Police, camera, reaction

Police forces across the UK are using a variety of old and new media channels to run marketing campaigns that aim to raise public confidence in their performance.

We are used to big-name consumer brands insisting they “put the customer at the heart of everything they do” but that police forces are adopting the same strategy may come as a surprise.

Since the Government changed the measure of police performance to that of “public confidence” in 2007, the customer has become all-important. Marketing is now regarded as key to achieving improvements in levels of public confidence.

Jayne Pascoe, citizen focus delivery manager of the National Policing Improvement Agency, explains: “Customer confidence is the only numerical target imposed on police forces by the Home Office. No other improvements that are being looked for, such as crime reduction, have got a numerical target.”

Cynical observers might view this as a political strategy: without numerical targets to reach in areas such as crime reduction, it is impossible to miss them. But Pascoe claims that the notion of customer confidence is vital to measuring the effectiveness of the police force.

She says: “The theory behind improved public confidence and police effectiveness is that the more people have confidence in the police, the more likely they are to pick up the phone and report crime, come forward as witnesses and give us intelligence as to what is going on in their area.”

The measurement of this confidence is based on a question on the National Crime Survey – “How much do you agree or disagree that the police and local council are dealing with the crime and anti-social behaviour issues that matter in this area?

Anyone living in the relevant area can take part in the survey, not just those who have had contact with the police service. For this reason, a positive perception of the police is sought throughout entire communities, even for those who may never need to use the service. The target set by the Home Office is 60%, while the measurement currently sits at 50%, according to the NPIA.

Fear of Crime

Marketing is seen as particularly vital to ensure the current figures improve towards the target. Pascoe says: “One of the challenges is really understanding the impact that information has on the public. How do we put it across in a way that is most likely to improve public confidence and not increase fear of crime?”

But marketing the police is a balancing act. There are risks that communicating achievements may come across as self-congratulatory, statistics often provoke cynicism and over-glossy advertising campaigns can also be badly received.

As a result, police forces across the UK are adopting an approach that aims to engage with communities on a micro-local level. A range of research projects have been undertaken to understand exactly what the public is interested in knowing and how they would like to receive that information.

One example of a current local campaign is “It All Adds Up”, run by Merseyside Police, which uses a mix of media to communicate with the people the force serves (see case study, below).

Individual forces have a large degree of autonomy regarding the content and execution of campaigns. There are many parallels between the structure of this national public sector drive and that of conventional consumer marketing strategies, where a national or even global brand position is interpreted differently in individual markets.

Core Messages

For police forces, local executions are driven by the national customer confidence target with a requirement to get certain core messages across. The relevant forces themselves decide how those messages are executed.

The Home Office acts as the central brand office, sets the targets and runs its own national initiatives, such as the campaign to inform the public about the Policing Pledge.

The NPIA offers support and guidance to individual police forces. It also undertakes research, shares findings, looks for gaps and offers advice as to how those gaps might be filled.

South Wales Police Neighbourhood Police Marketing Officer James Harper says the aim is to deliver customer services equal to any in the private sector.

“One of our customers could have just left John Lewis, where they received great service and then meet one of our officers. People expect the same level of service from the police and there is no reason why they shouldn’t,” he says.

While Harper says he doesn’t make comparisons in terms of performance with any particular brands, he is looking to the private sector and the customer service models of the “best players in the business” for inspiration.

Harper says the South Wales initiative has been “very well received” internally and externally. He summarises: “When I first joined the force, people saw marketing as a press function. The press office would communicate about major crimes, court cases and so forth, which is very important.

“But at a local level, people want community policing and everyone is starting to realise that marketing can be so important from a strategic and a tactical point of view. It is not just about communications but about improving the service.”

Whether it proves successful will ultimately be measured by whether the public confidence figures for the area continue to rise. But the new marketing tactics adopted by police forces in the UK do seem to be having a collective impact. The NPIA says that nationally, public confidence has risen by 5% over the past 12 months.

Case study: Merseyside Police

Merseyside Police is implementing a marketing campaign aimed at communicating its successes, which it hopes will build public confidence in the service and create a better understanding of its work among the people it serves.

The It All Adds Up campaign is being led by Jayne Pugh, the force’s head of communication and marketing. She explains that because police work is based on performance statistics, she was “awash with stats”.

Pugh says these figures lend themselves well to the messages she is trying to get across, including a poster depicting empty alcohol bottles to symbolise the exact number of bottles officers had taken from youngsters in a particular area. “We are trying to present it in a way that matters to the public,” she says.

The It All Adds Up campaign, which was created by brand communications agency Origin, uses a variety of old and new media channels, including outdoor, ambient, building wraps, mobile exhibitions and social media. The marketing is also aimed at an internal audience and employs the Merseyside Police magazine and website.

Pugh elaborates: “We started off with high-level visual stuff, such as tactical billboards and outdoor media, to create a buzz and a talking point.

“We also use some really rudimentary channels that are really successful for us, such as area newsletters that go down to almost street level,” she adds.

This contrasts with the use of experiential techniques and other unusual initiatives such as street art. Pugh had a giant handbag made with personal safety messages on it so it could act as a talking point and generate word-of-mouth. “This gives us mass marketing benefits for brown ale money,” she says.

Despite the experiential style of some of the techniques employed, Pugh says she is on her guard not to do anything too “glossy”, such as a massive radio campaign. 

Pugh says that, historically, Merseyside Police has tried to push out messages it considers to be important to consumers, rather than mapping the public’s concerns and devising a campaign accordingly.

The community’s interests now drive the marketing, Pugh claims. “Customer focus, creating a buzz and self-generating PR underpin the strategy we are deploying.”