CAMPAIGNS: TV develops awareness of Parkinson's - Charity PR

Client: Parkinson's Disease Society PR Team: In-house Campaign: Young onset Parkinson's storyline in BBC show Holby City Timescale: May - August 2003 Budget: within existing resources

The Parkinson's Disease Society (PDS) supports people with Parkinson's along with their families, friends and carers. Around 10,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with Parkinson's each year and of those, one in 20 will be under the age of 40.

The society was approached by the production team of BBC medical drama Holby City over 18 months ago, to say they were considering introducing young-onset Parkinson's as a storyline.

In addition to supplying general information on the condition, PDS put the programme's researchers in touch with a young person suffering from Parkinson's and a neurologist.

Objectives

To dispel the myth that Parkinson's is a condition that only affects the elderly. To raise public awareness of younger people with Parkinson's.

Strategy and Plan

The society's PR team worked closely with the Holby City PR team to ensure it was kept up to date with the storyline. Embargoed news releases were issued to national and regional papers, trade magazines, broadcast and TV magazines. Actor Jeremy Sheffield, who played Alex Adams, the surgeon diagnosed with Parkinson's, gave an interview to the PDS quarterly membership magazine, The Parkinson.

Each week, messages of support and advice for people who had been affected by the issues raised in the episodes were carried on the PDS website, where the society also promoted its helpline, information department and welfare and employment rights service.

Measurement and Evaluation

Media coverage was achieved in the local press, such as the Liverpool Echo, the Leicester Mercury and the Sheffield Star, as well as TV listings magazines, including the TV Times.

Results

The PDS helpline reported several calls specifically as a result of the storyline, particularly the episodes featuring deep brain stimulation.

The information department also received calls in relation to this episode and issued copies of the PDS fact sheet on this surgical procedure. While no actual figures are available, in general the information department has seen an increase in calls. It logged over 100 more calls per month between May and July 2003 than in the same period the previous year.

Leicester Mercury commissioning editor Andrew Marston said the Holby City early onset Parkinsons's storyline was 'gripping'. 'I actually watched the series over the last few months, and I was looking for a hook for our regular charity feature,' he added. 'It felt like a really live issue.

I thought that using the photo of the actor (Sheffield) would make the whole thing that much more real.'

Also, for the last few months, BBCi has been in the top ten of most active referring domains to the PDS website.

The BBC drama department also reported calls in relation to the episodes and suggested that the feedback received from viewers had been positive.

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