A unison case study Page 1: Introduction

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Using promotion to campaign for public services
A UNISON case study

Page 1: Introduction

111unison-libertyseptember-One of the key areas of the marketing mix is promotion. Promotion is the process of communicating with an organisation’s audiences. It involves sending a message which is received by others.

Sending the right message through appropriate media is very important. This is because as individuals receive messages, they are making judgements. Effective communications are therefore those that establish common thoughts between the sender and the receiver. Although this is not an easy process, it is a particularly important one for a large public service trade union like UNISON.

A trade union is an organisation that represents the interests of employees. Membership of a union has several benefits. Since a union represents many workers, it can have a bigger influence on employers than individual employees would have. One of the key roles of a trade union therefore is negotiation and collective bargaining with employers. Other benefits of trade union membership include training, advice and legal support.

Britain and Europe's largest public service union

UNISON is Britain and Europe’s largest public service union. It has more than 1.3 million members. These members work in public services such as the NHS, local authorities, the police service, schools, universities and community and voluntary organisations. They may also work for private contractors that provide public services within the electricity, gas and water industries. Public services help to protect and enrich lives. People across the country rely upon them. Representing such a large number of people working within public services is a huge responsibility.

unison-1UNISON exists to protect and promote public services as well as its members. Alongside its traditional role of negotiation UNISON also has a key communication function. This involves campaigning and lobbying on the many issues affecting their members and the public sector. For example, this could be about equal pay, employment rights, safety in the workplace, discrimination, harassment at work, fuel poverty or fair trade.

The current government agenda has posed a number of challenges for public services. Spending cuts particularly in the public sector have an impact on UNISON members, their families and the general public.

This case study focuses on how UNISON has promoted its A Million Voices for Public Services campaign. It has used a range of methods and technologies designed to reach a variety of different audiences. In doing so it helps individuals to understand the significance of what is happening within the public sector and the effects which government policies will have on public services and the people who work to provide them.

Objectives of promotion

unison-2Promotion can be used for a number of reasons. For example, promotional activity can increase sales, raise awareness or concerns about particular issues, develop a brand image or alter public opinion. As an organisation representing more than a million people, UNISON uses promotion to raise public awareness of issues and attract people to its membership.

SMART objectives

Every promotional campaign requires a direction and setting objectives helps to clarify what the expected outcomes will be. Objectives are specific and purposeful statements that can be measured and evaluated. One way of thinking about how to set objectives is through using the acronym SMART:

  • Specific – objectives should be precise and clearly identifiable

  • Measurable – by being measurable it is easy to see whether the objective has been met

  • Achievable –the objectives set need to be achievable, neither too ambitious nor too easily met

  • Relevant – meeting the objectives should help to achieve the overall long-term aims of the organisation or campaign

  • Time-bound – adequate time needs to be allocated to achieve the objectives.

An example of one of UNISON’s campaign SMART objectives is ‘to increase membership to 1.5 million members by July 2013’. This will allow it to grow stronger as an organisation.


mv_public_services_362sqUNISON’s A Million Voices for Public Services campaign was launched in July 2009 in light of proposed funding cuts to the public sector. The campaign calls for public interest to be put ahead of profit. It urges politicians and the public to realise the importance of public services and to ‘add their voice’ to the campaign.  It has a number of aims:

  • The union wants to bring together all its work in defending public services and job cuts. This would combine the work of all of the local union branches in different parts of the public sector who are undertaking their own campaigns under one single umbrella theme called A Million Voices for Public Services campaign.

  • UNISON also wants to help both its members and the public in general to understand the real impact of the cuts. For example, cuts will affect number of jobs and conditions of service, such as pay or holidays for employees. On the other hand, cuts could influence how services such as healthcare and education are made available to the population in general.

  • A Million Voices for Public Services campaign reflects UNISON’s voice in speaking up for its million-plus members. The campaign also aimed to attract members of the public and trade unionists to show active support and sign up to the campaign to protect public services. This would help the message grow and this would meet another objective – to create pressure on the government to change political direction and recognise the need to defend public services.

  • In all of its campaign work, UNISON also aims to increase its membership by showing how the union is active on behalf of its members.

  • Promotion

  • The word ‘promotion’ conjures up images of advertisements through which organisations try to persuade consumers to buy goods and services. However, promotion is not simply about advertising. The promotional mix has a range of different communication tools. For instance, firms may use sales promotions, sponsorship, direct marketing and public relations within the mix. Each of these needs to be carefully tailored and designed to meet the objectives of the promotional campaign.

  • unison-3UNISON’s campaign was not intended to encourage individuals to buy goods and services. Instead it was trying to help individuals to understand some of the complicated messages coming from the media and government. In doing this it was helping them to buy into a set of beliefs. This would inform and then persuade individuals to sign up for the campaign. The AIDA model helps to show how the UNISON campaign captured the attention of UNISON members and the public.

