In episode 25 we talk with Kate Dale who is campaign lead for one of the highest performing behaviour change campaigns in the UK – This Girl Can. We discuss her personal love of the stories and drama of sport, find out what it was like right before the campaign launched, and discover the importance of “going where people are at”.
Former journalist Kate Dale is Strategic Lead, Campaigns at Sport England. Kate is responsible for delivering This Girl Can, Sport England’s multi-award-winning campaign, which is changing the way millions of people think about exercise and physical activity, and has seen 2.8 million more women get active as a result.
Prior to this, Kate spent 10 years as a trade magazine editor before becoming a brand and content specialist for major online banking institutions including Barclays. When time permits, she like to takes part in triathlon, learn to dance and perform with immersive theatre groups such as You Me Bum Bum Train.
THE TRANSCRIPT BELOW WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, WE CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.
TX: 01.1.18 – Ep 25. Kate Dale – behind the scenes of a national campaign
HOST: TAMMY PARLOUR
T: Welcome to a Question of Performance. I’m Tammy Parlour and in this series I’ll be talking with leading figures from sport and business about what improves, limits and drives performance. Join me for 20 minutes of discussion twice a month to hear a range of views and what it means to be successful, how to cope with failure and what people have learnt along the way.
Today I’m talking with, Kate Dale, who is the campaign lead for one of the highest performing behaviour change campaigns in the UK ‘This Girl Can’. We discuss a personal love of the stories and drama of sport and find out what it was like right before that campaign launched and also explore how important it is to go where people are at.
Throughout the interview she asked some powerful questions of herself and listeners but first I asked her to describe what exactly she does.
K: So yeah I’ve been at Sport England for 14 years nearly. Joined as a website editor, set up the first website and the role has changed over the years but for the last three years I’ve been responsible for ‘This Girl Can’ our behaviour change campaign to get more women and girls more active.
T: Gosh, so not a small job that one?
K: Yeah it’s been a hectic few years but it’s been unbelievably fantastic as well.
T: I just wanna backtrack a bit because you were a journalist first was that right?
K: Yeah I left university not knowing what to do but loving writing. I don’t think I knew enough really then about the different types of careers that were open to someone like me and I was so shy in those days. But yeah and so looked at journalism as in a journalism diploma and became a marketing journalist so very much in the business to business side rather than, sort of, hectic Fleet Street as was side. But yeah, spent about 10 years doing that before the first dot-com evolution came along.
T: Moving from that sort of journalism and now working in the digital space must be quite different and a lot of people talk about how much things have changed over that time what do you think is still the same?
K: A story is still a story. A good story is still a good story and we can get really caught up in the technology of how it’s delivered but what makes something interesting or someone interesting or something catch your eye is because it resonates with you as a person. And it doesn’t really matter how you come across that whether it’s someone talking to you, something you’re reading or a Twitter feed that pops up on your phone.
T: What is it that excites you about?
K: It’s people. I’m nosy I like people and people are endlessly fascinating, endlessly frustrating sometimes but that’s what makes them more fascinating but finding out what makes people tick. And so I think the world that we live in now the digital space, social media, all the problems that it can bring I just think it’s utterly fabulous because you can now find people who think and feel like you. You can find your tribe, you can challenge yourself, probably don’t do that as much as we should do because we… create my own little echo chamber. But you find people who listen, you talk and you make connections.
T: Talk about ‘This Girl Can’. ‘This Girl Can’ you said is a behavioural change campaign but the digital era is also changing behaviour it’s changing how we connect, how we engage, how has ‘This Girl Can’ taken advantage of that?
K: I think with ‘This Girl Can’ it’s very easy to look at. I think we’ve produced amazing creative work, amazing ads and we’ve been lucky to have budgets that allow us to put ads on mainstream television and that has been a huge part of its success I will never deny that. But what’s its beating heart and what really sits at the core of it is the community of women that we have created that we have brought together who support and motivate each other. It’s about 800,000 women now on across Twitter and Facebook and it’s just lovely. If I’m ever having a difficult day whatever it is going and spending sometime on the Facebook page just makes me smile. It’s the support they give each other and that’s what in my experience women usually do anyway when you get them together and so there was one we had a woman posted that she had been shouted at, she had been out running and a man had shouted at her and said that she had a big bum. And she was really upset and it had knocked her confidence and from three days she had 2,000 comments from women in our community telling her everything from where he should go to what to shout back, to never mind. So the humour, reassurance, support tools, things that…ammunition that she could use to go back and it’s that sort of thing and just the way that it helps women support each other I think has been really important.
