Government puts youth messages to rap music

An urban rap artist better known on the streets of east London than the corridors of power in Whitehall is helping the Government get its message across to young people from ethnic minorities.


Public services

“Some people don’t realise just how important the census is. Unless they take part, the needs of their families can’t be considered when decisions are made about public services like schools and hospitals,” he says. 

Doerle adds: “We’re excited to be working with Ghetts as his track Invisible is a great way to relate the importance of the census.”

Glen Yearwood, whose company The Glen Yearwood Group – part of a black and minority ethnic (BME) consortium on the COI roster called Linstock Communications – is helping the ONS develop participation initiatives for the 2011 census.

Yearwood says that young black men often find it difficult to relate to Government messages. He claims: “The big challenge was how to communicate to this hard-to-reach demographic. It’s about talking to people in their ‘preferred media’ and we found that channel to be music. “Rap speaks to this demographic in a way that other mainstream media can’t do in a credible way.”

A big PR push is planned to spread the word about the track and its significance among the black community. Invisible is being promoted to a number of radio stations with a high proportion of black listeners, such as BBC 1Xtra. Even pirate radio stations will be encouraged to play the track, allowing the Government to get a message across in a medium that wouldn’t normally be used by official channels.

Ghetts launched the track last Thursday in Newham, east London, one of the trial venues for the census. As part of the preparations, 38,000 families in the area have been sent a rehearsal questionnaire to enable the ONS to refine the process and questions for 2011.

St Bonaventure Roman Catholic School in east London was chosen as the launch venue to ensure the census was seen as a local initiative, rather than something dictated on high from Whitehall.

The ONS will also go into schools with a high number of Muslim pupils during parents’ evenings to communicate the importance of the census at a local level.

“I was approached [by the ONS] and thought this is definitely worth getting involved in. I know so many guys who have just given up or can’t be bothered. We need to be heard and things in the community need to change.”Ghetts

An aggressive online strategy will also be used to encourage a viral element to the Government campaign. But with the census still 18 months away, Yearwood acknowledges there will be a challenge “to keep the message fresh”.

The digital element of the strategy – which includes plans to allow young people access to the soundtrack of Invisible so they will be able to overlay their own lyrics – was inspired by Barack Obama’s presidential election campaign in the US. “We took a large leaf out of the book of Obama’s campaign, especially how the internet was used to engage with people,” says Yearwood.

Ghetts is releasing a new album next year, and is in talks about performing the track Invisible during his promotional tour. Remixes of the download are also planned next year, as is a video that will be offered to urban music channels such as Channel AKA.

Yearwood claims the track is credible because the artist believes in the message. Ghetts has not been paid to write and perform this track, but Yearwood adds that if it is marketed well in the run up to the 2011 census the artist could well benefit from the additional publicity.

Ghetts himself says: “I was approached [by the ONS] and thought this is definitely worth getting involved in. I know so many guys who have just given up or can’t be bothered. We need to be heard and things in the community need to change.”

The real challenge will be convincing urban music fans that a Government-backed track is credible. Mark Middlemas, business development director at agency UM, which formed the UM Diversity Unit in partnership with The Glen Yearwood Group earlier this year, says he “hopes the PR noise will educate the non-believers”.

He claims that using music to push this message shows how a campaign should be done. “It goes straight to the core audience and shows an understanding of the consumer needs.”

Yearwood says with great diplomacy that the initial challenge of this project was “to convince people that don’t usually listen to this type of music that this was the right way to go”. And rather than thinking about the reaction of the public, he says: “We spent time polishing the sound rather than worrying what people would think about the Government getting involved in a rap song.”

He believes that the quality of the track will convince people to listen to the message. Jack Horner, co-founder at music marketing company FRUKT, agrees that the quality of the track will determine the success of this initiative.

In principle, though, Horner believes music is the right medium to communicate with a young audience. But he adds a note of caution: “This is the hardest-to-reach generation where they’re not engaged in any one form of media that you can buy in the traditional way. It’s about choosing the appropriate media.

“Music definitely works to engage people in a political way. Hip hop as a culture is about messaging – it speaks to the audience of young black men about some of the pressures and challenges that they may have.”

He argues that promoting the idea of filling out your census is a really tough message to convey, but with the right artist and the right track, it could work well. However, Horner cautions: “The toughest part is to create something credible that is government backed.”

A selection of lyrics from Invisible – by Ghetts

I don’t want to get political, but it’s the principle.

There ain’t enough of us filling in the forms.

It’s so far from difficult, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Some don’t know what a Census is, some do but they can’t see the sense in it.

Just remember this; if minorities don’t fill in the forms what’s the point in living in Britain at all?

There ain’t nothing worse than being invisible but we can change that, ASAP.

It’s digital, the times we’re living in, so you can do it online and it won’t even take a long time.

The Government have got a lot of money coming in so if you pay tax in the long run you can benefit – I reckon there is pay back.

This is a campaign for a damn change. Stand up and be counted – it’s our day.

I know 2011 seems so far away but it’s nearer than you think so let’s start today.

There’s a lot of history we can’t erase – the last census we hardly paid any attention.

That’s our mistake one of many we can learn from, let’s start again. It’s up to me, it’s up to you, it’s up to us.    

At least 15% of the population are ethnic minorities and most of us feel like the Government ain’t doing nothing for us.

But now we’ve got a chance to put them to the test so fill in the forms and keep pushing for the best.

Facts & figures

  • The 2001 census shows that 7.9% of the population is made up of ethnic minorities
  • The census rehearsal is taking place in three areas: Lancaster, the London Borough of Newham and Ynys Môn on the Isle of Anglesey
  • The areas have been chosen to represent a cross-section of population and housing types
  • A small-scale test will be undertaken in Birmingham which will include 17,000 addresses
  • Around 140,000 households will take part in the census rehearsal
  • There are 56 questions in total
  • The 2011 census can be filled out online for the first time
  • A new question for 2011 asking people “What is your main language?” will be used by local authorities to plan language services


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