Creative Strategy > Partnerships & Perspectives




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Why is this work relevant for Creative Strategy?

The Big Issue gives homeless and vulnerably housed people the means to earn a legitimate income by selling its magazine on high streets across the UK. But, on the 20th March 2020, lockdown struck and The Big Issue’s 2000+ vendors were forced to stop selling. At the time, the founder of The Big Issue said, “we have to accept that we don’t have an income if don’t have a street”. This case illustrates our how our creative strategy enabled Big Issue vendors to virtually reclaim their “street”, reconnect with their customers and regain their income.


Since 1991, The Big Issue has helped tens of thousands of vulnerable and homeless people reintegrate into their local communities as micro-entrepreneurs. When the first UK lockdown hit, The Big Issue went from selling 80,000 magazine a week to zero. This not only erased their livelihoods, it erased their visibility and connection to the community. 80% of vendors were experiencing feelings of loneliness. In the words of Rob, a London vendor:

“When you are out selling The Big Issue, you’re always in contact with people, so this lockdown and not being able to see anyone is very isolating. I have lost my sense of purpose and I don’t really know where I stand now.”

The Big Issue and its vendors were facing an existential crisis. We needed to help Big Issue vendors transform their business, to transform their lives.


Unable to sell the magazine on the streets, vendors were reliant on charity. To support its vendors, The Big Issue was forced to break from its ethos of “a hand up, not a handout”, and provide vendors financial assistance. This help secured food and shelter, but did nothing for vendors’ self-esteem, purpose, or connection to their customers. Even with the end of lockdown in sight and the opportunity for vendors to return to their regular pitches on high streets and business districts, footfall to those areas will never return to pre-pandemic levels. Deloitte models that < 70% of UK office workers will return to offices by 2022; and > 5% of “office” workers will permanently work from home.

To secure The Big Issue’s future as a social enterprise, we needed ensure that its vendors could trade and interact with their customers without the need to come into physical contact.

Insight / Breakthrough Thinking

To trade again, vendors had to migrate their businesses online. There were two key challenges 1) A baseline survey had revealed that vendors lack digital skills and equipment; 2) We had to identify their old customers in absence of a pre-existing digital data base. Overcoming this second barrier was crucial, as research had revealed the insight that customers supported The Big Issue because of the special bond they felt with their vendors. Identifying vendors’ “regulars” was key to unlocking their highest value audience and therefore the success of the initiative.

Partnering with LinkedIn, analysis revealed that 70% of vendors’ former customers were active on the platform. We realized we’d be able to identify former customers by cross-referencing workplaces against vendors’ pitch locations. By using LinkedIn’s data, we’d be able to re-create vendors’ former neighborhoods digitally and reconnect them with the same professionals who had walked past them every day.

Creative Idea

Having excited LinkedIn with our strategy, they partnered with us to develop “Raising Profiles” - a digital inclusion project designed to improve vendors’ digital confidence, build an online network and use LinkedIn as their virtual “street corner”.

Vendors were given tablets donated by Dixons. Through a combination of group and individual training sessions, we helped them set up their profiles and navigate the platform. This was followed up with safeguarding resources to ensure that they understood any potential risks and ways to mitigate them.

After an 8-month hiatus, vendors were able to rebuild and reanimate their client base. And after a warm reintroduction, vendors were primed with an e-comm trigger for frictionless, contact free sales. Beyond providing them with the space to conduct sales where previously none could be made, the partnership enabled vendors to converse with their old customers and alleviate feelings of isolation and exclusion.

Outcome / Results

There has been a significant subscription uplift, with LinkedIn driving 96% of total traffic and vendor subscriptions increasing by 325%. Magazine sales increased by 400%. The partnership also dramatically boosted vendors’ efficiency from a conversion rate of 1 sale per 50 offline interactions to 1 sale per 10 on LinkedIn.

Beyond helping some of the UK’s most vulnerable people reclaim an income, it also helped tackle persistent associations between the brand and homelessness. In the words of The Big Issue’s Executive Director: “The bigger result is the permanent perception shift in how people see our vendors. They’re professionals with every right to be on LinkedIn.”

Raising Profiles secured excellent coverage. In addition to appearing in most major UK news outlets, celebrities like Dame Kelly Holmes, Sadiq Khan and Gary Lineker shared the launch on their social media profiles. Giving us a combined reach of 81.5M and 112M impressions.

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