And that wouldn’t have been possible I think even five, six years ago that’s…
T: I’m a bit sort of flabbergasted by that figure 800,000 in the community how do you build a community of 800,000? How did that happen?
K: The longest and hardest bit of ‘This Girl Can’ I think was the 6-8 months when we were developing the concept and looking at the research and really understanding what it was. ‘Cause we started off knowing that there was a gender gap in participation 1.75 million at the time of launch and so really drilling down to that and understanding why and what it is and what was stopping women getting active. Because it’s not like we haven’t done stuff as an organisation, creating opportunities for women to be active it was after 2012 so the amount of messages that were…and it’s not as if women don’t know. It’s not as if people don’t know we know the health messages in life but that doesn’t necessarily change behaviour. So really understanding what were the emotional values and making those emotional…understanding those emotional things that were going on in women’s head and the reason why and the reasons why they were feeling that sport and physical activity weren’t relevant to someone like them.
So the women we’re targeting with ‘This Girl Can’ are [unclear 05:35] women but it’s particularly those who grew up perhaps feeling that sport and physical activity wasn’t for them. Maybe didn’t have a particularly positive experience at school or maybe did but as they’ve got older haven’t found a way of having it in their lives. And the less you do I think the less you feel it is for someone like you so I think using the insight and the data to really understand the women we were trying to talk to I think that’s where the community started building up and getting the right tone of voice. So we didn’t just talk at them it wasn’t just a monologue which feels quite ironic ‘cause I’m just doing a monologue now. But it wasn’t just a monologue we talked and then we listened. We didn’t lecture them, we didn’t hector, we didn’t tell them off. If they started going to the gym and then fell away I think we just humoured we were one of them really and we did it every day for 24 hours a day.
So it took a lot of work but it was very understanding in the first place.
T: Yes this was a massive shift for sporting to approach something like this to spend that amount of money on a campaign what did it feel like on the verge of launching that campaign?
K: It was terrifying. I remember the weekend before the ad was due to launch in the middle of Coronation Street on the Monday having sleepless nights thinking “What if nobody notices?” Because it’s not like with the John Lewis Christmas ad where everyone is waiting for it to drop and so really nervous and we knew… We thought it was good, we knew it was good it… Researched well, you do all your prep work but you don’t know till it goes out how people will react to it so really, really, really, really terrifying and then absolutely overwhelming.
And we had…somebody took a picture of us at the launch. Not really a party but the launch we were watching the ad go off and everyone sitting on their phones ignoring each other just seeing their Twitter feed scroll up and people just reacting and responding to it and it obviously… It was overwhelming actually the instant response and the instant connection people had with it.
T: Overwhelming in what way? Overwhelmingly positive, just too much to take in?
K: Really exciting. Obviously really, really happy but also and to a certain extent this has stayed with me slightly… You feel a real sense of responsibility because we’ve created something with women so it means quite a lot to women as well and so if we ever get anything wrong if we ever go off message, if they feel that we’ve let them down that… I feel that responsibility. We’ve got women who had [unclear 07:54] and you think “Oh gosh it’s part of their body now we can’t suddenly just say we’re not doing that anymore or change it’s direction.” So it’s in a really positive way and when I go and I talk to people about it and the amount of women who tell that it’s changed their life and had a positive impact on their life and it has on mine too not just in terms of my working life but my activity as well so I’m one of them. But it’s just it’s lovely, it’s really, really lovely I get quite emotional quite a lot.
T: Has the campaign evolved since it started? And in a planned…you’re nodding your head so…
K: Sorry for the record yeah.
T: In a planned way, in a reactive way?
