CAMPAIGN: Actor McAvoy focuses on Uganda plight

A look at the British Red Cross's campaign to highlight ‘the world’s worst neglected emergency’, staring The Last King of Scotland's James McAvoy.

Campaign: Uganda Month
Client: British Red Cross
PR Team: In-house
Timescale: November- March 2007
Budget: Less than £10,000

The UN has described northern Uganda as ‘the world’s worst neglected emergency’ with up to 1.7 million people ravaged by over 20 years of armed conflict. Most have been forced to flee their homes to live in overcrowded camps in the north and north east of the country.

The British Red Cross, through the Uganda Red Cross, has provided assistance to up to half a million internally displaced persons. Their projects try to provide the basic humanitarian needs such as clean drinking water.

To raise awareness of the humanitarian crisis in Uganda. To highlight the work being carried out by the British Red Cross and to encourage people to visit the website and donate.

Strategy and plan
The target audience comprised the general public, donors, parliamentarians and the British Red Cross’s 35,000 staff and volunteers in the UK. To reach all of these groups the month of March was designated ‘Uganda Month’.

The actor James McAvoy, star of The Last King of Scotland, was invited to northern Uganda at the end of February with a group of media. A freelance journalist invited on the trip wrote for the Daily Mirror and McAvoy’s regional newspaper – The Scotsman.

On his return McAvoy made himself available for media interviews. The in-house media team offered ITN an exclusive diary piece from the footage, and also set up broadcast interviews with national TV News programmes.

Scottish TV and radio programmes were offered interviews with McAvoy, as were regional radio stations. The media team asked that all interviews and coverage directed people to the British Red Cross website for further information and to donate.

To target British Red Cross staff and volunteers, all internal comms channels were focused on Uganda for the whole of March. This included the internal publication Red Cross Life, the British Red Cross intranet site Redroom and a briefing document sent to all MPs, peers, members of Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly.

A themed Uganda section on the British Red Cross website went live on Saturday 3 March to coincide with the publication of the Daily Mirror article. The site ran in March giving information on the crisis, details of work being carried out and the opportunity to read and comment on a blog posted by a Uganda Red Cross Society staff member. The website included a link to the footage from McAvoy’s trip (see bottom), posted on YouTube. Key dates were used for story hooks such as ‘World Water Day’ (22 March) and ‘International Women’s Day’ (8 March).

Measurement and evaluation
Media ran throughout the month with articles appearing in the Daily Mirror, Red magazine, The Scotsman and over 15 regional newspapers ran the Letter to Editor.

Footage from the trip and broadcast interviews with McAvoy appeared on GMTV, ITN News (Lunchtime and Evening), BBC News 24, Sky News, Scottish TV News, BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Scotland and 10 regional radio stations.

The Uganda section of the British Red Cross website has had over 5,000 page views and the footage on YouTube has been viewed by over 4,000 people. Throughout March, the British Red Cross received over £100,000 in donations for the Uganda Appeal.



Fiona Cole is PR manager for international relief and development agency World Vision: An increasingly competitive sector, and donor fatigue, mean neglected humanitarian emergencies present a PR challenge for NGO. But Uganda Month focused on a single issue in short burst to give it a realness and sense of urgency.

Celebrity-led campaigns can have both merits and downfalls, but using James McAvoy is attractive to the media and a broad ranging audience. This coincided with the end of the cease-fire in Uganda. Both events should have provided superb additional ‘talkability’ dimensions to the campaign, although it’s not clear if this was leveraged to full effect.

The media strategy covered a good cross section of channels, with valuable consideration given to forward planning opportunities. McAvoy’s interviews carried a clear call to action, which was key to fundraising success. Driving all activity through the website, instead of a telephone number, enabled response to be precisely tracked and the wider work of the British Red Cross highlighted.

There’s no denying the tremendous value of broadcast media for raising awareness, and footage was aired on an impressive selection of mainstream TV and radio channels. The most creative element was the use of social media with YouTube and a blog.

This was a well developed, executed and evaluated campaign, which appears to have achieved
its objectives.


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