Everyone loves a disaster movie. We know because we made one. 

by Mike James

It wasn’t the biggest blockbuster of the year, but it reached a lot of people quickly.  And that was really important to us – because we had some important things to tell them.

A couple of months ago we had a big fire in our area.  A load of waste had been dumped illegally.  Our enforcement people were on the case in terms of finding the culprits.  But then, mysteriously, the waste caught fire.

It was a big fire too.  It went on for days.  We – Selby District Council – were involved in helping the Fire Service and the Environment Agency deal with it.  In particular, we had to lead on the public communications.  That meant making sure people had the information they needed to keep safe.

Part of our communications approach was to create a central point of information for the public on the Council’s website.  It covered the key things people wanted to know about: is the smoke dangerous to me, how long will the fire burn, what are we doing to sort it out?  We then linked back to this information through our Twitter and Facebook feeds, and asked the media to do the same.  The result was that we had a lot of people looking at and sharing the information.

But then we made a film.  Down at the site we got some footage of what the fire looked like, and how the Fire Service were controlling the flames.

When we sent out the next update for the public we attached the film too.  It was as if we’d poured lighter fluid onto the comms.  It went with a bang.  Within the first hour it had been shared thousands of times.  But the end of that week, it had been seen by 18,000 people.  That’s more than the number of people who live in the area directly affected.  It was the single most effective thing we did to help people get information about the fire.

It worked because people shared the film on our behalf.  They shared it with friends and relatives and colleagues.  They shared it with people that we had no hope of reaching – people who wouldn’t normally follow us or wouldn’t have thought to look at our website.  Our local media used the film too on their own websites, which pushed us further up the news agenda.

So whilst it takes time to make a film – organising it, doing it and editing it – the results are significant.  Whilst every emergency situation is different – and we’ve had quite a few recently here in the Selby district – it looks like video will become a standard part of our communications response.

You can watch the films here and here.

Mike James is Communications Manager at Selby District Council, winners of ‘Best crisis comms’ at the UnAwards16

image via Trash World

Original source – comms2point0 free online resource for creative comms people – comms2point0

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