The company’s CR and community investment policies are geared towards maximizing its position as a national company with a local presence in every community. Miranda Ingram reports…
One out of every hundred and seventy-five people in Britain work for the Royal Mail, and 88% of these are postmen and women processing, collecting and delivering mail, six days a week, delivering to 29 million addresses. No wonder they are seen as the “ears and eyes” of the community.
What’s more, everyone loves their “postie,” according them a unique level of trust. It’s not unknown for postmen and postwomen to check on someone who’s ill or housebound. “We don’t want to put too much onto our posties, who are busy delivering such an important and trusted service, but we know people see them as social workers, first aiders, community police officers as well as postmen and women,” admits Gary Grange, Community Investment Manager for the Royal Mail Group.
Indeed, it was after one postman, Vincent Micallef, was asked by a nursery school teacher to help find a missing child in 2013 that the idea of using postmen and women to help find missing people was born. Micallef, a Communication Workers Union (CWU) representative, talked to the Metropolitan Police, the charity Missing People, his union and the Royal Mail’s community investment team and in 2014, the company’s groundbreaking collaboration with Missing People was launched.
While Missing People, the UK charity dedicated to bringing the children and adults who go missing back together with their families, provides its Helpline services nationally, the charity did not have the resources to create a comprehensive on-the-ground presence to assist searches.
The partnership with Royal Mail changed this, allowing the rapid distribution of the highest risk missing people alerts, effectively creating the first formal corporate national network committed to helping to find missing adults and children. Descriptions of a missing person are sent to some 123,000 postmen and postwomen, with most receiving it via their PDA’s – the handheld Postal Delivery Assistants which are normally used to track and sign for deliveries – putting them at the forefront of searches for high-risk vulnerable adults and children in their local area. Alerts also appear through wider internal communication channels, reaching all of Royal Mail’s 139,000 employees across the UK.
Alerts are geographically targeted to postmen and postwomen on the most relevant collection and delivery routes and generally issued within an hour of a disappearance. “Some 250,000 people go missing every year in the UK,” says Grange. “Obviously, we can’t send that many alerts as people could soon stop taking notice of them, therefore Royal Mail and the charity decided to concentrate on those deemed most vulnerable or at risk. Since the launch of the scheme, some seventy urgent alerts have been issued, with fifty of these people later being found safe, half of which were children.
“The beauty of this collaboration is that as well as exploiting postmen and postwomen’s unique on-the-ground presence in their communities, it is volunteer work that is done whilst our staff are doing their job, rather than taking them away from it.”
This means that it is not a one-off effort, but can be a long-term collaboration, and now Grange sits on the charity’s Child Rescue Alert Development Board. A Child Rescue Alert, like the Amber scheme in the US, is issued when a child is known to have been abducted or when their life is believed to be at immediate risk.
Royal Mail has contributed £50,000 to fund the national Child Rescue Alert system for 2016 and created a new freepost service, ‘Freepost Missing People’, to encourage missing people to take the first step in getting back in touch with their families by enabling them to send a message home, without being traced if they choose.
In business terms, the launch of Royal Mail’s partnership with Missing People achieved media coverage – radio, television and newspapers – worth £262,000 in AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent) and reaching 18 million people. “As a brand renowned above all for being reliable and trustworthy, we want to be good corporate citizen,” says Grange. “As we have no truly customer facing retail arm as such [the Post Office is now not part of Royal Mail] it is harder for us to identify cause-related marketing opportunities than for a high street supermarket chain.
“This is an opportunity to show that our CR&CI policy is geared towards maximising our position as a national company with a local presence – in every community. It makes our staff, consumers and business feel good about us which should also increase confidence among investors.”
Another tangible benefit is employee engagement. “The average age of our employees is around 45, and it is not uncommon for people to have been with Royal Mail for 30, 40, 50 years. When we use our reach to do good in the communities our staff work in, they feel good about working for us.”
Employees also vote for Royal Mail’s Charity of the Year – currently the Stroke Association – and get involved in fundraising. To raise money to help pay for 10,000 Life After Stroke Grants, as well as promoting awareness of the importance of regular blood pressure testing, some 10,000 employees participated in hundreds of events across the country in a Internally focused Ops fundraising challenge.
“We organised regional teams top down so that directors led by example and were as involved as frontline staff, promoting team work across the company between people who would not normally encounter each other. Management also worked with union reps to organise challenges and we had football matches between managers and posties,” says Grange. “Print and online coverage of the challenge reached almost 600,000 people, promoting awareness of Stroke Association’s work. This success means that the challenge will now be a regular part of our Charity of the Year efforts.”
Whilst it is true that some people are time poor, he says, and prefer payroll giving to getting directly involved in fundraising, Royal Mail tries to instill a community ethos amongst its entire staff. “We take in about 150 graduates to management roles each year and part of their development is a fundraising challenge. This not only shows them how importantly we see our charity work, but is a great way for them to get to know employees throughout the company, outside of their immediate colleagues, and to develop new skills.”
Royal Mail has also teamed up with the Royal National Institute of Blind People and has launched a transcription service for the blind and partially sighted who wanted to contact their MP. “They provide Braille or audio content and we are funding a free transcription service to MPs receiving and responding to these communications. Each constituency has around 3,000 blind or partially sighted people so this could reach some 1.4 million people,” says Grange.
Last year, Royal Mail won both the Charity Times Award 2015 and Business Charity Award 2015 and, looking forwards, wants to consolidate its work with Missing People as well as find new ways to exploit its unique position in the community.
‘When we started sending out missing person alerts we immediately doubled the number of people receiving these alerts. Now some 350-400,000 are signed up but one of our aims is to help the charity bring this number to 1 million. To help achieve this our marketing arm, MarketReach, sent a postcard mailer to 14,000 professional marketeers to encourage them to bring their employees and suppliers on board to receive Child Rescue Alerts via text, email or app. A planned update to our PDA software should also speed up our response time for urgent alerts.”
Further ideas are in the pipeline, says Grange. “We are constantly considering other ideas that use our considerable company assets to benefit charities and communities all around the UK.”