TUESDAY 16 MAY 2023 5:20 PM


The Rail Safety and Standards Board’s safety programme, produced with Big Button, has been an overwhelming success. Rebecca Pardon talks to Big Button client services director Simon Crofts on why video campaigns should be as captivating as a Netflix episode in order to engage audiences, and how employee involvement is integral to achieving this.

Deaths due to trespassing on UK mainline rail have risen for the first time in five years, with 15 trespassing fatalities in the months from April 2021 to March 2022. According to statistics released by the Office of Rail and Road (ORR), trespassing was also the cause of 45 severe injuries during the same period, up 66.7% from the previous year. Rail travel is an inevitable feature of many people’s morning routines, yet it is often the most dangerous. If your only concern during a morning commute is whether your iced caramel macchiato has been made as per instruction however, it is because of the hard work of safety programmes such as RED by the Rail Safety and Standards Board (RSSB), which ensure that passengers continue to alight railways with blissful ease (and some slight jostling). However, the long-lasting and often haunting impact of trespassing incidents on the train drivers, who bear witness when these safety measures fall short, is frequently overlooked.

RSSB’s RED programme has been running for 20 years - produced in collaboration with video agency Big Button for seven - to raise awareness among rail workers on operational safety issues such as trespassing, near misses, fatigue and rail adhesions. Its RED 59 campaign won gold at Communicate magazine’s Corporate Engagement Awards last year. Part of what has makes this campaign so successful is its uniquely bottom-up approach; not only do rail staff feature in the campaign’s videos, but they also contributed to the production process. In 2021, BP CEO Bernard Looney claimed: “Those days where the boss was the hero, and they knew everything […] I think those days over.” The internal campaigns that resonate with audiences are reflecting this change in attitude.

Simon Crofts, client services director at Big Button, believes the contribution of the workforce is integral to the campaign’s popularity. “The people that we were filming with have a better understanding of what happens on a day-to-day basis than the managers that we'd been talking to,” he says. “We will often make tweaks to the script based on what the frontline staff we’re working with are telling us.”

The drama follows a group of friends ambling across train tracks at a Tyburn rail station, to the alarm of on-looking staff. A dramatic ending sees some group members fail to make it across before an approaching train arrives; the scene is as convincing as it is shocking. Characters’ dialogue contributes considerably to the video’s authenticity, with rail workers using colloquial expletives when the severity of the situation becomes apparent.

Video participants were encouraged to improvise. When one group member stumbles on the train tracks, the actor was encouraged to react as felt natural to their own accent and dialect. Crofts believes authenticity is crucial to the success of internal campaigns: “RED’s audience is 50,000 frontline rail staff and if they see something that isn’t believable, they switch off immediately,” Crofts says. “It’s important to remember that your audience are just people and, like when they go home and watch Netflix, they just want to be engaged.”

“It's a bit of a cliché, but we're passionate about what we do. We love to learn about different industries. Ultimately, the videos are about telling a story and letting people come to their own conclusions, hopefully the right ones.”

Unlike a Netflix episode however, RED’s campaigns are designed to leave rail workers with a clear message that resonates long after the credits. This is often prioritised over entertainment or creativity. Crofts says one of Big Button’s skills as an agency is its ability to understand when creativity flair must be curtailed in order to focus on the message the client wants to convey. “We are a creative business, but creativity isn't the most important thing. It's about achieving the results that our clients want from the content; although everything we do is creative, everything we create needs to have a reason.”

The RED campaign videos, played at safety briefings for rail employees, are segmented by deliberate pauses designed to allow space for audience discussion. Big Button receives feedback on comments made and conversations had during these pauses. Outside of these safety briefings, Crofts describes how viewers often write-in to directly express their thoughts on the videos too. “It’s important to think about what your audience wants to watch, rather than what you want to tell them,” Crofts explains. “Following feedback, we’ve found that RED’s audiences are less interested in seeing senior people in their London headquarters, and more interested in seeing people like them out on the network.”

Having worked on the RED series with RSSB for now seven years, Crofts considers how Big Button’s work today compares to when it first it began: “We are much more patient and confident making decisions because we understand the sector better and we understand what our clients are trying to achieve.

“It's a bit of a cliché, but we're passionate about what we do. We love to learn about different industries. Ultimately, the videos are about telling a story and letting people come to their own conclusions, hopefully the right ones.”

RED 59 is one of RED’s best received and most watched videos: it has reached 60,000 rail workers across the UK and 1,500 digital copies are being used by 300 trainers in safety briefings across 80 organisations. This would undoubtedly make the campaign a hit. Determining the impact of video campaigns on audiences has never been so complex, however, with many being overwhelmed by the prevalence of data analytics and measurement tools claiming to offer unbridled insight into your audience’s viewing habits and engagement. “Analytics and online metrics can paint a misleading picture,” says Crofts. “Just because people are watching content, for example, doesn't mean they like it or that they're absorbing the message.

“If you don't have an objective, you are not going to really be able to measure success because you don't know what success looks like,” Crofts continues. “If you do have that solid objective, then you can start understanding how to measure whether success has been achieved or not.”