K: A bit of both. We made…so between the first big burst of creative in 2015 and then again in 2017 we made some structural changes so the initial app focused mainly on women between 14-40 now we go up to 60 and beyond. We’ve picked up more live stage, live stages we focus specifically on things like menopause on childbirth on recovering from childbirth and the things because women’s bodies go through such dramatic changes throughout their life that and it has a relationship no matter what your sporty background is on on what it can do and when it can do things.
So we went through those but I think when we started out this was very new space for Sport England we were doing… I don’t think we would have called it a female empowerment campaign and I don’t think we would have felt that we could use language like that ‘cause it would have felt quite “Who do you think you are? You’re a sports organisation you build…” [Unclear 09:26] But that’s what you do so I think the confidence that we’ve had to maybe talk about some of the wider issues that this impacts on as well so for example been talking recently with Violence Against Women And Girls to look and think about the relationship between physical activity and either as a preventative towards difficulty… Not difficult abusive relationships but also in terms of recovery and going beyond, I guess, what are basically it’s…which is just to get more people more active. Actually thinking about the impact this has on people’s lives, on women’s lives beyond that.
T: What’s been your proudest moment?
K: Oh I’m trying to think there have been so many probably is…it’s going to sound cheesy but every time somebody comes up to me and says “I started running” or “I got back into netball” or “I did…” I think you get a real…
T: So it’s personal interaction as well?
K: Yeah and I’ve had some amazing opportunities as a result of it and some fantastic times. I spoke as part of South [unclear 10:27] Women of the World Festival which was just phenomenal took part in [unclear 10:31]. So all some really lovely things and there’s been so many times over the last few years I’ve had to pinch myself and think, “If you told 14 year old Kate that she’d be doing this she wouldn’t believe it and she’d be so happy.” You want to go back and tell yourself. But that’s just about me and my ego isn’t it? Actually what makes me proud is that I know and women have told me that it’s actually changed their lives.
T: And what have you found most stressful?
K: Probably it depends what day you ask me that question. Really I think the most difficult one actually was preparing and working out what we do for the second [unclear 11:06] launched in 2017. We, sort of, laughed and called it second album syndrome but it really was because as I said all these women you don’t want to disappoint there’s a weight of expectation. It had been so successful the only way felt like down and coming up with something that really matched that, plus we were doing it we were creating this all in, sort of, September/October/November of 2016 which was a really interesting time for gender politics given that we were in the middle of the American Election and all the… Everything that that swelled up I think as well so it was a very political time for making the ad which actually I think allowed us to create the advert we did with phenomenal [unclear 11:44]. And I think it allowed us to go further with that than we would have done before because I think it was about the time of the Million Women March and everything else and so preparing for that and thinking about what do we do? How do we build on something that’s been so successful? That was difficult.
T: How do you know if you’re doing a good job on it?
K: I think, I mean, the corporate answer, I guess, the corporate answer is…and quite rightly because this is an investment of public [unclear 12:12] money and it’s an amazing [unclear 12:14] and amazing, it’s transformed not just sport but so much in this country. But the corporate answer really because it’s public money and quite rightly we measure so we have vigorous [unclear 12:24] in terms of the number of women who are active but also through studies particularly on ‘This Girl Can’ impact on how it’s changed women’s attitudes in their confidence and how relevant they feel sport and activity is to them. So we get research data so that measures it but to be honest there’s a time lag to that because everything goes out and then you find out a few months later and thankfully so far anyway it’s always been positive.
I think this is, I guess, the blessing of social media you know because you get the feedback straightaway and when we launched the first campaign we weren’t expecting to happen was women taking their pictures next to the billboard ads and sending it in and so [unclear 13:00] putting that up. And to me this is my first ad campaign I think that’s normal but apparently it’s not so I’m going to be very disappointed if I ever do something not in this space.
