I can remember, almost to the word, the interview for my first agency job.
I was a fresh faced, callow young man, gently sweating in my finest suit (straight off the rack in Next, of course) back in spring 1997.
I (over)confidently waxed lyrical about my ambition to reach and move a whole country through campaigning and advertising.
"Your whole career is going to be defined not by reaching out to everyone, but by being canny and focused about who your campaign should not be ashamed to leave behind?"
Suppressing a wry smile, Adele Biss, who was already one of the doyennes of PR and marketing, listened patiently to my speech.
And as I finished my grand soliloquy, she brought me swiftly back to earth with a bang. "Lovely. But do you realise that your whole career is going to be defined not by reaching out to everyone, but by being canny and focused about who your campaign should not be ashamed to leave behind?"
Somehow, I stumbled through that interview into my first job.
And Adele’s lesson stuck with me.
As I moved around agencies - culminating in seven years at the Engine Group - more often than not the success of the campaigns I delivered could be brought down to our clarity and ruthlessness in identifying who we were not trying to reach, as much as the excellent strategy or creative.
So, imagine my excitement when I was approached to create a public engagement campaign that would reach a bigger audience than Change4Life, Digital UK or even the Think! Campaign. I could finally achieve that wide-eyed ambition (which years of experience had failed to dampen) – to reach and move a whole country.
Working in an incredibly low interest area – energy – our task at Smart Energy GB is to persuade every single household in Britain of the benefits of smart meters, and inspire them to change their energy use behaviour. It’s the most challenging and complex behaviour change campaign of our generation.
As we set to this task we were lucky to be able to tap into some of the best minds in public engagement. With their help, we defined a model (ENGAGE) that regiments our otherwise unwieldy task, and ensures that in going beyond the aims of most commercial campaigns, we lose none of their methodologies, rigour and focus.
"Trying to reach everyone means that you create the best possible campaign for everyone – not just for one audience"
I was interested to see the parallels between our ENGAGE circle and Alex Aiken’s GCS campaign model OASIS, described in his recent Campaign article (3rd March 2017). However, with the breadth and scale of our task, there are some areas of Alex’s model that we had to unpack – and we think there are lessons others can learn from our approach.
Our campaign is a living campaign, and the ENGAGE circle (described in our new report, Principles for Public Engagement in Today’s Britain) is a living model. I’m proud that our approach is working. Several groups traditionally defined as having vulnerabilities (like people in fuel poverty, or those living in households where someone has a disability) show equal, and often a higher, level of understanding about smart meters. I hope that this paper shares valuable lessons about how we’ve got to this point. But I’m equally committed to learning and refining our model as we enter the next phase in our campaign.
But, what do I now think about the lesson that Adele taught me in that first interview?
Well, I’m still eternally grateful for that, and the 101 other lessons she patiently and selflessly taught me about running a marketing and communications business.
But I’m glad that, just for once, I got to take on the opposite challenge than the one Adele presented me with back then. What I’ve realised is trying to reach everyone (and to exclude no one) means that you create the best possible campaign for everyone – not just for one audience. Any commercial brands seeking to reach into new markets might consider this new approach: don’t whittle down your audience – make it as big and broad as possible, and see what you can come up with.
I could not feel more privileged to have the chance to take a gulp, have a deep think and work on developing and delivering a campaign to reach the whole population of a country as gloriously diverse, frustratingly complex, and beautifully busy as today’s Great Britain.
Sacha Deshmukh is the chief executive of Smart Energy GB