West of England Combined Authority: embracing digital marketing channels to reach citizens

The West of England Combined Authority detail how they embraced digital and social media marketing to raise awareness of their ‘Future Bright’ skills service. This case study forms part of our devolution communications toolkit.

Communications support

Challenge

The overall aim of the West of England devolution deal is to deliver clean and inclusive economic growth. This means leading work to ensure that residents in the West of England have better skills, more job opportunities and a better quality of life.

The West of England Combined Authority (WECA) has committed £50m to improving skills over the next 20 years. WECA is improving workforce skills to ensure that everyone, no matter what their background or circumstances, has the opportunity to have a successful and fulfilling career.

As part of this, WECA established Future Bright – a DWP funded pilot - to help improve skills, income and opportunities for adults in paid work and in receipt of work benefits or tax credits. The free career coaching service provides tailored support and funding towards training. The programme is managed by WECA, and delivered in partnership with Bath & North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire councils.

When the £4m scheme was launched in 2018, communications and marketing was devolved to the councils. But low awareness and uptake of the service, and variable brand identity, led all the partners to review this approach.

Approach

The ownership for marketing Future Bright was centralised within WECA, and the budget enabled a dedicated 0.2 FTE resource, which ensured there was a more coordinated approach to raise awareness of the service. Having a single central resource responsible for working with individual councils to promote the programme across the region enabled a more strategic approach to marketing activities, engaging fully with partners such as employers and housing associations. Consolidating responsibility enabled the development of a more coherent visual identity and messaging, a more straightforward participant journey, and made it easier for the end user to understand what Future Bright was, how to access it and who was delivering it.

WECA initially tested various channels to boost awareness of Future Bright, including billboards, radio and traditional print advertising in local media. This generated some initial traction with 15% of referrals identifying ‘marketing’ as the driver for sign-up.  Overall, the marketing campaign resulted in a 32% increase in page views of the Future Bright homepage and a 25% increase in referrals over the campaign period.

People directed to the website found it complicated to sign up and difficult to navigate, meaning that sign ups remained lower than would have been expected. To address this, alongside a revamp of the website, the WECA Communications team identified that digital channels may provide a more effective and cost-efficient channel to driving registrations. They therefore trialled Facebook lead adverts. This involved targeted advertising that enabled people interested in Future Bright to provide some basic information on an instant form (which is pre-populated with information users have already shared on Facebook, like name and contact details). The demographics that were targeted in Facebook focused on four key groups: 19- 25-year-olds, over 50s males, residents in rural areas and those with low/no skills/qualifications.

Outcomes and lessons learned

Through centralising the marketing and communications, WECA was able to work with the councils’ delivery and communications teams to develop a coherent and consistent approach. A member of WECA’s communications team dedicated a small amount of time each week to drive awareness of the service by exploring what the barriers and facilitators were to reaching relevant audiences, and changing the strategies according to this learning.

Social media channels, such as Facebook, proved to be a cost-effective way of quickly reaching and prompting registrations of interest from a larger proportion of adults than had been achieved through other means. Through a test and learn approach WECA refined its Facebook advertising.  Carousel adverts featuring photos of real participants were the most effective and so these were optimised.  A short data capture form in Facebook was also introduced, so that those interested do not need to click away to the website.

A focus group was held with participants in Autumn 2019 to test existing messaging and awareness of marketing collateral.  Feedback from this focus group suggested that word of mouth and recommendation from a trusted source were a key driver, and, based on this feedback, WECA has included more testimonials from Future Bright participants and coaches in its marketing materials, including a new suite of videos for social channels.  The role of community ambassadors to increase word-of-mouth reach at a hyper-local level is also being developed.