This case study was compiled as part of the BIG Assist programme. In 2015 Blue Stone Consortium (BSC) was awarded a BIG Assist voucher to fund this work.
In October 2015 BSC came out of the bringing together of two VCSE consortia in Gateshead and Newcastle upon Tyne respectively. Both were set up by small, medium and large charities to help each other sustain and develop services by collaborating to win and deliver work together. BSC enables public and third sector organisations to work together to improve the health and the social, economic and environmental well-being of local people, especially those most in need.
In terms of communication and marketing, the new Consortium started from a very low base. One of the founding consortia had much of the essential documentation needed; a prospectus, application form for membership, list of FAQs and even a logo (albeit ‘homemade’) and a very basic website hosted by a former employee. But we didn’t have:
- a plan about what we wanted to communicate, to whom and when
- the tools to implement that plan – such as an e-mail address separate from that of the local CVS that hosted us, a website with our own domain name, a brand and branded materials, and an understanding of what media to use for which audiences.
However, in setting up the new Consortium we had undertaken a lot of strategic planning with our members and trustees so we had a good idea of our emerging offer, our stakeholders, drivers and barriers in the contexts in which we operated and our strengths and weaknesses.
Finally, we decided to introduce membership fees from April 2016 and knew this would raise the expectations of our members in terms of our communications with them.
The issues we faced
We needed to find ways to step up the volume and targeting of our communication without adding to our costs. We have one employee working 25hrs/week to manage our contracts and run the organisation so they needed to produce and send out communications amongst many other tasks.
We wanted to have a showcase for our work to external audiences, such as commissioners and funders, whilst also keeping our 50 members informed of our work and encourage them to think about opportunities for them to collaborate with each other and with us.
The actions we took
We had already identified a well established supplier to do the technical bit; the BIG Assist voucher enabled us to fund them to work with us to develop our website, set up our e-mail address and document storage system, and develop our branding and materials.
We had enough of the voucher left over to bring in another supplier to help us develop a marketing and communications strategy, as we didn’t want to have the tools without any real objectives or plans about how to use them.
So, first of all we met with the supplier helping us develop the marketing and communications plan so we could work out audiences, messages, tactic and media. They came to our Board to clarify our marketing and communication objectives and we also surveyed our members about their views of our marketing and communications to date.
This then informed our priorities for the tools – website, e-mail and document storage system which we set up with the other supplier.
We then worked with each supplier to finalise the different products we asked them to develop, in time for our launch on 1st February 2016.
We found the processes of working with each of the suppliers really useful. They both helped us to clarify our objectives, our expectations from our communications, but also our target audiences.
As a result we were able to plan and deliver a really good launch event which helped us engage with our membership and present our offer to them.
Can't think of any negative outcomes.
We need to be clearer about how much time we expect our employee to spend on social media and drafting and posting articles on our website. It can be a huge time waster and you can spend hours online with no tangible benefits at the end.
Every event in which we take part and ones we ourselves organise is an opportunity to communicate with our members and other audiences. So each needs a communication plan; this needn’t be anything complex other than ‘tweet a photo at the opening of the event’.
Involve trustees – even in an organisation as small as ours, it can be tempting for trustees to think that communicating about the organisation is someone else’s responsibility. It isn’t; so a script and clear direction for trustees about communications is key.