And then the second time when the billboards went out the first time we knew the [unclear 13:13] had gone up because they’ve gone a little bit earlier than we planned was women tweeting pictures of it so I think that immediate connection the fact that so many women are prepared to say “Yeah this is me and I’m gonna share it on my media” show you know and it’s not just that they liked it it was that they were putting themselves in the pictures of it and they were talking about the impact it had had on their own personal physical activity. So I think that and the fact that the sector as well, the sport sector that I work in, has taken it onboard too. ‘Cause that was the other bit we talked about this big behaviour change for the women it was behaviour change for Sport England and it’s behaviour change for our sector in maybe adapting some of the ways we’ve traditionally promoted marketing, talked about delivered sport so that it can reach a wider range of people, sort of, spectrum that’s the phrase I’m looking for.
T: You’re strategically campaigns and you cover brand and digital what have you learned about along the way?
K: I think for me and I think what’s really interesting for me in the way that my… The focus of my job has changed is initially when I talked about [unclear 14:12] or thought about [unclear 14:13] you think about the things you think about the channels and technically how you make all that work not the coding. I can’t do that but the technical, the content you put on there how you structure it what it does and you’re thinking about the things and the same with brand as well you’re thinking about whether it’s that [unclear 14:28] references and logos and what have you or something a little bit more experiential but you’re thinking very much about the mechanics that you have in front of you.
Switching it over thinking about it as campaigns it becomes much more focused on what you’re trying to achieve, who you’re trying to reach and what you’re trying to get them to do and more crucially going to where they are not where you want them to be. So that’s been one of the other fundamental things with ‘This Girl Can’ in one of our principles that we always trot out is go where the women are. So it’s not about dragging them onto our website necessarily, it’s not about dragging them to our mind space it’s understanding theirs and addressing that. And I think I see it so much with communication and I will have done it so many times over the years, you think about, well, I want to get this message across and I’m going to do it in these ways.
And you get people coming to you and saying that I need a PDF or I need a website or I need a CD ROM, I’m going back a bit now aren’t I? I need a DVD. I’ve been through them all. And it’s not what we need to be saying is “Okay who is your target audience? Where are they now? Where do you need them to be?” You identify that and then you can use all your banded [unclear 15:30] specialist to help you create the journey that takes them along there. But we get fixated by the mechanics rather than what we’re trying to achieve.
T: Just gonna move tack just a little bit this pod cast is about performance, it’s about different peoples views on what success is, what success or performance however you want to whichever way you want to what’s success or performance to you?
K: I think my views on success and what success looks or feels like has changed recently and I think it’s become much more about feeling. I’ve been really, really lucky and I’ve worked on a campaign over the last few years which is so aligned to my values who I am, my life long feminism it’s something that it’s so, so personal to me. It was very easy for me to say “Oh success is about going home at the end of the day and feeling that you’ve done something which is really true to yourself. I haven’t had to make any compromises really.” What I find interesting about this is I actually find it quite an uncomfortable question to answer.
T: Yes well I think I would too.
K: Obviously and I [unclear 16:33] all sorts of profound things about what it says about my inner psyche and possibly turn this into some sort of therapy session about it.
T: Well I suppose one could ask is there such a thing as success?
K: You see I think one of the things that’s interesting as well is over the years through ‘This Girl Can’ but before that I’ve been really lucky and met lots of really incredible sports women and men and listened to them and talked to them and to me you think, “Oh well your definition of success is really easy, isn’t it, because you win a medal or you don’t. You win the trophy or you don’t. Or you do your part of the team or you don’t. Or you get selected or you don’t.” And it’s very cut and dried and but actually talking to them and it’s not necessarily that straightforward is it? And it’s much more about personally do you feel that you’ve been able to deliver everything that you could have delivered? Or have you…and I could use the “Have you left everything on the field? “
And so I think that’s what performance is if I’ve done something will I know that even if it didn’t work or I didn’t get the result I wanted to there’s not realistically anything more that I could have done. Then I think that’s probably performance more than success isn’t it? But I think what motivates me is more the mechanism of… it’s more that process of the doing of it necessarily rather than what it achieves.
T: Yes absolutely yeah.
