The perennial question at meetings with senior editorial bods in the run up to Sport Relief is: "Is it that time of year again already?" It’s almost like they’re setting me a challenge. Not to swim the River Thames or climb a mountain, but to surprise and excite them with an abundance of celebrity delights or risk losing their interest and support.
Often at that stage, around autumn of the previous year, very little has been confirmed or even imagined. But with a couple of hints, in this case the promise of a special Only Fools and Horses sketch, I have their attention. And soon, the same approach works with the public.
The tricky part of working on Sport Relief is that when we are creating amazing content we are rarely the masters of our own destiny, but rather the grateful recipients of extraordinary gifts and opportunities from celebrities, partners and the many people generous enough to do their bit for the campaign.
We create a framework that we hope to populate with specific activities later, through the generosity of celebrities such as Davina McCall taking on the BT Sport Relief Challenge: Davina Beyond Breaking Point. We didn’t know what anyone would be committed enough to do when we started planning the campaign back in 2012, but we carried on in the typically optimistic way of Comic Relief.
But sparkle and excitement are only half the story, and certainly not the most important half. Our campaigns are a balance between entertaining or sporty content and the real and often harrowing stories about the people the money raised helps. This year, an entire strand of the communications plan was aimed at highlighting the progress made, instead of being focused on stories of desperate need. Research tells us that our audiences are increasingly motivated by stories of how people’s lives have been transformed.
But it’s not just celebrities who are effective at getting the message out. We have amazing support from some of the UK’s most influential YouTubers and mummy bloggers, five of whom travelled to Africa to meet some of the people who have been helped by Sport Relief, and this year we gave a Metro reader the opportunity to visit some of the projects we fund in Kenya and write an article about their experience for the paper.
We have an enormously successful partnership where we gave a grant of £1m to the paper’s Dispossessed Fund to help the capital’s most disadvantaged. Metro told powerful stories of those helped and encouraged readers to sign up to the Sainsbury’s Sport Relief Games at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Whether it’s Howard, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s four years ago and completed his Sainsbury’s Sport’s Relief mile in York, or Samantha Cameron donning a Sport Relief onesie to run the mile with her family in Oxford, anyone can take part. That’s the beauty of Sport Relief: thousands, if not millions, of people all across the country are inspired to generously do what they can, raising an incredible £53m so far.
Hannah Fox is head of media and public affairs at Comic Relief