Communications: Charity hits headlines with its own PR

No Smoking Day generated record press coverage of its annual awareness day on 8 March - after ditching its PR agency. The charity generated more than 2,500 press cuttings, worth £2m in PR terms, after spending only £20,000 on PR activities.

What makes this figure all the more impressive is that it was achieved by only three full-time members of staff and a network of supporters.

The charity has been steadily improving its coverage each year, from 1,707 press cuttings in 2001 to 2,547 this year. At the same time, it has been steadily reducing the amount of money it spends on the campaign.

The turning point came after the charity made the decision in 2001 to stop using a PR agency to co-ordinate the campaign and brought all PR activity in-house.

Ben Youdan, chief executive of No Smoking Day, explains: "It was costing us £60,000 a year, so we decided we would be better off using the money to train staff and give them the skills to run the campaign themselves."

As well as the financial saving, which Youdan estimates has amounted to about £100,000 over five years, there have been a number of other benefits.

"It has helped us to build better links with the media," says Youdan.

"When reporters ring up they know they are going to speak to someone who understands the issues, which has been much more effective."

Although No Smoking Day values national media coverage, Youdan describes regional coverage as "the lifeblood" of the campaign.

"Shock tactics work for other health campaigns, but because there are already plenty that aim to scare people into stopping smoking, we deliberately don't do that," he explains, "We are not trying to be controversial - we are much more specific than that. We want to point people in the direction of local support services that will help them quit - that's why our links with the regional media have proved so valuable."

Employees at the charity are backed by up to 6,000 supporters, including healthcare professionals and teachers. Supporters get campaign packs and then organise their own local themed days, when members of the public can get advice and information.

indira.das-gupta@haynet.com.

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