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Finding gold at the end of the rainbow – how to take down trolls on inclusion

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Finding gold at the end of the rainbow – how to take down trolls on inclusion

So much has changed since we launched a campaign to mark LGBT+ History Month. February already feels a lifetime ago, for reasons I need not explain.  Yet in a world more awake and more divided around issues ranging from #BlackLivesMatter to the wider inequalities in society, the work we did then and the lessons we learned feel more relevant now than they ever were.

It all began in 2019 we posted the rainbow flag on our social media pages for Pride month. We were immediately met with a torrent of online abuse and politely, but robustly dealt each troll in turn.

We later learned that it was this- responding to the negativity and not taking the hate lying down- which had the greatest impact on our existing LGBT staff members, some of whom contacted us to thank us for taking a more proactive stance on the issue of homophobia than simply posting a picture of a flag.

This year, we decided to take that principle one step further and use some of the hate we’d received and use it for something good – a video (below) which highlighted the prejudices many people identifying as LGBT+ still face in society.

The video and associated campaign went on to become the most successful thing we’ve ever done- in bare reach for sure, but in actual campaign outcomes too.

It’s also the thing which we feel proudest of as a team and which has made the biggest impact on some of the staff we worked on it with.

So here’s some things (seven, just like the colours in the rainbow) we learned:

Be honest about what you want

I’d never heard of the phrase ‘virtue signalling’ before we embarked on this project. I had to look it up.

Whilst it’s become a tiresome go to taunt for anyone trying to do something nice online, in rare cases those wielding the woke-ist weapon of choice have a point.

There are plenty of organisations out there which are only too happy to stick a rainbow on their profile picture, or send out a token tweet to mark this day or that, when their own records on equality, diversity and inclusion leave much to be desired.

So we had to be honest with ourselves about why we were doing this. Was it for likes, comments and views? Was it so we could claim victory in the battle of the vanity metrics? Or was it for something else?

We decided that with a clear goal to increase the number of LGBT+ people registering their interest in a career in the fire service, it was definitely the latter.

We know that a more diverse workforce creates better, more successful organisations. This campaign was really just a continuation of our efforts to achieve that, in a sector which is still struggling to catch up in this area.

Involve the right people

We learned through our work on campaigns around International Women’s Day and Black History Month before this, that involving the very people at the heart of the message in what you are trying to achieve was key.

For us, that meant speaking to representatives from our LGBT+ staff group and trade union LGBT rep to explain our approach. It was so, so important to us that our bold approach didn’t back fire, particularly on staff who might feel isolated or unsure about their own place in an organisation still seen, rightly or wrongly, as a bastion of straight, male culture. The advice they gave us on tone and messaging was absolutely key to us pulling this off.

Ideas, everywhere

We always look outside our organisation and our sector for inspiration for our work.

We loved the brave, funny, self-deprecating style of Channel 4’s Complaints Welcome ad and thought we could apply the same fearless principles to our own work.

We adapted their creative vision to fit our own context, wrote a script based on the hateful comments we’d received the year before and lined up key staff from across the organisation to appear in our own version of what they did.

Be prepared

We prepared more for this launch than for anything we’d ever done before. We briefed key leaders before going live, published guidance to staff explaining why we support causes like LGBT+ History Month and signposted LGBT+ staff to places they could seek support.

Importantly, we also lined up pre-prepared responses so that as a comms team we were armed and ready to respond with one voice to any nastiness we received online. This made us feel ready and empowered, but also helped to avoid any sticky situations where we responded in haste with a zingy retort we might later live to regret.

Follow it through

The reaction to what we did was overwhelmingly positive. Thousands of people commented to support what we’d done and several contacted us directly to tell us about the impact our video had had on them or someone they knew.

But having gone to the effort of creating something so bold, we couldn’t exactly stay quiet when some of the inevitable abuse rolled in.

That’s why we took the time and effort to respond to each of the hateful comments we received, so show once more that we were serious about following through on what we stand for as an organisation.

Hate is organised

Something very noticeable about some of the more extreme abuse we received, was its coordination. It took a few hours for the usual suspects to jump upon the video we’d put out, but once they did the messages and abuse were fairly relentless. A second wave of hate arrived a few more hours after that, as links to our video were (presumably) shared on accounts and message forums across the Atlantic. It’s something we’ll be more aware of next time.

Measure the right things

The video has been viewed more than one million times across our social media platforms, attracted thousands of comments, achieved huge online and media reach and generated unprompted praise and solidarity from advocacy groups around the globe.

Much more importantly though it contributed to a 110 per cent increase in the number of people identifying as LGBT+ registering their interest in a career in the fire service.

We wanted to say something about who we are and what we stand for as a service. The fact that it’s resulted in people who may never have considered a career in the fire service before wanting to work for us, was the ultimate goal though.


Written for Alive by Alexander Mills, Communications Manager, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue


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Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

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“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

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Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

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Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

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Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

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Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Alive were professional, friendly and great to work with. Most importantly they were creative, helping us to bring an extremely important safety campaign to life.”

Jack Grasby — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“This looks amazing - brought a smile to my face scrolling through it :-)”

Jack Ford, Head of Marketing — streamGO

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

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Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

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