CAMPAIGN: Real-life motor neurone work hits home

In 2005, awareness of the Motor Neurone Disease Association and the condition itself was low.

CAMPAIGN: Real-life motor neurone work hits home

Campaign John’s Journey
Client Motor Neurone Disease Association
PR team In-house and Red Door Communications
Timescale October 2005–June 2007
Budget £25,000

According to nfpSynergy’s Charity Awareness Monitor in that year, only 20 per cent of respondents recognised the charity, whose own research revealed that many people did not believe MND to be a terminal illness.

High-profile MND sufferer Professor Stephen Hawking has lived with the disease for more than 35 years, but life expectancy is generally two to five years. The association therefore wanted to show how MND is a rapidly progressive disease that, until death, renders sufferers’ motor functions useless while their intellect and senses usually remain unaffected.

The ‘John’s Journey’ campaign was the first of its kind for the association.

To boost public awareness of the MND Association by 15 per cent and raise over £50,000. To promote its work to politicians and seek funds for research into the disease.

Strategy and plan
The in-house team and Red Door Communications devised two sets of posters for the London Tube network. The first showed John Bell as a healthy footballer, while the second series illustrated how the progressive effects of MND were taking their toll.

Media relations work involved TV and radio, women’s magazines, and national and local press.

A website contained John’s personal account of living with MND and a section for readers to post messages and make online donations.

John and wife Charlotte acted as spokespeople during the campaign, taking part in all media interviews.

Although national, the campaign focused on London, with local variations for regional publications outside the capital. Volunteers distributed postcards, depicting John over the cours of the disease and containing details of local sufferers, to the features editors of local newspapers. They also sent the postcards to MPs.

When John died in February 2007 at the age of 32, posters showing his empty bed were erected.

Measurement and evaluation
The campaign achieved a double-page spread in the Daily Mail, articles in the Daily Express and Best magazine, and coverage across 15 radio stations.

Trade and regional press coverage was extensive, while ITV filmed a documentary on John and Charlotte, called Trapped Inside My Body, which aired on Yorkshire TV and Sky. It went on to win the bronze award for Best Regional TV Documentary at the ITV News Awards in 2006.

The campaign increased public awareness of the MND Association to 40 per cent. It raised more than £200,000 for the charity, while John’s Tribute Fund has exceeded £28,000.

Tony Blair, David Cameron, Jude Law, Anthony Minghella, Christine Hamilton, Lord Archer, Lembit Öpik and Frederick Forsyth all posted a message of support on the website.

The MND Association is currently in talks with ministers about the prospect of raising £15m for research.This aspect of the campaign recently received two million-pound pledges.


Sara Tye (l), founder and managing director, Redhead PR: Mobilising grassroots support is something many organisations forget to include when devising and implementing campaigns. Having local supporters (they used to be called activists) on board is vital if you want to raise funds and make real changes, as shown by the MND Association with its very successful ‘John’s Journey’ campaign.

This was an integrated campaign involving advertising and direct marketing, a mix that shows how different forms of communication over channels working in tandem can yield huge returns.

However, I would have liked to have seen a more dynamic web presence with richer content and a more dynamic feel.

The use of new media is so important in campaigning and PR, and the way in which this information is sent and received to and from the host location, and spread around a community, is a central part of most PR.

The web also offers a cost-effective way of spreading information around and getting the word out. But I felt the promotion of the MND Association itself was lost within the campaign website, which wouldn’t have helped with education and awareness – one of the campaign’s objectives.

However, using one case study as the core method of raising awareness was a great idea, and the dedicated website,, was effective.

The work put into this campaign by the in-house team at the MND Association and Red Door Communications – on quite a small budget – must have been massive to gain the coverage they achieved.

The tangible outcomes prove that this was a worthy winner of gongs at both the Third Sector Excellence Awards and the Campaign Poster Awards.


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