The blood cancer charity Anthony Nolan last week announced that it had set up a year-long editorial partnership with the media company Trinity Mirror, publisher of the Daily Mirror, the Sunday People and more than 100 regional and local news titles.
The partnership will involve Trinity Mirror’s publications, which have about 17 million readers, carrying stories from the charity, including human interest case studies of donors and survivors. The charity estimates that the coverage would be worth about £1m if it paid for similar advertising.
The idea for the partnership came about when the charity decided to offer the contents of a book about the charity’s first 40 years to a media partner.
The publication, called Anthony Nolan: 40 Years of Saving Lives, contains what the charity describes as "a treasure trove of inspiring photos, heart-warming stories, expert comment and celebrity interviews".
Trinity Mirror was an obvious choice as a media partner for the charity because of its ad-hoc relationship with the group going back as far as 1979, when Mirror Books published the memoir of Shirley Nolan.
She had in 1974 set up the Anthony Nolan Register, named after her son, who had a rare inherited blood disorder that only a bone marrow transplant could cure. He died in 1979, aged eight, still waiting for a suitable donor.
The charity asked Trinity Mirror for a meeting last autumn and showed its regional editorial director the book. What happened next exceeded all its expectations.
The book started a deeper partnership that involved matching the charity’s case studies with Trinity Mirror’s regional titles, allowing the media firm to launch an appeal with local resonance on a national scale.
So is this unprecedented form of charity partnership the new holy grail for charities? Vicky Browning, director of CharityComms, the membership body for charity communications professionals, says the deal goes beyond previous media or corporate partnerships and forms a new type of arrangement.
"Charities often underestimate the value of their content, yet they’ve got far more interesting stories to tell than Coca-Cola," she says. "This deal is as good an opportunity for Trinity Mirror as it is for Anthony Nolan. Trinity gets great content, great employee engagement, great cross-channel opportunities and an enriched experience for readers."
Carolan Davidge, director of communications at Cancer Research UK, highlights the advantages of what Anthony Nolan has achieved. "Editorial partnerships are an incredibly valuable way for charities to raise awareness of their work," she says.
A spokesman for the RSPB says that the coverage could be very valuable, but sounds a note of caution. "There is a risk that this will affect the coverage your organisation receives from other media outlets," he says. "It is also important to consider whether there is a risk of your partner media outlet becoming involved with another organisation or with an issue that runs counter to your own objectives."
Once a charity forms a partnership with a media outlet, there can also be the danger of a lack of editorial control; but Anthony Nolan is sanguine about the prospects for
"We’ve worked closely with Trinity Mirror on national interviews and messaging, and they have taken the time to develop a good understanding of our work, so coverage will be on-brand without us having to approve each and every article," an Anthony Nolan spokeswoman says.