Campaign: Excess Winter Deaths
Client: British Gas and Help the Aged Partnership
PR team: In-house
Timescale: August 2004-January 2005
Each winter between 20,000 and 50,000 old people die from the effects of cold - and the UK has one of the worst records in Europe. With scientific evidence showing that many of these deaths are avoidable, the British Gas and Help the Aged Partnership formulated a hard-hitting campaign. Objectives
To raise awareness of the scale of the problem. To exert influence over government and policy makers. To provide information to older people on how to deal with cold in the winter.
Strategy and Plan
The in-house team decided on a powerful image to jolt government, MPs and the media into giving the issue urgent attention. The picture showed a coffin going through the curtains in a crematorium, bearing the words 'Warm at last'.
To influence public attitude to the problem, a punchy information pack, giving tips and directory information, was produced, complete with a thermometer so people could gauge the temperature of their homes. Practising GPs endorsed 'The Cold Can Kill', while TV doctor Hilary Jones promoted it on national radio and TV. This added credibility as well as boosting demand. It was distributed through Help the Aged projects, surgeries and old people's forums.
A survey by NOP found that one in six elderly people were worried about keeping warm at home. Further research among MPs revealed that two thirds thought government programmes were failing elderly people most in need.
Last November, a mobile advertising vehicle bearing the coffin image toured London and photocalls were held outside Help the Aged offices and the Houses of Parliament.
The message was replicated in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, supported by tailored statistics and relevant campaign activity. Quotes from local MPs, case studies and local statistics were used.
With predictions of a white Christmas, a local radio campaign was planned, fronted by former weather presenter Ian McCaskill. In January, national and regional media were targeted with more NOP figures.
Measurement and Evaluation
So far more than 320 articles have been generated, including pieces in the Financial Times, The Independent, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph - with nearly 90 million opportunities to see. The campaign featured heavily on TV and radio, worth approximately £1.5m in equivalent advertising spend.
More than 50,000 information packs have been distributed, with a revised edition currently in production. Evaluation forms revealed that eight out of ten people have been able to act on advice given in the pack.
A programme to help elderly people claim the benefits to which they are entitled has given them an extra £2.5m. Guardian City desk journalist Margaret Hughes says: 'Labour's manifesto reiterates the Government's commitment to ending fuel poverty by 2010. However, as this campaign successfully highlighted, the current strategy is just not reaching those most in need.
'Campaigns using stark imagery to highlight the scale of the problem and the human impact, to generate political and media interest, are a great way of raising the importance of this issue.'
Neil Duncan-Jordan, PR head at the National Pensioners Convention, has worked at Meridian TV and the Morning Star.
The fact that this country has the fourth-strongest economy, yet thousands of elderly people die unnecessarily from cold, is certainly worth publicising.
There is always a risk when choosing a striking image that you may end up alienating or upsetting some of your supporters. When I saw the coffin image I thought it was excellent - provocative and emotive.
Too often, campaigns use celebrities with little relevance to the audience being targeted. In this case, Ian McCaskill was ideal - bringing credibility and trust to the message. While the thermometer and advice packs were also a good idea, the long-term effect of changing someone's behaviour is more difficult to quantify. Knowing you are cold does not necessarily mean you can afford to put the fire on.
Surveys often work with a saturated media but it will not be long before the public start to tire of their claims or validity. Nevertheless, the audience reach seems impressive for a campaign that Help the Aged justifiably runs every year.
The campaign successfully did what it set out to do, but of course, to bring about fundamental change, it would need to be combined with serious political lobbying.