Needing to communicate in order to build its reputation and awareness, Three Business sailed to Arranmore, bringing with it high-speed connectivity and changing the narrative for an island community. Brittany Golob reports on the development of the documentary and campaign
"For a long time, I did think, that we were going to be the generation that was going to turn out the lights,” says one of the citizens of Arranmore, a 22 square kilometre island with a fishing and tourism-based economy located off the coast of Ireland’s County Donegal. The island is the star of a Three Business communications and connectivity campaign that has been explored in a series of documentary-style films.
Arranmore, now home to a world-class digital hub, has suffered from a declining population and unsustainable career opportunities. But, Three Business has taken on a mission to change all that through the not-so-simple act of connecting the island with high-speed internet.
It would perhaps be a more straightforward story were this a simple act of corporate social responsibility. It writes itself: global telecom with major presence in Ireland supports community in need with gift of wifi.
That’s a nice story.
But it isn’t the story of Arranmore.
Three Business wasn’t looking for a place to spare some goodwill. Arranmore wasn’t looking for a handout. What the former wanted was credibility as a provider of business internet connectivity. What the latter needed was people. Business. Babies.
Three Business came to Arranmore because of a newspaper article about a former islander whose London-based e-gaming business precluded him moving home. Its longtime creative agency Boys+Girls brought this challenge to the telecom. And the pieces began to move into place.
Ireland has faced a noticeable trend in the national economy toward Dublin, particularly with the influx of global tech businesses making their European homes in the Irish capital. Despite Ireland’s high number of rural dwellers (more than 40% of the population), rural unemployment rates are nearly double urban rates and Dublin is home to most of the country’s employment growth. Arranmore is not alone in this, but its geography makes it particularly susceptible to emigration. The population in the 2016 census was 469 people, the first recorded year in which it has dipped below 500. Almost half that population is over the age of 65. Three Business suffered from lack of awareness, despite a booming consumer arm that was growing in market share across Ireland.
The nine-minute film, ‘The Island,’ and its subsequent short documentaries and teasers put these puzzle pieces together. The films tell a story of a place that had for so long been left behind by the 21st century. Without connectivity it would literally cease to exist as a community. They tell a story of the implementation of infrastructure spanning a county and a five-kilometre stretch of Atlantic Ocean to deliver wifi speeds that would rival any London- or Dublin-based digital hub.
And for Three Business, it was an opportunity to communicate about its points of differentiation. “The difference between the Three Business team and their main competitors is – according to independent research as well as their own – most of the technology is actually quite similar, but what they have in spades is this personal connection,” says Kris Clarkin, creative director at Boys+Girls. “This was another way of saying, ‘Our business people will almost literally go to the ends of the earth for our customers.’”
Despite that selling point, communicating it has proved to be a challenge. “The thing that is most frustrating about working on brands like Three is that there is no visible product. When you talk about connectivity and when you talk about data in particular, you’re always trying to find things like metaphors or ways around it to explain and to express it for people, because it just is intangible. It’s invisible,” Clarkin says. The ability of ‘The Island’ to naturally showcase a tangible element of Three Business’ operations and the effects they have on real people allowed the company to build its reputation through engaging content. The documentary addresses the ways in which companies can fight some of the economic trends Ireland is struggling. It also situates Three Business squarely within that narrative alongside a relatable, human story that resonates with viewers.
While the result was a nine-minute documentary about the island and the connectivity challenge, the story really began on the ferry ride to Arranmore. A team of agencies and Three Business engineers and account managers made their way up to Donegal and hopped the ferry from Burtonport. The engineers started “nerding out” over the challenge of connecting such a remote part of the world. The Three head office was brought on board.
Then, Irish filmmaker Garry Keane, the County Donegal native fresh off an appearance at Sundance, came on board with production company Loosehorse. The team conducted interviews with key residents including the head of the business council, the island’s medical professionals and teacher, as well as farmers, fishermen and others to get an idea of the impact connectivity would have on the community. “We thought there is no way you’re going to be able to tell this story in 30 seconds and be able to walk away from it,” Clarkin says. The islanders took leading roles with the island itself providing the setting and the Three team explaining the infrastructure and benefits of connectivity. “It was so natural that Three was totally happy for us to push the islanders into it and make them the heroes,” Clarkin says.
Three Business has published a number of blogs about Arranmore and the ongoing benefits it has seen from the introduction of high-speed connectivity. One says, “Technology is the lever, but it’s enabling something much more fundamental: sustaining an island population and a way of life. It’s no exaggeration to say it’s helping to secure a future for small-scale fisheries that, just a few years ago, looked precarious. Little wonder that it’s attracted so much interest from other island groups who see fresh hope for their way of life.”
The documentary debuted in April 2019 and in September of last year, Three Business also released various short interviews discussing the next stage of the journey. These interviews with locals discuss the Internet of Things applications Three Business is testing on Arranmore that simultaneously develop the company’s own IoT arsenal and help islanders run their businesses more efficiently.
Tourism has increased since the launch of the film. The ferry service asked visitors how they had heard about Arranmore; 85% said they’d seen at least one of the films. The initial results for Three Business are also paying off. The film debuted on the Virgin Media player, with support from various other platforms. In a measure of brand health, ‘The Island’ is now Three Business’ highest-scoring film.
But Three Business is not finished with Arranmore. The digital hub is up and running, meaning one of the objectives has been achieved. However, the relationship was designed for the long term. “I was quite aware of the size of this project. And when we got up there, we realised this isn’t something we can just go and hook up a digital hub and walk away from it. You’re not going to see the results of this immediately. We all knew in advance this is a two to three year play at the minimum. We need to be here for the long haul,” Clarkin says.
And in the long haul, connectivity may mean Arranmore’s current residents are not the ones who will have to turn off the lights.