Campaign: MPs to embark on Arctic trek fundraiser

The Westminster Challenge crosses into new territory in an attempt to raise the awareness of beneficiary charities.

Campaign The Westminster Challenge
Client The Westminster Challenge
PR team In-house
Timescale July 2006
Budget Less than £2,000

The Westminster Challenge, founded in July by former Tory Party Convention president Richard Stephenson, lobbies politicians to learn more about charities' work and support their causes. It has planned two cross-party charity 'challenges' to take place during the lifetime of each Parliament.

The first, next February, will see a group of five MPs - including Ed Vaizey (Conservative, Wantage), Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats, Sheffield Hallam) and Emily Thornberry (Labour, Islington South and Finsbury) - take part in a gruelling 400km dog-sled trek across the Arctic.

MPs who sign up will also meet representatives from the organisation's adopted charities, Crime­stoppers, Cancer Research UK and The Children's Society. Money raised will be divided between the three adopted charities and a fourth charity of the MPs' choice.

To promote Westminster Challenge as a new fundraising organisation, and the Arctic trek as a unique event. To promote MPs' involvement, and raise awareness of the need for more Parliamentarians to support the work of UK charities. To raise awareness of the beneficiary charities.

Strategy and Plan
The target audience comprised the general public, charities, fundraising organisations, the ‘Westminster Village' and potential sponsors. To cover this diverse range, the charity's in-house PR team targeted national
media with photos of the competing MPs posing with huskies.

For the photocall, an Arctic scene was created on the South Bank, complete with igloo (created by a set designer from the nearby Shepperton Film Studios) and eight ‘overexcited' huskies. Controlling the dogs was just one challenge. Another was persuading busy MPs to convene for the shoot and to wear Arctic snowsuits on one of the hottest Sundays in July.

Targeted press releases were distributed to regional press, particularly focusing on media in the MPs' constituencies. A secondary burst of national media relations is scheduled to coincide with the MPs' preparations for the Arctic trek, with ongoing activity during the challenge.

Measurement and Evaluation
The launch was covered by national newspapers including The Daily Telegraph and Daily Express. London's Evening Standard headed the regional coverage, which included the Daily Echo (Bournemouth), Western Mail (Cardiff), the Birmingham Post, Dundee Evening Telegraph & Post and the Abingdon Herald (Oxford).

Broadcast coverage included LBC, BBC Radio Shropshire and Sky News. Web stories about the trek appeared on (the website of the Lib Dem party member) and, among others.

A number of charities have enquired about becoming beneficiary organisations in future expeditions. Meanwhile, many people have expressed interest in getting involved with, or working for, The Westminster Challenge.

Emma-Kate Lidbury, senior rep­orter at the Oxford Mail, covered the story for the Abingdon Herald. She recalls: ‘I was covering the Abingdon patch and this story was just what I needed. I was on deadline, and to get a photo we could use, plus a well-written press release about our local MP, Ed Vaizey, was really helpful.'

SECOND OPINION, Sara Pearson, CEO of The SPA Way

The Westminster Challenge is, of course, a good cause. However, without wishing to be mealy mouthed, I am a little surprised that it is necessary to ‘encourage politicians to learn more about charities' work and support their causes'. Good heavens, if they don't know this then perhaps they are in the wrong job?

Quizzical comments aside, though, the fact is that this campaign was, by all accounts, executed most efficiently and with due regard to that which will guarantee media interest. In particular, the ‘Sunday for Monday' strategy - selling-in stories to Sunday editorial staff for inclusion in the next day's paper - is a sound route, despite not finding favour with many PROs.

It should not be assumed that promoting charity stories is any easier than promoting a hard-nosed commercial one, and the snowy wastelands of the Arctic must be getting as busy as the M25 with the number of charity dog-sled treks heading for the North Pole. So, well done for generating such a good showing in terms of national and broadcast coverage.

There is, meanwhile, one awe­some aspect of this campaign. How the devil did they manage to create an authentic Arctic scene, complete with igloo, by the Thames - and kit out MPs in Arctic snowsuits while being badgered by eight slavering huskies - for less than £2,000? Now that's what I call a very impressive result.

Sara Pearson has worked on many charitable campaigns

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