Platform: Be aware of the dangers of cheap publicity - The eagerness of business to jump on the awareness campaign bandwagon is bad news for the serious charity, says Robert Barclay

The month of March is teeming with awareness campaigns, ranging from Flea Awareness Month to National Bed Month, taking in Prostate Cancer Awareness Week, No Smoking Day, Daffodil Day and National Rose Week along the way. March is by no means unusual - nowadays we are bombarded by special awareness campaigns. There are over 300 scheduled for 1998, ranging from the globally recognised World Aids Day to the seriously obscure Rout Out Ragwort Week.

The month of March is teeming with awareness campaigns, ranging

from Flea Awareness Month to National Bed Month, taking in Prostate

Cancer Awareness Week, No Smoking Day, Daffodil Day and National Rose

Week along the way. March is by no means unusual - nowadays we are

bombarded by special awareness campaigns. There are over 300 scheduled

for 1998, ranging from the globally recognised World Aids Day to the

seriously obscure Rout Out Ragwort Week.



In recent years, many famous companies have backed high-profile

awareness campaigns, notably Sainsbury’s which joined forces with

Breakthrough Breast Cancer, and Kellogg’s, which backed National

Breakfast Week.



Awareness campaigns are clearly a godsend to promotions and PR

departments, advertising agencies and charities. Indeed many charities

seem happy for national and multi-national firms to add their weight to

campaigns, cashing in on the wealth of promotional opportunities this

affords them. Nonetheless some campaigns have courted controversy,

attracting adverse publicity when certain companies have become involved

as sponsors.



Where awareness campaigns are concerned, there remain remarkably fuzzy

guidelines surrounding the issue of suitable sponsors. While there are

many willing sponsors waiting to jump on the ’awareness bandwagon’

relatively well known charities still find it hard to attract

sponsorship (Samaritans Week in May is still seeking sponsorship).



It is hard to imagine how smaller, more offbeat campaigns are expected

to develop support. Again, there is little information available to

these organisations in their research for corporate sympathy, support

and financial assistance.



While some campaigns secure excellent media coverage, it is often the

sponsors themselves that become the focus of the publicity, instead of

the awareness campaign itself. A case in point is Wonderbra’s

sponsorship of National Breast Awareness Week, which amassed piles of

press cuttings and pictures, all focusing on breasts, bras and

supermodel Eva Herzigova, with barely a mention of breast cancer

prevention and education.



Of course, some campaigns exist merely as promotional platforms, such as

McVitie’s National Dunking Day, and Bramley Apple Week. With no controls

over what should and should not qualify as a genuine awareness campaign,

there is a real danger that the public will come to associate ’awareness

campaigns’ with ’lighthearted promotional campaigns’, thus detracting

from the tangible benefits to charities in terms of both fundraising and

sympathy.



Another potential problem for campaign organisers is date clashes. For

example on 18 April this year, four charities start health-related

awareness campaigns: the Arthogryposis Group’s Appeal and Awareness

Week; National Cystic Fibrosis Week; Mental Health Action Week and

Parkinson’s Awareness Week.



This suggests there is little communication between the various campaign

organisers, in whose interests it is to ensure that every campaign

receives the maximum publicity and public support possible, instead of

competing with fellow charitable bodies.



Awareness campaigns play an important part in today’s business,

fundraising and PR arenas, but there is a danger of overexposure and a

resulting public apathy, which will only devalue every campaign, even

the most worthy ones.



Some method of regulating, co-ordinating and controlling these

campaigns, at the same time bringing would be sponsors together with

charities another campaign organisers, would ensure the campaigns that

do occur are more successful in achieving their overall aims.



Robert Barclay is managing director of the Profile Group UK.



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