By Josephine Graham, Marketing and Communications Officer – Family Hubs and Start for Life
How Letterbox Distribution supported Hammersmith and Fulham Council with delivering essential bridge closure information direct to residents’ homes. But which days of the week are the best days to deliver?
This webinar took place on July 14, 2023, hosted by LGcomms with guest speakers Simon Greatbatch, Letterbox Distribution and Geoff Cowart, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.
For almost 200 years, Londoners in the west of the capital have benefitted from a bridge across the River Thames, connecting Hammersmith, north of the river, to Richmond upon Thames to the south.
The current Hammersmith Bridge was completed in 1887. Constructed in wood and wrought iron, and resting on the original foundations of the 1820s bridge, it cuts an imposing silhouette on the London skyline. But impressive heritage and Grade II listed status are no guarantees against the daily assault of modern traffic, and in April 2019 the bridge was abruptly closed as micro-fractures were discovered in the Victorian cast iron casing around the pedestals.
Closing the only bridge within a four-mile stretch of river inevitably brought huge implications for residents and the relevant authorities – and this is where our webinar begins, as an engineering and safety challenge becomes a full-blown crisis communications moment for the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham Council communications team.
As Geoff Cowart, the council’s Head of Communications explains: “When it was determined the bridge was a potential risk, it had to be closed at short notice, and there was an urgent need to inform the public of changes. So, we went out on all channels as quickly as possible with as much information as we could.”
But after flooding the socials (and every other available channel) with the most immediate news about the closure, what next?
While the council’s prompt, transparent and frequent communications approach was hitting the mark in the short term, it quickly became clear that they needed to tackle the ongoing issue with a robust, long-term strategy.
Shutting the bridge for an indefinite period was going to be hugely disruptive to people. With a campaign this important to people’s daily lives, the team had to carefully consider their audiences – who and where they were, and how to reach them.
Whilst digital communications was a given, Geoff’s team identified that with an issue so grounded in geography, printed communications would be critical to reaching the right people at the right time.
The council considered various options but opted to work with a door-drop partner to deliver letters to residents, keeping people updated about disruptions and informing them about progress towards repairing the bridge.
It was a complex operation, as Geoff detailed: “Initially we aimed to contact all borough residents, but latterly we narrowed down the approach to people living nearby. There were a lot of moving parts and different needs. We also had to incorporate statutory communications about planning consultation.
“At the most tactical level we had to visualise the area we need to cover. We used a map to identify our target areas – the people that would be most affected by the bridge closure in their day to day lives.”
Communications plans were based on the timing of when the door drop could happen and how long it would take. Average door-to-door leaflet delivery rate is around 1,000 deliveries per operative, per day – and depending how many people are working on the job, this can take around two to four days. Managing stakeholder expectations effectively was critical – a door drop provides thorough coverage but obviously lacks the immediacy of social media and other digital channels. The door drop activity was also supported by a dedicated web page, consultation events, and close working with partners including Richmond Council on the other side of the bridge.
Geoff and team worked with their partners Letterbox Distribution to manage the door-to-door leaflet delivery. Simon Greatbatch, Managing Director, explained the process in more detail.
“On average our team members can deliver to around three addresses per minute, depending on how far apart the houses are spaced. Charges are per 1,000 deliveries and our prices compare extremely favourably compared with Royal Mail – because we are targeting a particular area.
“Door drop delivery is highly effective, with the ability to reach several members of each household, but our clients need assurance that the delivery has happened as we have promised it will. We provide GPS data to the tune of 12 ‘tracks’ per minute to really pinpoint where the deliverer has been, showing street by street that the houses have been visited. For an extra cost we can even provide bodycam footage to give a visual record of delivery.
“If anyone is considering a door drop solution as part of their communications approach I would recommend using a company that has a reliable tracking method – and it’s worth spot-checking delivery at a number of addresses to be sure your customers or residents are receiving your information.”
Some people are wary of using printed formats due to sustainability concerns, but Simon reassures us it compares more favourably to email than you might imagine – because while print does consume trees, digital communications have the sometimes overlooked environmental impact of energy use and electronics manufacture.
Simon’s other tips included the best day to deliver messages to the home – Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday. Unsurprisingly, people who work a standard week are more receptive to the delivered information at the weekend when they are relaxing at home. Hammersmith Bridge reopened to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic in July 2021. It remains closed to traffic and a restoration project has been launched. You can find out more and read many of the letters and other communications here: Hammersmith Bridge | LBHF