AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS: The battle for media space

As No Smoking Day runs next week, can PROs keep the media interested long-term in awareness campaigns?

In 1983, the public saw the first posters calling for them to quit smoking. Now, as National No Smoking Day marks its 21st anniversary on 10 March, it sits among a plethora of special days, weeks and months dedicated to all manner of causes, issues and foodstuffs.

The question is, with such a saturated 'awareness days' market, why should the media and public still care? The Sunday Times medical editor Lois Rogers, for example, states that her title never touches awareness campaigns and doesn't agree with them as a PR device. But, according to The Profile Group's Awareness Campaign Register (ACR), the number of awareness events has doubled in the UK over the past five years and now tops the 500 mark. These range from charity fundraisers such as Britain's Biggest All Day Breakfast for Cancer Research, through disease awareness drives including World Aids Day, to social and commercial issues such as the TUC's National Work Your Proper Hours Day.

The calendar is also dotted with blatant pushes for commercial causes such as beds and chips, alongside more quirky campaigns such as National Lucky Me Day, which aims to crush the nation's superstitions around Friday the 13th.

Maintaining long-running campaigns

Some events are popular year-after-year. Breast Cancer Awareness Month (October), for example, enjoys a host of special features on TV and across newspapers and consumer titles, including a special pink edition of The Mail on Sunday's You magazine.

But most long-running campaigns maintain interest by developing their PR strategies over time. 'Our message has never changed, but we've had to evolve the way we've delivered it,' admits No Smoking Day campaign director Ben Youdan.

Over the past 21 years, the charity has shifted its focus from telling smokers and the media what they already know - that smoking kills - to providing the support, help and information smokers need to quit successfully.

To build the campaign's momentum each year, No Smoking Day taps into the general news agenda and in 2003 gained widespread coverage around the topic of tobacco advertising. This year, the campaign will focus at a national level on the much-disputed issue of smoking in public spaces.

Some causes, however, are better understood than others. Mental Health Action Week (11-17 April), organised by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), has been running since the 1950s and still has to fight the stigma attached to extreme mental health problems such as schizophrenia.

'We used to look at issues that only relate to mental health sufferers, but now we're trying to take the campaign more mainstream as a lot of people don't realise how mental health touches their everyday lives,' says MHF head of press and public affairs Celia Richardson.

To attract the widest possible media and underline the core message that one in four people will experience a mental health problem this year, next month's event will centre around a piece of lifestyle research into relationships. In 2003, a similar study, 'Whose life is it', examined the work/life balance, which enabled the charity to discuss the triggers for mental health problems with a range of national, regional and specialist media outlets, including The Times, the Daily Mail and Radio5Live. 'Using a report is a good way of looking at the positive agenda of mental health, as opposed to our other work in to the gaps and deficiencies in mental health provision,' says Richardson.

However, some journalists are less convinced about hanging themed days and weeks around research and claim they are inundated with supposedly timely surveys. 'As a health correspondent, I receive about ten reports a day,' says Daily Mirror reporter Lorraine Fisher. 'A lot are simply not interesting, so PR people need to think carefully about presenting something original, newsworthy or funny.'

Clash of the campaigns

The sheer volume of awareness campaigns also dictates that some causes overlap, which can result in unfortunate clashes.

According to ACR editor Vicki Ormiston, National Impotence Day is deliberately positioned within Contraception Awareness Week. However, last May, National Vegetarian Week found itself squaring up to the predominantly meat-friendly BBQ Week.

For the astute, the solution to such problems is to embrace the opposition.

Last month, the inaugural Drink Safely Week from the LoNo Drinks Company timed its campaign to feed in with messages that underpinned CAMRA's National Pubs Week.

A further problem is that awareness campaigns tend to work better at a local and regional level rather than nationwide. However, some events pride themselves on involving local communities. National Doughnut Week, which ran from 31 January to 7 February, raises funds for Save the Children with backing from catering supplier Arkady Craigmillar, The Jim Henson Company's Swedish chef, and for the first time this year, Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.

Set up 13 years' ago by Christopher Freeman, a master baker at Dunn's bakery in Crouch End, the scheme encourages bakers around the country to make a small donation for every doughnut sold throughout the week.

'Basically, it's something that's quite fun and for ourselves, there's nothing else that involves people at such a local level,' says Save the Children spokesperson Anna Quenby.

In addition, rather than being a national awareness drive, the event relies on the charity's volunteer area media co-ordinators drumming up interest from their local newspapers and radio stations.

Craig Brierley, press officer for National Science Week (12 -21 March), organised by the British Association for Advancement of Science (BA) admits: 'It can be very difficult to get national coverage, especially for a campaign like ours, which is about being inclusive, and focuses on the 1,000 or so small-scale events that take place across the UK.'

After last year's event, organisers around the country expressed a desire to see the profile of National Science Week raised nationally. So, at the beginning of January, BA joined forces with conservation charity the Woodland Trust to launch 'Spring into Science'. This UK-wide initiative encouraged people of all ages and from all locations - rural and inner-city - to look for the first signs of spring, to find out whether the season is arriving as early as scientists suspect.

Profile raising with 'celebs'

This was backed by press releases, a conference and photoshoot, featuring science uber-geek and Big Brother 4 contestant John Tickle, in the gardens of the Natural History Museum. 'As a profile-raising exercise, it worked quite well, with a lot of buzz in most of the nationals, including The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Guardian and The Daily Mirror,' says Brierley.

However, while the press continues to object that there are too many dedicated awareness days and weeks, according to ACR's Ormiston, only 11 to 12 per cent have a straight commercial angle and there is still room for more.'There are times of year that we advise people to steer clear of, such as May, June and October, as it's so busy,' she says. 'But despite all the different causes vying for awareness, success still depends entirely on the nature of each campaign and whether PR people can make their messages palatable for the media.'

A DAY IN THE DIARY

Georgie Howarth, CAMRA's National Pubs Week marketing and PR officer

Tuesday 10 February: 11 days until launch 8.45am Arrive. Check orders for publicity materials and details of events organised locally by pubs and CAMRA members, sent overnight.

9am Phones start ringing - CAMRA has offered free PR and marketing advice to more than 12,000 pubs that have already signed up to the campaign.

9.30am Update the website. I am told that we are running out of beermats - 500,000 have been distributed along with approximately 100,000 posters.

11am Campaign team meeting: set schedule for stories to be released during National Pubs Week (NPW) and decide to announce CAMRA's National Pub of the Year on Friday 20 February.

Noon Check final proofs for 'Saving Our Local Pub', a guide that will be launched during NPW. Field a request from a journalist looking for photographs of pubs around Worcester.

1.30pm Receive feedback from one of our partners, Batemans Brewery in Lincolnshire, about a local radio competition it will be running. Read reports from volunteer press officers at CAMRA's ten regional branches. Handle a filming request from Anglia TV.

2.30pm Chase people for soundbites. NPW has already been mentioned on The Archers and events at The Bull in Ambridge should develop further.

3.30pm Idea: let's tie Shrove Tuesday, 24 February, with CAMRA's 'Beer with Food' campaign - email the team. The Publican calls asking for stories and an update.

4pm Travel to London from St Albans to set up a reception at Westminster with MPs, CAMRA members and staff.

6.40pm Speeches from John Grogan MP of the Parliamentary Beer Group; Dennis Turner MP, our host, and Colin Valentine of CAMRA's National Executive.

8.30pm Wind down the reception and pack up.

9.15pm Adjourn to the newly refurbished The St Stephen's Tavern to toast NPW in traditional CAMRA fashion.

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