PR’s Red Letter Day - As other charities count the cost of ’compassion fatigue’, Red Nose Day still thrives. Emma Freud and Kevin Cahill tell Kate Nicholas about their latest initiative ’Red News Day’

From the official launch of this year’s Comic Relief effort on 6 February until the sixth Red Nose Day on 14 March, news editors of regional media around the country will be wondering what on earth they have done to deserve the attention of several thousand school kids. As an endless stream of press releases on gerbil racing and custard dunking cross their desks, they will no doubt either thank or curse the Comic Relief organisers Charity Projects, depending on how hard up they are for news. Because to give legs to this year’s fund-raising marathon, Comic Relief has decided to introduce the nation’s children to the art of public relations.

From the official launch of this year’s Comic Relief effort on 6

February until the sixth Red Nose Day on 14 March, news editors of

regional media around the country will be wondering what on earth they

have done to deserve the attention of several thousand school kids. As

an endless stream of press releases on gerbil racing and custard dunking

cross their desks, they will no doubt either thank or curse the Comic

Relief organisers Charity Projects, depending on how hard up they are

for news. Because to give legs to this year’s fund-raising marathon,

Comic Relief has decided to introduce the nation’s children to the art

of public relations.



’Last Red Nose Day we had 5,000 articles in the press plus radio and TV

placements and having analysed the press coverage that other people get

on our behalf we decided to help them to understand what they are

doing,’ says Comic Relief director Kevin Cahill the man behind the

initiative dubbed ’Red News Day’.



The team has conferred with the Institute of Public Relations to produce

a handbook on PR activities for kids, ranging from media relations to

lobbying and public affairs, with suggestions on how this PR crash

course can be worked into the school curriculum.



’What we are trying to say is, you have relationships with your local

press and local radio station but have you really thought about this

relationship?



Particularly in this day and age with the kind of news management that

goes on we think it is pretty important that kids understand the

process,’ says Cahill.



While the initiative may raise the spectre of a whole generation of

budding Max Cliffords, Comic Relief has a reassuring PR pedigree.



Charity Projects and Comic Relief would never have seen the light of day

had it not been for the industry’s elder statesman Sir Tim Bell, who

provided the original backing for the charity back in 1985 when

approached by Jane Tewson, who co-founded Comic Relief with Richard

Curtis.



Bell, formerly chairman of Charity Projects and now president, continues

to provide strategic advice and support along with fellow PR

professionals Eugen Beer, a partner of Beer Davies, Abel Hadden,

managing director of Edelman London, and Matthew Freud of Freud

Communications.



Beer has been involved with the charity from its inception, providing

media relations support. Hadden got involved with the charity while

working with Bell, and has since sat on several PR committees advising

on the formerly annual and now biannual Red Nose Days. Matthew Freud,

who has supported the charity for six years now, provided the services

of around 25 of his staff to help organise this year’s February press

launch at the London Planetarium.



In-house PR activities are overseen by Kevin Cahill who works with a

team of two press officers, rising to six in the run up to Red Nose

Day.



Cahill works closely with another of the Freud siblings, Emma, who has a

long standing relationship with the charity as a trustee of Charity

Projects and has acted as ’ creative consultant’ on three out of the

charity’s six Red Nose Days.



Strictly a non-profit operation



Freud’s primary input in is the area of corporate funding, which

currently accounts for around a third of all sales of merchandise such

as the ubiquitous red noses, T-shirts and other themed

paraphernalia.



The infrastructure of Charity Projects and the organisation of Comic

Relief is funded entirely by corporate sponsors or partners - the

charity claiming that in 11 years it has taken not a single penny from

funds raised to cover its costs. Of the pounds 1 raised by the sale of

the 1997 Red Nose, 70 pence goes to Comic Relief. The other 30 pence

being taken up by manufacture and distribution. Delia Smith has also put

together a new recipe booklet three million of which will be sold

through WH Smiths and Sainsbury’s for one pound netting the charity the

full pounds 3 million from the deal.



’There are no profits to anybody at any point and of that money that

comes to Comic Relief 100 per cent of it goes to the projects. No one is

on the make,’ says Freud,’ but this is why we do so few deals and why it

takes so long to get Red Nose Day set up.



’It is the most fantastic promise to give the public, but in reality it

is a nightmare, because every single time you need to employ somebody,

to buy a loo roll, or take a taxi it all has to come from the

sponsorship clients.’



