Aiming to raise awareness and change employee attitudes, National Air Traffic Services (NATS) approached me in 2019 about writing creative copy for their Respect at Work awareness campaign.
Schneider-Ross, a diversity and inclusion consultancy, had conducted in-depth research into NATS working culture. Their findings highlighted some key themes NATS were addressing as part of the campaign.
With the goal of reaching far and wide across the 5,000-person organisation, this was a joint project between NATS HR, Corporate Communications, trade unions and me.
I was commissioned to create the copy for typographic posters and stories (print, digital, audio) to raise awareness, change attitudes, and create empathy. The copy needed to have a clever, witty twist which supported its design, and the main destination in mind was a poster campaign.
The client wanted the creative to be memorable and hopefully something people would reflect upon after encountering the work. It had to sensitively create an understanding of the issues identified: for people to think about how their words and behaviours have an impact on their colleagues, work performance and ultimately mental well-being.
They wanted to avoid making people feel bad or awkward; rather they wanted to highlight the issues and their effect on employees, and for people to be aware of what’s acceptable and not acceptable at work.
Comissioned by NATS Digital & NATS HR
Creative copywriter, Researcher
In short, the process was...
- Clarifying creative brief - it was important for me to talk with the commissioners (who were amazing) and really make sure we had a shared understanding of what winning looked like. In interview and research scenarios, I lean on my coaching skills to ensure I capture what the client truly wants, not just perceived need.
- Research - In-depth interviews with 12 subjects from across the organisation.
- Discovery - Delving through dozens of hours of audio and reams of transcripts.
- Drafting - Using my findings from research and discovery, I began drafting, and then distilling those drafts into punchy copy and verse.
The draft phase was very experimental. I let myself just play with different approaches, everything from stream of consciousness writing to heading for the nearest craft shop so I could dissect and rearrange cardboard ‘fractals’ of the ideas in different ways.
After a while, I hit on what seemed the central controlling idea in the project: that there were two sides to every story. Sometimes this phrase is used somewhat cynically to dismiss or invalidate a side of the story that has just been heard. But what I was curious about was whether this could be inverted: That is, if you held up those two sides of the story at the same time—with the same cadence—would it become self-evident to the reader what was really going on? My hunch was yes, it would — so I ran with it.
The theme of ‘crossing the line’ was also one that came up again and again with my interview subjects. Even when they had felt sure a line had been crossed, they were constantly scrutinising both the line and the infraction, asking “how will this be perceived?”, “am I overreacting?”, “what did the offending party intend?”.
“I wanted to capture the sense of non-dialogue that happens when things go awry in the workplace, but also the concept of a literal line and what it looks like to cross it.”
— Rich Dampare Smartt