Co-creation: if the birds and the bees do it, why can’t we?

‘Collaboration is key’ has become one of those old agency tropes that we’re all used to hearing. And it’s true; behind most successful campaigns is a perfect symbiosis between agency and client. But what about co-creation? How can the act of involving your audience or consumer, with their input playing a central role from beginning to end, benefit your content and campaigns?

It takes (at least) two

As a creative and strategy agency, we know about storytelling, are obsessed with crafting messages, and are passionate about ideas. And, as the client, you know your cause inside and out. You really know your audience, can demonstrate clear focus, and are interested in communicating in more than one way.

When both sides bring that expertise to the table, the collaborative relationship results in robust and effective campaigns. However, adding beneficiaries or customers into the mix can add a whole new depth to your storytelling…

For example, when we teamed up with Mermaids to stand up for trans youth, we helped them tell their own story. When we advocated for the right to choose with Dignity in Dying, we amplified unheard voices. When we highlighted the most vulnerable in society with British Red Cross, we focused on building human connection, not sympathy.

Co-creation starts with listening.

Co-creation is about authenticity. To achieve that, you need to really know who you’re supporting. So, listen to their stories, read testimonials, watch case study films. Don’t be afraid to speak to, interview and engage with the people who are the reason behind it all. And, crucially, rather than just retell someone’s story, instead think deeply about the core truth within each individual one. Then, figure out a unique way to communicate that to supporters.

When we started working with Mermaids to challenge perceptions of trans youth, we needed to understand their experience. So, we facilitated a storytelling workshop with trans young people – challenging them to share their experiences through story and narrative building. During these sessions, we discovered a recurring theme: the significance of a name in affirming your gender identity.

So, we developed a unique case study concept that centred on a video game, where the main character, Ethan, collects letters of his name as he overcomes obstacles. To ensure it was as specific and authentic as possible, we not only featured Ethan, but partnered with him – crediting him as our co-creator throughout scripting, production and editing.

Make time for co-creation.

We recently created a series of case study films for Dignity in Dying. The aim was to challenge perceptions of assisted dying laws in the UK – a sensitive and very personal subject. So, we spent time with each beneficiary to really get their perspective. As a result, we designed each film to reflect and be unique to each story.

This one centres on two sisters, Marianne and Lily, telling the story of their mother’s death. Marianne is calm, measured and accepting, while Lily is angry and emotional at the injustice. This contrast tells a rich and powerful story.

Find those human truths.

In 2020, we delivered two emergency DRTV appeals for the British Red Cross. Both films, Mark’s Story and A Call for Help, were developed, produced and delivered during the early stages of the pandemic – with uncertainty and strict government guidelines were in force.

We knew the concepts for both films had to raise urgent emergency funds – but they also had to reflect real life. So, we formed each one from real life testimonials and interviews with British Red Cross volunteers. Through listening to calls and speaking to key British Red Cross stakeholders, we found the beating heart and universal human truths that united beneficiaries and audiences alike.

Involve your contributors

In 2019, we chose StreetDoctors as our pro bono charity partner. We set out to create a powerful campaign that shows young people what to do if they find someone bleeding. The concept strategically focuses on the most important parts of StreetDoctors’ training – calling an ambulance, making sure you are safe and then applying pressure to the wound. These simple actions can be lifesaving and knowing them can help reduce casualties caused by street violence.

Integral to this campaign was ensuring there were opportunities for young people with lived experience of youth violence to be involved at every stage of production. Early on, we attended multiple training sessions run by StreetDoctors and discussed individual experiences of the wider issues with 13-24 year olds. StreetDoctors also consulted with young people about the script and final edits of the film.

Even the cast was carefully selected from theatre schemes for young people with lived experience of youth violence. The film’s main character (Sam) was played by Finn Kebbe, who trained with inclusive theatre company Chickenshed, while Unique Spencer (Tina) trained at Generation Arts and recently appeared in Netflix’s hit show Top Boy. In addition Nadine-Rose Johnson, who plays the paramedic at the end of the film, had been trained by StreetDoctors and completed their Stepwise programme to co-deliver sessions throughout 2019.

Co-creation can, we appreciate, seem like an extra effort when time is short or budgets are tight and it’s true that there will be additional work involved. However, producing that solid foundation between the client and the agency creates insight that gives depth to the work we can produce together. The Birds and Bees do, after all, know what they’re talking about.

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