A cyclone struck Orrisa, India’s second poorest state on the east
coast, on 29 October. It lasted for 12 hours, moving across a large
Around 1,500 villages disappeared overnight, and the best estimate is
that 10,000 people are dead and 10 million were affected in some
More than 50,000 fishing boats, and many acres of farmland were wiped
out, and there was massive disruption to schools, hospitals, and the
The Disasters Emergency Committee, a body made up of the 15 leading
international aid agencies in the UK, had to move swiftly to raise money
to enable its workers to help with the short-term needs of food,
shelter, and hygiene, and the long-term aims of rebuilding the
To obtain prominent media coverage for an appeal, raising public
awareness of the Indian cyclone, and showing that all the participating
agencies were working together.
Strategy and Plan
The core team of three press officers met for the first time when the
decision to mount an appeal was made by the DEC on 4 November, by which
time the Indian cyclone story had virtually disappeared from the
The disaster had barely grabbed the headlines, mainly because of the
difficulty of getting around in the region and lack of facilities to get
stories and pictures back to the UK.
The DEC team had to work quickly to get the disaster back onto the news
agenda for the appeal being launched on 9 November. One of the main
worries was that the appeal would be launched in a vacuum, and fail to
catch the attention of the media and the public.
The committee has a standing arrangement with the BBC and ITV that if
there is a major disaster it approaches the broadcasters to seek their
co-operation in putting together an appeal. Both agreed that the cyclone
was a worthy cause, and filmed and recorded an appeal launch broadcast
for TV and radio with Joanna Lumley and Tom Conti. The angle taken by
the DEC was to emphasise the sheer scale of the disaster.
In the meantime, before the launch the DEC re-ignited interest in the
story by sending out early press releases about the appeal and
highlighting the celebrity involvement. On launch day, a press
conference was set up with an aid worker who had returned from the
region that morning, and gave a harrowing account of what he had
Measurement and Evaluation
The story returned to the news agenda of 8 November, with the impending
appeal covered in four national newspapers, including the front page of
the Express, and national radio.
On 9 November, Lumley was interviewed on GMTV and BBC Breakfast News,
and the appeal itself was covered in all major news bulletins across
terrestrial and satellite TV. Coverage continued the following day.
Even before the celebrity appeals went out, more than 10,000 callers had
pledged money to the appeal, estimated at pounds 200,000. Only two press
ads had featured the telephone number by this time, so much of this must
have come through editorial coverage of the appeal. The appeal total to
date is around pounds 2 million, and is expected to reach up to pounds 5
million by its close on 23 November.
Client: Disasters Emergency Committee
Campaign: India Cyclone Appeal
PR Team: From Action Aid, CARE International, and Save the Children UK,
supported by press officers in all participating charities.
Timescale: 9-23 November
Budget: pro bono