. We’ve also shared our learning about what went well, what could be better – which will help Agenda as much as the SoR in future projects.