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Plan to embrace new migrants to Hamilton Gardens wins the 2017 PR Campaigns Award

06 October 2017

'Plant Your Roots' won this year's Chesterman Group Campaigns Award. Team: Eilish Graves, Ana Hollis-Slack,Briar Hunter, Celine Kao, Amanda Laurence, Olivia Leckner, Shontel Lester, Kerry Moore, Rebekah Rodgers, Rishabh Tiwari (centre), Kendrah Worsley.

New migrants to Hamilton are being given a warm embrace by a student initiative aimed at helping them settle into the community and feel more at home.

'Plant Your Roots' was conceived by a group of Waikato University public relations students as part of a communication plan to increase public awareness of the Friends of Hamilton Gardens. 

The Friends were looking for new members to revitalise and grow their organisation, as their youngest member was 61. The students saw an opportunity to reach out to the city's new migrants and encourage them to become involved with the Hamilton Gardens, as a way of meeting people and gaining practical work experience.

Last week, Plant Your Roots was named winner of the 16th annual Chesterman Group Campaigns Award 2017, held at Waikato Management School on 5 October.

"We discovered that about 25% of Hamilton's population are neither NZ European nor Maori; they come from other ethnic groups," explains team member Olivia Leckner. "Of those, the majority are Chinese, Indian, British and Samoan."

"The Friends of Hamilton Gardens came to us with the problem of having no diversity represented in their membership base. And for new migrants, moving to New Zealand can be a very lonely and isolating experience, especially for those who don't speak English as their first language," she says.

"So we designed a PR campaign that positions membership of the Friends as great opportunity for migrants to engage with Hamilton and really aid that social cohesion, just by making it a little bit easier for them to build relationships with the community. It's also a good way for them to get work experience in the Visitor Centre or giving garden tours."

Challenging but rewarding

The students describe the capstone assignment as "challenging" but very rewarding. It has definitely prepared them for a career in public relations, they say, teaching essential skills such as team-work, planning, public speaking and interpersonal communication.

"It's a nice bridge between working and studying; it feels like the real world because it is."

"It's great that it's been such a hands-on paper; it's very different to learning in a lecture because you get to learn from first-hand experience."

"It's been a steep learning curve, but it shows that when our lecturers tell us something does or doesn't work in the real world, they are usually right! This assignment has been a great way to polish off all the skills we've developed over the past three years and practise what we've learnt in a real-life scenario."

"You also learn skills from other people in your team, and how to utilise each person's skills in the best way."

Executing the campaign

The students teamed up with local migrant organisations such as Sharma and the Settlement Centre Waikato to help them reach their target audience. They also attended several cultural festivals (Hindi, Dutch and Spanish), where they engaged in conversations with people about the 'Plant Your Roots' initiative.

"Face-to-face communication was so important to this campaign, because it meant there was no real language barrier, and you got to hear people's personal stories about moving to Hamilton as well."

A focal point of the 'Plant your Roots' campaign was the creation of a 'Leaf Your Mark' mural. Individuals were invited to add their 'leaves' to the tree's bare branches by stamping them with an ink blot of their fingerprint.

The students plan to gift the mural to the Hamilton Gardens, installing it in the foyer of the Visitor Information Centre. "It's really important to us that we carry on the legacy that we've created. We hope they love it just as much as we do."

Fruits of their success

In just a few short weeks, 'Plant your Roots' successfully signed up 55 new members - 44 of whom came from migrant households - and raised $100 in donations. Their Facebook posts and YouTube videos (with subtitles) were seen by more than 26,500 people.

"We feel like we created an awesome campaign and we had so much fun doing it!"

Virginia Graham, president of the Friends of Hamilton Gardens, says, "The idea of targeting the ethnic communities of Hamilton was a real winner, and also their slogan 'Plant your roots' was very apt."

"We will definitely be looking at ways to involve ethnic communities in the gardens more in the future, and talking to them to find out what matters most to them."

The competition

The other two student teams who presented their PR campaigns for judging at the Chesterman Group Campaigns Award evening were:

  • Angels of Hamilton Gardens, who raised $3,000 in only 20 days so the Friends could build a new bronze tap sculpture in the Surrealist Garden; using a combination of celebrity endorsement (All Black Sam Cane) and by creating 'buzz' on social media.
  • Back Your Yard, who created a sense of pride and ownership in the Hamilton Gardens and signed up 31 new members by sharing people's personal stories about the gardens, and giving away prizes. They also ran a social media skills workshop for the Friends to help volunteers maintain this important online communication platform.

Overall, the three campaigns collectively resulted in the Friends of Hamilton Gardens signing up 141 new members in just one month.

The judging panel - what did they think?

The judging panel was made up of PR guru Gordon Chesterman, Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ) CEO Elaine Koller, public affairs advisor to the Wellington mayor Shimanthi, and Verity Coker, public relations tutor at Waikato Management School.

Ms Koller said, "PR gets a bit of a bad rap sometimes, but what these students have done really shows what a tangible difference you can make to the community through a positive communication campaign."

"I really liked the Plant Your Roots campaign because they really understood who their audience was, and they really understood how to reach them."

Mr Chesterman said, "I'm very happy to have sponsored this event for the past 16 years. What we've seen tonight from these students has been a great gift to Hamilton Gardens. It's about creating real campaigns for the real world."

"The Hamilton Gardens have been a wonderful subject for students to bring to life. They attract over one million visitors every year, and were voted the best gardens in the world in 2014; which is not bad for an old rubbish dump!"

"Tonight we saw three very good projects, but the winners were exceptional because they identified a point of difference, that is, an involvement with the city's new migrants."

"Hamilton has a fast-growing ethnic community, about 170 different nationalities are represented, and this group tapped into that very effectively. I think 'Plant your Roots' is really going to make people feel more comfortable about living in Hamilton and becoming involved with other New Zealanders through the gardens."

"Two of the most successful gardens at the Hamilton Gardens are the Chinese garden and the Indian garden; so straight away we've got a very clear connection with two of our largest ethnic groups in the city."

"This is one way to connect a very growing and important part of our city with the city's most popular tourist attraction."

Mr Chesterman is also president of the Hamilton Club, which recently donated $350,000 to the Hamilton Gardens Development Trust.

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