Client: St John Ambulance
PR Team: In-house and Politics International
Campaign: Zero VAT on Resusci-Annie
Timescale: March - July 1998
Budget: Costs under pounds 1,000
Resusci-Annie is the name affectionately given to the manikins used by
St John Ambulance to administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation
Since 1990 Resusci-Annies had been classified as medical equipment and
therefore zero-rated for VAT. However in March 1997 St John was notified
that manikins were no longer eligible for tax relief, adding pounds
75,000 a year to the charity’s bills. Faced with the prospect of a
costly VAT tribunal, St John launched a campaign to overturn the VAT
To lobby Parliament and other decision-makers, mobilise St John
Ambulance volunteers in support, obtain positive media coverage and get
VAT removed from manikins.
St John had not previously undertaken any public affairs activity, but
the in-house team decided to launch a lobbying campaign with the support
of Ken Penton, a Politics International consultant, who donated his time
free of charge.
Martin Linton, Labour MP for Battersea, was identified as a potential
supporter and enlisted to lay down an all-party Early Day Motion
A full briefing was sent to all MPs and supporters in the Lords asking
them to submit parliamentary questions in support of the campaign.
The Mirror, the newspaper most read by St John volunteers, was offered
an exclusive on the campaign, including a case study about a successful
resuscitation in Newcastle. A photocall, featuring a volunteer and a
Resusci-Annie, was held outside Parliament and made available over the
Local lobbying and media work was co-ordinated through the St John
Ambulance network of 60 PROs spread around 48 county headquarters.
An action pack was distributed containing draft local press releases,
advice on writing letters to the media, and bullet points for MPs.
Volunteers were encouraged to write to local MPs, and local photocalls
The specialist press was also targeted, including nursing and
The EDM was signed by 115 MPs and three submitted parliamentary
questions in support of the campaign. The issue was also raised in the
The Mirror got right behind the campaign, running several editorials, a
feature and letters. There were two items on Radio 5, including an
interview with St John’s director of public affairs Brian Rockell, and
10 local radio reports. Regional newspaper coverage was exceptional,
totalling 40 items. Trade coverage included Accountancy Age, Nursing
Times and Health and Safety at Work.
On 2 July the Treasury agreed to reinstate tax relief by drawing up an
Extra Statutory Concession (ESC), backdating it to March 1997.
This was a well engineered and extremely cost-effective campaign in
support of a very worthy cause. Careful targeting of an MP and political
correspondent, the advice of Politics International, gave the campaign
momentum. This was then sustained thanks to the swift mobilisation of
support at regional level. The speedy response of the charity ensured
the case didn’t end up in tribunal.
’This was a campaign that meant something to a lot of different people,’
says St John Ambulance PR manager, Alison Rothwell. ’From an internal
communications point of view it was a success because we were able to
mobilise our volunteers to move very quickly.’