K: Which I don’t know if that necessarily is helpful to me in life ‘cause I think that pushes more into being a doer rather than being defined as an achiever because it’s I’m not a success at all costs it’s more about… And it’s not about whether just have enjoyed it in the terms of have I had fun along the way? But I do think that’s important, it’s more about have I found the process stimulating and creative and interesting? Have I learnt something? I think I probably get bored quite easily so there always has to be something new and challenging and something new to grab my attention.
T: It’s a complicated question. I suppose I’ve got another complicated question for you or a difficult question and that is do you feel successful?
K: God no. No. No but then yeah I think I’m a bit of a restless soul to be honest. I suffer from anxiety which doesn’t make me particularly unique and I’m not saying it does but I think I’ve bee only really recognising in the last year or so I think the debate about mental health that has really come to the… Not the debate but the discussion and the awareness raising of it that has been certainly for me has been hugely, hugely helpful because it’s helped me actually think about patterns of behaviour or patterns of thought. It’s not behaviour it’s patterns of thought that haven’t been helpful to me along the years and instead of thinking “Well I just have to stop it” which is what I always thought in the past now it’s about “Okay well when certain things happen I have certain triggers my mind’s going to spin out and I’m going to imagine the worse case scenario because that’s what I do.” So I just process it now and I just let it flip over. Steve Peters, [unclear 19:14] actually helped me enormously with that it’s in his book but… what was the question again? It was what? Am I successful? Yeah.
T: Yeah sorry.
K: Yeah so I think so because of that anxiety then maybe it’s harder to think that until you’re a CEO or you’re those or you’re that or the other then…
T: Until something disappears?
K: Yes it would be yes. But it’s the equivalent of God I spent… I’m mortified to make this but I spent so much time in my…I’ve never been particularly thin and I’ve never been particularly happen with my body I spent an awful lot of time in my teens, 20s and 30s even thinking “Oh when I’m thin” or “When I’m slim” or “When I’m this” everything life will fall into place and one of the many joys of being older is I’m bored of caring about that now. I wanna be healthy, I’d like to be healthier but this arbitrary ridiculous definition of what I should look like has gone and so I think what I’m now trying to talking about it now actually thinking about is trying not to do some thing internally which is the same of when I’m no longer anxious then everything will fall into place. ‘Cause probably I’m always going to be so therefore actually success for me is not letting myself get caught up in that loop maybe.
T: Just going to end with a few quick fire questions. What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
K: Oh I missed breakfast but I had elevenses I had a ham and cheese toastie.
T: Favourite piece of kit?
K: Shoes you put on your running shoes, your trainers you’re ready to go.
T: Sporting hero?
K: Paula Radcliffe. When I am active it’s running that I do now and there’s something about Paula and I think maybe because we saw her not always succeed is that really showed to me that sport isn’t inevitable success just because you’re really good. But she kept going and she came back and has come to terms with that very high profile failure.
T: I love that sport isn’t inevitable.
K: If you want a reality show that’s what sport is there’s no script, there’s no guarantees. You don’t know until the final whistle blows or who’s going to win and it can turn on a knife-edge and it’s personal drama. Cath Grange is another one I love and her determination and to come back and that when she came off… Oh which Olympics was it? When it was the one, 2008 Beijing when she said “Always a bridesmaid, Steve” and then to come back in 2012 and risk heartbreak again and win and that was the gold medal I cheered for the loudest, so Cath would be up there too.
T: Most useless piece of advice you’ve been given or given to somebody else?
K: Be more like a man in meetings is the most useless piece of advice I’ve ever been given because why? It makes me really mad. First of all why? Why do we have to be more like them why can’t they be more like us? Or why can we just all find our own way of communicating and listening to each other? And secondly it’s useless because I can’t because I’m not that’s not my communication style, so there’s no point in it. Make most of who you are and play to your strengths don’t play to what you haven’t got.
T: Sounds like brilliant advise to me. Greatest passion outside of sport?
T: Best performance enhancer?
K: Your best friend to go running with.
T: Fantastic. It’s been brilliant talking with you today, Kate, thank you very, very much.
K: Thank you I’ve really enjoyed it.
T: Thanks for listening, you can follow the conversation on Twitter, Facebook and also don’t forget to subscribe online to A Question of Performance.com.
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