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Smoke signals

By The Drum, Administrator

March 22, 2006 | 6 min read

On the 26th March, one of Scotland’s most important pieces of legislation comes into force. The Smoking, Health and Social Care (Scotland) Act 2005 – whatever your view on it – is historical, and has also provided one of the biggest communication challenges for the Scottish Executive as it sought to tell Scotland’s population about when the ban was coming into force, and why.

The Leith Agency won the controversial brief in March last year and Richard Marsham, account director at the agency and who led the pitch team, believes his agency’s work succeeded because of the two-pronged approach.

“To us there has clearly been two stages to the campaign,” he says. “There wasn’t complete acceptance of an outright ban. Although people who don’t smoke admitted they didn’t enjoy being exposed to second-hand smoke, they perceived it as a nuisance. The first stage we outlined was to explain why there was a need for this legislation. We needed to push them from tolerance to not tolerating.”

The first work the agency produced was a TV ad focusing on passive smoking and its link to cancer. Featuring a cancer victim, it didn’t mention the smoking ban instead it took the tack that passive smoking is not a nuisance it’s a killer. “Our strategy was that we start with the health message and once people started to understand the health need they would accept the legislation,” says Marsham.

The Leith Agency worked closely with the Scottish Executive’s PR team but also with the dedicated team working on the ban at Consolidated Communications. Will Holt and Alex Orr headed up the team there. “We met with the team at the Executive and The Leith Agency every Monday,” says Orr. “One of the examples of our close relationship was that we were able to report back to the working group on those Mondays and ensure activity wasn’t duplicated. We were able to use the experiences of the other countries’ smoke-free legislation and we also talked to the PR company that worked on the Irish ban, Montague Communication.”

One of the biggest challenges for Consolidated was tackling the opposition from businesses that will be affected by the ban, particularly those in the licensed trade sector. “We knew of the arguments about the economic impact and the ventilation arguments, but we could tackle those with the relationship we had with the health bodies,” says Orr. “We had very positive figures from the experience of the trade in New York and Ireand. The economic impact in both those countries didn’t compare to what the harbingers of doom were saying.”

In the run-up to the legislation being passed in June, Consolidated used the positive research carried out by the Executive in its consultation process. “We were able to reinforce the support of the ban with pieces in consumer media and press,” Orr says. “When the legislation was passed, the website [www.clearingtheairscotland.com] was created and we were able to publicise that with case studies on places that had gone smoke-free, placing them in the business sections of the Daily Record and specialist licensed trade magazines. We noticed after we did that hits on the web were through the roof.”

The second stage of Leith’s campaign was conveying how the ban would affect the public. From October to the end of February the cancer ad had the endline explaining that the ban was coming in. In October the agency launched the biggest push with 48 sheet posters, six-sheets and radio. This year, it launched a national door drop explaining how the ban would work, the fines and where the ban was going to cover. “The Executive had a duty to inform everyone about the legislation,” says Marsham. “The only way you can do that is by direct marketing.”

While the second stage of the campaign was being implemented by Leith, Consolidated were recruiting high-profile supporters. “If you start something in June, as we did, you want to make sure you can maintain the consistency of the information,” says Orr. “As long as we could keep the debate going we could ensure the public knew why the ban was coming into force and when.”

MRUK’s research on support for the ban was used by Consolidated to show where in Scotland the public was most supportive, and what non-smokers thought. “We could see where we were failing,” says Orr.

When the TV ad launched, Consolidated secured Fiona Castle, the widow of Roy Castle, for the launch. At Christmas, a campaign was launched for women’s lifestyle press as smokers and non-smokers would be exposed to more smoky atmospheres. In the New Year, Consolidated launched a campaign looking at people’s exposure to passive smoking using a testing kit. “Actually being able to practically demonstrate that people were being exposed to passive smoking was surprising to people,” says Orr.

The final push for Leith came in March this year when it started talking to businesses. “Not surprisingly, so much of this debate has focused on pubs,” says Marsham. “But 75 percent of businesses in Scotland employ less than 3 people. The vast majority of people still smoke in offices. We knew we couldn’t get fixated on pubs.”

Once the law was passed, Leith wrote to all the small businesses to tell them the Executive would be in touch to tell them what they need to do to comply. In November, it wrote to them sending out guidance and supplying signage and information for employees, this went out to everywhere including the licensed trade. “The Scottish Licensed Trade Association was involved in this from day one,” says Marsham. “Paul Waterson [chief executive of the SLTA and one of the most outspoken critics of the ban] was on the pitch panel and saw all the eight agencies who pitched. With the SLTA, we’ve actually worked with them to create badges and leaflets. They have resisted the ban for so long but have now realised they need to work with us.”

With the ban almost here, activity will start to wind down, and the effectiveness analysis will start. “All the tracking and data we’ve seen is that most people are in support of the ban,” says Marsham. “The only negative publicity on the whole has been with the licensed trade. Hats off to the Executive as they needed to get them on board to ensure they worked with them on the implementation of the ban.”

Consolidated will continue doing PR for a month or so. “It’ll be a monitoring drive,” says Orr. “The press office will deal with a lot of that. The biggest issue will be non-compliance.”

“Like the legislation itself,” says Holt, “the campaign has defied opposition. It’s a defining piece of legislation and in years to come we’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.”

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