CAMPAIGNS: Samaritans widens role on birthday - Charity PR

Client: Samaritans PR Team: In-house and Firefly Communications Campaign: Samaritans' 50th Birthday Timescale: July-November 2003 Budget: pro bono

Firefly Communications was challenged to assist the PR team at the Samaritans to find an interesting way to celebrate the charity's 50th birthday. The charity's own research had shown that it is still largely associated with suicidal callers, but since the organisation rebranded in 2002 it has been keen to emphasise its role in the wider field of emotional health.


To create a media relations campaign to mark the 50th anniversary that would achieve broad national and local coverage for the charity. To underline the Samaritans's new positioning.

Strategy and Plan

The PR team came up with a campaign based on the top 20 most emotional events of the past 50 years, and how they have affected people. Pollsters MORI offered to include free questions in an omnibus survey of 1,000 people across the UK.

The survey revealed that September 11 was the most emotional event, with others including the fall of the Berlin Wall and the death of Princess Diana. The research findings were supported with comment from psychologist Oliver James, and a 50 Things You Didn't Know about Samaritans factsheet.

For regional print and broadcast media, the team tailored regional releases to highlight newsworthy angles, such as Lockerbie being rated highly in the poll for the Scottish media.

Meanwhile, for the broadcast media, the angle of the story was tailored to the style of the programme, and discussion points were highlighted to encourage on-air debate.

A 50th birthday party was held at the central London headquarters of Samaritans on 2 November, tied in with the release of 50 balloons.

As the official birthday fell on a Sunday, The Observer was given an exclusive. The team also sold the story in to other nationals to run on the Monday.

Measurement and Evaluation

The story was covered in The Observer, the Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Evening Standard, The Sun, the Daily Record and The Star, as well as BBC Breakfast, Radio 4, Virgin Radio and IRN. More than ten regionals have featured the story so far, as well as online outlets.

The campaign has not yet been formally evaluated, but early measurement shows the campaign had an OTS of 43 million.


All the coverage underlined the Samaritan's new positioning. The Observer social affairs correspondent Jamie Doward said: 'The Samaritans were very clever in picking their target audience. The Observer tends to punch above its weight on issues such as mental health, and our readers tend to be caring, sharing people with an interest in charities. It was a great story on a restricted budget, and the top 20 got everyone talking, which is what Sunday papers are all about.'

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