Royal Blind is one of the UK’s leading blind charities. Based in Edinburgh, it provides three distinct services: the Royal Blind School, the Scottish Braille Press and Braeside House, an award-winning care home for older people.
The campaign for National Braille Week in January 2009, to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the birth of Louis Braille, was handled by consumer agency Seventy Seven PR and broadcast agency markettiers4dc.
To raise awareness of National Braille Week and Royal Blind
To raise the profile of Royal Blind outside Edinburgh
To build awareness of Braille
To generate increased media coverage around the week among key target media
Strategy and plan
The idea of the campaign was to focus on the benefits of Braille as well as the impact of loss of sight. Royal Blind has a limited profile outside Edinburgh and is overshadowed by larger organisations such as the RNIB. With that in mind, the campaign needed to really stand out and add a new dimension to National Braille Week.
The first media contact was last October via a mysterious Save The Date message in Braille to all target media. The PR team then discovered best-selling Scottish crime author Ian Rankin’s son attended the Royal Blind School, and managed to recruit Rankin as an ambassador.
Using Rankin’s bestselling novel Fleshmarket Close, the PR team wrote an extract from the book in Braille across the walls of the real Fleshmarket Close in Edinburgh. To make the creation as visual as possible, the street was decorated with items including a replica of the real street sign in Braille.
This provided a platform for Rankin to highlight why the sight-impaired should be able to experience fiction and creative work, just like everyone else, and call on writers, publishers and retailers to improve the accessibility of books in Braille, large-print and audio formats.
Interviews and photo shoots were held at Fleshmarket Close, and both Rankin and Richard Hellewell, chief executive of Royal Blind, were on hand to watch Rankin’s first ever Braille book come off the presses.
Measurement and evaluation
The campaign generated 92 pieces of print and online coverage, reaching more than 171 million people across titles including BBC online, The Guardian, The Times, the Daily Mirror, The Independent, The Daily Record, The Scotsman, The Herald, The Sunday Post, Metro and Edinburgh Evening News. In total 93 broadcast outlets covered the story, including BBC Radio Five Live, Radio 4, GMTV, Sky, BBC Radio Scotland and Scottish Television.
The campaign achieved a PR value of £2,059,113 and traffic to the campaign website increased by 82 per cent during and immediately after National Braille Week.
The campaign was also featured in international publications including USA Today and Deutsche Weller.
There is much to be applauded in this campaign, having at its heart, ironically, a strongly visual element in the Fleshmarket Close stunt and a simple and effective narrator in Ian Rankin. By using a writer who has a personal connection with blindness, the campaign appeals to editors looking for a human angle.
However, the campaign fails to really drive home the ‘access to information’ message. For the more than two million people with blindness or significant sight loss – and 100 more each day who start to lose their sight – access to the printed word is not nice to have, it’s essential.
It’s not Rankin’s fault, but being a crime writer means he represents the less essential end of the publishing spectrum.
In going for the celebrity angle the campaign gave up an opportunity to strongly advocate on the wider issue of human rights and access for all.
One of the biggest problems facing us all is finding new ways to engage the public, ways that create and build dialogue rather than simply conveying a client’s pre-packaged messages. For example, the team could have worked with a company such as Amazon to create a ‘Braille it’ button for all books that would show public support for that book being published in a Braille edition – this could have been launched alongside the other initiatives to create an ongoing campaigning tool and brand asset.
Campaigns need to start being measured on the degree of engagement they generate and not just column inches.