Campaign: Voluntary sector - Guide Dogs stand up for the disabled

Campaign: Petra's Law
Client: The European Guide Dog Federation
PR team: UK Guide Dogs
Timescale: July 2008 -April 2009
Budget: Under £2,000

The European Commission introduced the controversial Equal Treatment Directive to make sure people across the European Union experiencing discrimination were treated the same. Guide Dogs, the secretariat for the European Guide Dog Federation, wanted to use the opportunity to guarantee blind and partially sighted people across the EU a legal right of access with their guide dogs.

The aim was to mirror the rights UK guide dog owners enjoy at restaurants, hotels and on public transport. To boost the story's appeal, campaigners chose 15-year-old blind Romanian, Petra Pintelei, to become the face of the initiative, which became known as 'Petra's Law'.

OBJECTIVES

- To raise awareness of the European Guide Dog Federation

- To promote the Guide Dogs brand

- To persuade MEPs in Brussels to support Petra's Law promoting new disability rights throughout the EU.

STRATEGY AND PLAN

A scripted speech was written for Petra, who spoke good English despite being self-taught. It explained the challenges she faced in everyday life and showed how, without the amendments, red tape could severely curtail her freedom to travel across the EU as a guide dog user. The speech was to be presented to a hall of MEPs by Petra the day before a vote on the amendments. Ahead of the speech, West Midlands MEP Liz Lynne was recruited as an early supporter of the campaign. She had responsibility for bringing forward the disability amendments to the directive and helped to pilot the European Guide Dog Federation's suggestions through the various parliamentary committees.

A news release about Petra's upcoming speech, and Petra's Law, was released to the media the weekend before the presentation was due to take place, and background articles, broadcast interviews and picture opportunities were offered to targeted regional, national and international media.

MEASUREMENT AND EVALUATION

Interviews with Petra and with Guide Dogs campaigners were carried out by BBC News and BBC Radio Five Live. BBC and ITV stations also sent a correspondent to provide coverage for regional bulletins and the material was made available to international broadcasters, including CNN. In total, coverage was watched by an estimated 12 million people. The European Guide Dog Federation received mentions in the coverage, the first time this has happened.

RESULTS

MEPs voted to adopt all the suggestions made by the European Guide Dog Federation. If member states adopt the amendments as well, national parliaments will have to transpose them into law across the European Union.

The European Guide Dog Federation now has a firm foundation on which to lobby national governments, to ensure that laws will in future provide support and access to blind and partially sighted people.

SECOND OPINION - JO SHELDON, MEDIA DIRECTOR, EDELMAN

What UK Guide Dogs did so well with this project was to absolutely understand that there is seldom a stronger or more compelling case to be made than a human one told with conviction and intelligence. What it also cleverly tapped into was the deep well of goodwill that there is towards guide dogs and their owners across almost all sections of society. In this way it was able to cut through the mesh of highly technical jargon that so often surrounds any communications from the EU.

It got to the heart of the matter to deliver the only story that counted - the impact the directive would have on the lives of blind and partially sighted people across Europe.

Whether by accident or design, the team was right to release the story ahead of the presentation since the point of a media campaign like this is to raise awareness of the issues in order to influence the outcome.

Its choice of a spokesperson in Petra clearly paid off, but given that the presentation was made to MEPs from across Europe, I wonder if the UK Guide Dogs team could have pushed a bit harder to deliver some non-UK coverage and perhaps a digital or online component would have helped drive conversation around the issue.

That said, for £2,000 and with such clear and positive outcomes, it is hard to find fault. Congratulations and I hope the team can build on this work to create a more sustainable campaign for the rights of the blind and partially sighted.

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