Just watched and been left drained by Channel4′s The Unloved (part of their Britain’s Forgotten Children week) and there’s a missed PR opportunity – damage limitation and positive PR – for the local council in the tale, Nottinghamshire County Council as well as finding homes for children needing help.
It was a harrowing tale of what children go through in the UK care system and was all the more painful for being told through a child’s point of view. (If you missed the show you can watch it here free until the middle of June.)
What was surprising though was that Nottinghamshire social services (and by extension, their bosses at Nottinghamshire County Council) don’t seem to have been ready for this coming. According to director (and Hollywood actress) Samantha Morton in an Independent interview:
And while Nottinghamshire County Council proved helpful, the county’s social services department were less amenable. “Nottinghamshire social services blocked every single meeting. I wasn’t allowed to talk to anybody. I said to them ‘talk to me… read the script… I want to get this right’. They said no. Staff were warned off. Once again it’s a culture of cover-up.”
In the end, Morton says, she didn’t require their assistance. “I didn’t need to do much research because I’m very much active in the care system. I work for a charity called A National Voice (for children in care) and I’m an ambassador for Save the Children. I also have lots of friends who are residential social workers, who looked after me as a child. I was able to ask them lots of questions off the record.”
Now regardless of what the council’s social work department may think of helping the filming out, the fact is that people are going to watch this, see that it’s set in Nottinghamshire and assume that this show is depicting how it is in the care system in the area. To that end, you would think they would have arranged the following:
- Positive press – nationally and locally – before the show aired.
- Someone online monitoring/responding what people were saying about the show as it aired – there was plenty of chat about The Unloved on Twitter for example. (C4 should have done this as well)
- Video and testimony available from the following – care workers, councillors, those in the system, carers and others who have been through the system.
- All and any reports praising the system.
- Had something ready to counter the claims of cover-up.
- Make sure that there’s something in all the local media this week – interviews and features – showing the service off in a positive light.
If feeling brave at the outset they could have worked with the film with a condition being that Samantha Morton also did a 5-10 minute video speaking about how the services have improved since she was in care. That would have been a PR coup for them.
Now while there’s the obvious issue of damage limitation – after all, the film certainly doesn’t do them any favours – there’s another aspect to this in that the next-door city council is currently looking for foster parents – a bit of savvy and the council could have been promoting this or their own foster requirements and who knows how many people that may have helped?
Even if one child could have found a home or a little more funding brought in, then every piece of PR effort would have been worth it.
And yes, it may well be that the council has plans to do something from Monday morning to counter the show but that’s at least a day too late – good PR deals with things before and during as well as after. PR and public opinion doesn’t just work Monday-Friday 9am -5pm and too many still think that it does.