VRS TODAY! by Fleishman Hillard for Sorenson Communications

VRS TODAY!

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Industry Consumer & Public services
Media Promo & PR, Case study
Market United Kingdom
Agency Fleishman Hillard
Released February 2011

Credits & Description

Category: Technology and Manufacturing
Advertiser: SORENSON COMMUNICATIONS
Product/Service: VIDEO RELAY SERVICES
Agency: FLEISHMAN-HILLARD
Head of Public Affairs: Nick Williams (Fleishman-Hillard)
Associate Director: Richard Robinson (Fleishman-Hillard)
Account Manager: Rebecca Lury (Fleishman-Hillard)
Account Manager: Ian Tennant (Fleishman-Hillard)
Account Manager: Steve Race (Fleishman-Hillard)
Associate Director: Anne Walker (Fleishman-Hillard)
Account Director: Sophie Pim (Fleishman-Hillard)
Account Executive: Ben Baruch (Fleishman-Hillard)
Media placement: Digital PR - Campaign website and social media - 1 March 2011 onwards
Media placement: Events - National roadshow to mobilise grassroots Deaf community - 1 March - 30 April
Media placement: Public Affairs - Political outreach, meetings with civil servants, Parliamentary Questions and debates - 1 March onwards
Media placement: Events - High-profile Parliamentary Reception - 23 May 2011
Media placement: Public Affairs - Petition delivered to Prime Minister with BBC camera crew - 13 October 2011
Media placement: PR - Supportive op-Ed on Guardian newspaper blog by prominent deaf campaigner - 1 November 2011
Media placement: PR - BBC report on VRS Today! campaign - 3 November 2011
Media placement: PR - Multiple article placements across specialist Deaf media - 1 March onwards

Summary of the Campaign
50,000 deaf sign-language users in the UK have been left behind by a technological revolution and are unable to make everyday phone calls to book a taxi, arrange meet-ups or wish their Mum Happy Birthday, because of hang-ups in the country's regulatory system that have denied access to critical technology.

Video Relay Service (VRS) allows deaf sign-language users communications-independence through live operators that translate sign-to-voice and vice-versa over the phone. The technology is only available on a very limited basis to small numbers of users, and government approval to make it more widely available has languished for 10 years.

The VRS Today! Campaign broke the logjam by gathering the previously divided and disorganised deaf community into a unified body to deliver the undeniable legal and economic case to policymakers, backed by an emotive call to action.

Uniting the community was tough, since individuals often are socially-isolated, geographically-dispersed and not geared to written or digital communications. The campaign overcame these challenges with a national roadshow and digital instruction at these meetings that helped participants learn how to make and send videos of themselves signing their support. These emotional calls-to-action, in tandem with a solid disability rights argument, gave the campaign a vigorous and convincing story to promote online and present to policymakers to affect change.

The UK's telecommunications regulator has now recommended the introduction of VRS, and the Government has given its backing to the technology that will transform tens of thousands of lives.

The Situation
The UK's 50,000 deaf sign language users faced fundamental inequalities in their access to telecommunications and were unable to make everyday telephone calls the hearing take for granted. VRS is a technology which allows them to communicate over the phone with hearing people via a sign language interpreter.

For a decade, campaigns for universal access to VRS in the UK achieved no traction, due to an uncoordinated deaf community and disinterest from policymakers. Government and telecommunications regulator, Ofcom, had shown no enthusiasm. Ofcom had published 9 reports, most recently concluding that VRS was too expensive and inappropriate for the UK.

The Goal
Our primary goal was to ensure the introduction of comprehensive VRS into the UK. This would create major market opportunities for our client but also transform the lives of tens of thousands of deaf people.

To achieve this, we needed the support of the Government and the regulator, Ofcom. Our campaign had to overcome significant policy concerns and political inertia. We commissioned detailed research to demonstrate the net economic benefits of VRS, providing a compelling case and helping overcome these barriers. We also identified key partners across the deaf community, who we united behind our powerful integrated campaign platform.

The Strategy
The VRS Today! campaign platform was created to promote an urgent call-to-action with a 3-pronged strategy to achieve change:

1) Grassroots: Position access to telecommunications as a fundamental right; unite disparate Deaf groups; and build a groundswell of support among Deaf people to bring pressure to bear on politicians.
2) Parliamentary: Establish Parliamentary champions and use full range of Parliamentary tactics to exert political pressure on Government and the regulator.
3) Government/Regulator: Maintain direct and indirect pressure for change; demonstrate the moral and legal imperative for action; and use research to provide clear evidence of the economic and social benefits of VRS.

Execution
Recognising that deaf people prefer face-to-face communication, the campaign organised local events across the UK to build unstoppable momentum within the community.

To provide this widely-dispersed community with a voice, we established digital platforms - including a sign-language-accessible website and social media - to enable supporters to share information, lobby Parliament and sign a petition which was delivered to 10 Downing St with a BBC camera crew.

The campaign organised a massive postcard campaign through which deaf people sent thousands of postcards to Members of Parliament. The scale was especially attention-getting, since historically any direct contact from these constituents was rare, and generated considerable political pressure for Government action.

A study was commissioned to demonstrate how VRS would generate net economic benefits to the value of hundreds of millions of pounds. Meetings were held with the Minister and regulator to share this information and discuss solutions.

Documented Results
As a direct result of this campaign, the UK Deaf community can now look forward to the imminent introduction of VRS and the ability to communicate by phone in the same way that hearing people enjoy on a daily basis.

In late 2011, the telecommunications regulator recommended the introduction of VRS, and recognised that this technology was the only one which offered British Sign Language users equal access to telecommunications. The Communications Minister has given his support to the technology, called for all stakeholders to come together to finalise implementation plans, and promised to regulate for the introduction of VRS if rapid progress is not made.