Campaign: Alzheimer's charity takes to the streets - Lobbying

The Alzheimer's Society is committed to improving and promoting its unique knowledge and understanding of dementia. It continually campaigns to raise public and ministerial awareness of the discrimination often faced by people with the condition.

Campaign: Remember Those Who Forget Client: Alzheimer's Society PR team: Kinross & Render Timescale: January-March 2005 Budget: Pro bono

This year it launched a lobbying drive to get the Government to change its policy of means-testing dementia sufferers for social care - people with other chronic illnesses receive automatic free care. A sub-campaign also attacked recommendations from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) that Alzheimer's drugs should be withdrawn from the NHS.

Objectives

To ensure equal care for Alzheimer's sufferers is protected by government policy, and that drugs to treat the condition are available free on the NHS.

Strategy and Plan

Kinross & Render focused its campaign on recognition of dementia as a physical, as well as a mental, illness, and the need for it to be treated on the NHS. To build political momentum around means-testing, K&R tried to turn it into an election issue with a march on Parliament under the banner 'Remember Those Who Forget'.

In the run-up to the march the team recommended commissioning research to quantify the lack of public support for the Government's policy of means-testing. The results, showing 79 per cent of people believed care should be provided free, were released several weeks before the march.

The fact that 51 per cent of people claimed the issue could change who they voted for was a topical news angle just weeks before the general election. Interviews with Alzheimer's Society spokespeople, dementia sufferers and their carers were made available to the media. Particular care was taken in preparing people with dementia for interviews and in matching regional publications with case studies.

A postcard campaign incorporated a message of support from Patients' Association president and agony aunt Claire Rayner. Cards were sent to MPs, as well as letters detailing the march.

TV star Lynda Bellingham and The Times critic AA Gill gave the march celebrity backing. A photocall was organised on College Green, opposite the Houses of Parliament, where a 16ft inflatable elephant (chosen to represent memory) displayed the logo of the Alzheimer's Society.

Measurement and Evaluation

The campaign generated more than 30 pieces of national coverage and a front-page headline in the Daily Mail - a coup considering the march was on the day of the Budget.

Regional and sector-specific coverage included articles in the health and medical press, and online. In terms of broadcast, the march was covered on Sky News, Radio 4's Woman's Hour, BBC London News, GMTV and Lorraine Kelly's morning show.

Results

The response from supporters was so overwhelming that people had to be asked not to attend the march. The Prime Minister was challenged on the issue and the Health Secretary at the time, Dr John Reid, met the Alzheimer's Society with assurances that its views would be communicated to NICE.

A Health Select Committee subsequently released a report condemning the 'postcode lottery' of NHS funding for the long-term care of people with degenerative conditions.

SECOND OPINION

Celia Richardson is director of communications at The Mental Health Foundation.

The team took on a big news challenge by planning its story for Budget day - and the coverage was impressive.

The best decision was the focus on Alzheimer's as a physical disease, because the strong links between physical and mental illness are rarely appreciated. It is not always easy to persuade stakeholders of the need to simplify your story by choosing one aspect to focus on.

A good spread of audience targets were hit, from policy and other decision makers to those directly affected, through morning TV. Public affairs targets were also hit, with a challenge to the PM following the march.

With a campaign of this magnitude it is difficult to judge effectiveness in a matter of months: the shorter-term outcomes can be quite 'soft'. Changing government thinking and policy-making habits is a slow process, but the outlook is good.

I would think twice about K&R positioning the attack on NICE's proposed plans to withdraw NHS funding for Alzheimer's drugs as a 'sub-campaign'.

Many would view this as a standalone issue that needs a very fine-tuned approach.

The Alzheimer's Society has a strong record on such matters. Its successes and failures mustn't get lost in the noise of a wider campaign on social care.

Creativity: 3 Delivery: 4 7/10

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