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
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
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
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.