My teenager’s musical epiphany is lesson in communicating with hard to reach groups

As we come to the end of a busy year in Wandsworth, our thoughts are already turning to 2019 and a New Year of communications priorities, campaigns and activity.

Working closely with the Council Leader and his cabinet we have been finalising a strategy for the year ahead which not only reflects the need to focus on recent election manifesto pledges but also the key departmental messages and corporate priorities.

The strategy concentrates on the need to be more digitally savvy and that a one size fits all approach to local authority communications really is a thing of the past and simply doesn’t cut it any more. We have many different audiences and need to communicate to them in different ways.

This was poignantly brought to life to me the other day, when I was at home and heard coming from my teenager’s bedroom the unbelievable sound of him singing out loud ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’.

This was the sort of surreal moment that made me question my own sanity – for a lad who exclusively listens to American rap music to be singing John Denver was the musical equivalent of Nigel Farrage appearing on Question Time and singing the praises of remaining in the E.U.

So what had led to this musical epiphany? Certainly if he had heard this in my car – like all my other music – the demand would have come to turn it off. “Dad it’s old and not cool”. But somehow my 16-year-old was singing out loud a country song from 1971.

It transpired that this song, along with many other retro tracks mainly from the 40s and 50s, form the soundtrack to the latest computer game smash Fall Out. Within Fall Out is ‘Fall Out Radio’ which plays songs from yesteryear while teenagers blow themselves to bits online.

But here’s the comms lesson. If I had played that song over and over again at home or in my car – it would have been dismissed outright, ignored and chastised. But because it appears in Fall Out, something perceived as part of the teenage zeitgeist and fashionable, it has been accepted and embraced, to the point that my teenager is singing John Denver aloud in his bedroom.

To connect with our audiences – the right people need to be telling our stories. A video on knife crime with a middle-aged politician probably isn’t going to get through to the people it needs to. But a video with a former gang member just might.

When communicating with hard to reach groups we have to pick the right medium. So next time you think you have a massive communications hurdle – remember Fall Out. Anything’s possible.

Steve Edwards is Head of Communications at Wandsworth Council.

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