  • There are many ways of using promotion to persuade and reassure people. To reach all of its different audiences, UNISON used a range of different techniques to encourage individuals to sign up for its campaign. The Million Voices campaign used a mix of older style techniques to reach people like television and press advertising. It also used newer techniques such as social media sites, viral video and the internet.

Above-the-line promotion

unison-4Above-the-line promotion uses mass media such as the press, radio, television, cinema or poster sites. This type of promotion is usually paid-for. Each of the possible media methods can be used to target audiences in different market segments. There are both strengths and drawbacks to these forms of media:

UNISON embarked on a wave of television, internet and newspaper adverts for the Million Voices campaign. They warned that the vital services provided by public sector workers could disappear if the funding cuts went ahead. The adverts featured a list of vital public service jobs fading out of sight and featured the tagline ‘Don’t wait until they’re gone to defend them’.

A powerful campaign film was also released that illustrated how local communities would be affected by cuts. A version of this film aimed at recruiting members to UNISON was shown on television using DRTV (direct response television – a good value way of buying television space based on viewing numbers rather than programme status).

The online and newspaper adverts linked back to the campaign website where people can register their support and add a comment. Since above-the-line promotion can reach such a huge audience, it was an ideal choice to generate a wider awareness of the plight of the public sector.

Below-the-line promotion

img_2749Below-the-line promotion involves promotional techniques which aim to reach consumers more directly and which are more within the organisation’s control.  Below-the-line promotions include different and interesting ways of connecting with targeted groups. UNISON used a variety of different below-the-line promotions to develop its Million Voices campaign.

Public relations

 PR helps to create a positive environment through various publicity activities. To get the attention of political parties, the union also created melting ice-sculptures of a school crossing patrol and a hospital porter which were unveiled at Labour and Conservative party conferences. Press releases and news slots help UNISON to show that cuts in public services affect people in all walks of life. They enable people to identify with the issues in discussion. These media are often expensive.

With these broad and often mass media it is sometimes difficult to target specific audiences. It is sometimes harder to get immediate feedback from these forms of media to evaluate the effectiveness of a campaign. They may be lost amongst other advertising.

Direct marketing

This reaches individuals directly through, for example, direct mail or flyers. UNISON prepared a range of different leaflets and factsheets for different targeted audiences. For example, some of these were targeted at Members of Parliament, while others were directed towards union members working in specific sectors such as the NHS. The campaign also used ‘speech bubble’ cards. These were used at events to allow people to fill in their comment in support of public services and sign up as supporters.


This has become an increasingly important and measurable way of reaching different target groups of people. It also allows for elements of interactivity by providing an opportunity for users to express their views and provide support. For example, UNISON placed videos on YouTube and set up pages on the social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. Advertising was also placed on Facebook targeted at local users and people who had already shown an interest in public services.

The website featured an interactive map which allowed users to click onto their postcode to see how cuts could affect them, and add their voice to a map of local voices which helped to demonstrate the level of support for their campaign. This has attracted the support of many well known celebrities. This level of endorsement helps to increase the public’s awareness.


In the business world, promotional events might include exhibitions and trade fairs. UNISON has undertaken a number of events in support of the Million Voices campaign. These include a march in London to protest against cuts. In the West Midlands a week of intensive campaigning took place across the region which visited every hospital in the area. At the end of the week a rally was held and this received a lot of publicity in the media.

Local activity by UNISON branches included the Barnsley local government branch setting up a stall and gazebo in the town centre while it was busy with Christmas shoppers. Members were overwhelmed by the support as hundreds of people joined the campaign.

Promotional campaigns

UNISON promotional campaigns also benefit from the fact that it is a membership organisation. Within the organisation there is a strong base of people who are active in promoting the union and its campaigns. Much of the below-the-line activity involves members of the union communicating face-to-face or in one-to-one situations with union members or the general public.

Nearly 35,000 people across the UK have chosen to take on an official role within their local UNISON branch and others are elected to take on roles at regional and national level. These may be at branch, regional and national level. UNISON provides the promotional tools and materials such as leaflets to help branches to run effective campaigns.


A promotional campaign needs to meet its objectives. UNISON does not sell a product or a service. Instead it uses promotional campaigns that aim to influence different groups of people. The campaigns use different activities to communicate with not just those working in the public sector, but also the public.

bharti-patelThe response to the Million Voices campaign has been very positive. The hope is that the campaign will encourage those who make decisions in national and local government to think of real alternatives to cuts. The television recruitment advert attracted 4,000 additional members to join UNISON during the three weeks that it ran.

The union has been able to develop an email list of some 20,000 ‘digital campaigners’ who have signed up to receive updates and now regularly respond to emails asking them to take a simple action, such as email their MP on an issue. This is a new communication channel including both members of UNISON and non-members who support the campaign.

As the campaign progresses, UNISON will learn lessons on which methods of promotion have been more effective. These help UNISON to make future decisions on how to support its members and the public.

Read more: http://businesscasestudies.co.uk/unison/using-promotion-to-campaign-for-public-services/introduction.html#ixzz3VQaFuJFt 

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