Making sponsors see red



So, in addition to the no profit ruling, Charity Projects also asks

corporate sponsors to cough up a licensing fee. For the honour of being

involved with the event, corporate partners such as this year’s ’nose

sponsor’ WH Smith will pay not only for the manufacturing and

distribution, but also a licensing fee. This fee can range from pounds

5,000 to pounds 100,000, depending on the nature of the relationship,

and is used to help fund the Red Nose Day event.



The charity is also able to draw on substantial media support. The BBC,

for example, started production in October on what Cahill claims is the

biggest live show in British TV, plus a series of documentaries.



So what is the attraction for these companies apart from the obvious

feel-good factor? ’Unless these relationships work as business deals, in

PR and increased traffic terms, (our corporate sponsors) aren’t going to

be fully supportive of it,’ says Freud. ’It is something that we want

them to do from the heart but also because it is will benefit their

company.



And it does. Sponsors come back year after year because they do get a

good PR value.’



The main attraction for sponsors seems to be the young consumer profile

of Comic Relief’s main target audience, as well as the high level of

celebrity support - although such support is necessarily kept at arm’s

length.



As Cahill points out: ’It is quite hard because all of our celebrities

also have their own range of commercial endorsements, so the equation

has to some extent be ’Comic Relief equals comedians: WH Smith equals

Comic Relief’ rather than ’Lenny Henry says go to WH Smith’. They can’t

do direct corporate endorsements but they can endorse the relationship,

the activity or the product.’



The charity’s in-house media team also work closely with corporate

partners and their respective agencies and in-house teams to maximise

the PR benefits for their benefactors.



’There is a lot of very loose coverage which is quite nice, but we are

getting better at honing it down as a means to make us money,’ says

Cahill.



’When we did Red Nose Day 1 and 2, it almost sold itself, but it is like

any other business and once it is no longer the new thing on the block

you have to look at how to keep persuading people that it is not

stagnant.’ The great danger for Comic Relief, as for any any post Live

Aid fund-raising organisation, is ’compassion fatigue’. With so many

claims on the public purse a charity needs a real USP to continue to

attract cash.



’Comic Relief has been able to talk about need in that way which makes

it a bit different,’ says Cahill. ’For example you have a hilarious

sketch with Harry Enfield in the studio, and then go to Julie Walters in

Addis Ababa with some street kids. It is a kind of strange gear shift

but it works.’



However, communicating this combination of hilarity and the horrors of

poverty cannot always have been easy. ’People think that it is a strange

and difficult mix and there is a tension,’ admits Freud, but says it is

Richard Curtis’s own experience of the endurance of the human spirit

during his time in Ethiopia in 1985 that has provided the conviction

that holds the Comic Relief proposition together. ’He has never seen a

contradiction between the two. He came back thinking just because a

situation is tragic, people do not lose their sense of humour. It is

still the ultimate form of communication.’



PENNY’S WORTH: HOW A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY



Comic Relief started life on Christmas Day 1985 with a television

broadcast on the Late Late Breakfast Show from a refugee camp in Sudan,

and has since raised pounds 112 million for nearly 4,000 projects in

Africa and the UK.



The 1997 Red Nose Day on 14 March will feature the Gladiators Special

and there are plans to produce a Men Behaving Badly special - Caroline

Quentin and Leslie Ash having already put together a fitness video

called Women Exercising Madly. This year’s co-promotions include a

ticket deal with UCL, a Body Shop Kissing Kit, a Frijj Red Nose Day

Custard Shake and a special brand of Len (as in Henry) and Jerry’s Fudge

Behaving Badly (with vanilla) ice cream.



The overall theme for the 1997 Comic Relief effort is ’Small Change Big

Difference.’ ’We worked out that if all the one pence coins in the

country were given to us it would amount to pounds 68 million,’ says

Cahill.



The Small Change Big Difference theme has been carried across all Comic

Relief merchandise and activities.



The 1997 Human Nose comes equipped with a bank ’Nose’ bag incorporating

a list of what small change can do. A selection of large receptacles

such as tanks, sea containers and submarines will also be positioned in

shopping centres as receptacles for small change.



Cahill and Julie Walters also recently visited Addis Ababa to make a

documentary on two street kids whose monetary requirement is just five

pence a day, which secures them two meals a day and a roof over their

head. ’A small amount of money really can make a big difference, isn’t

just hype,’ says Cahill.



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