Focus: Fundraising - Case study - Controversial statue proves a success

Ashley Mastandrea


Last March, the mental health charity Rethink attracted 123 new members and achieved national news coverage when it unveiled a nine-foot statue of former prime minister Winston Churchill in a straitjacket. But the controversial statue, launched midway through a one-month, PR-led campaign, was removed after only three days.


The Anti-Discrimination Site pilot was designed to prove that PR-led campaigns would work to raise awareness and shift attitudes towards mental health in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Norwich was chosen for the pilot because it has higher-than-average per capita usage of antidepressants and incidence of self-harm.


The integrated campaign began with a media briefing featuring Norman Smith, the regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, talking about his experience of suicidal thoughts.

Posters, radio adverts and leaflets promoted a two-week mental health fair in Norwich city centre, a display at the public library and a book signing at the local Borders bookshop with Zoe McIntosh, author of From Goldfish Bowl to Ocean, a collection of stories about people with mental illness.

Midway through the campaign, the Churchill statue was unveiled at a shopping centre. Leaflets explained the representation of the greatest Briton struggling against and overcoming his own problems of depression.

The statue was criticised by some who considered it a misrepresentation of the former prime minister, and was taken down after three days at the request of the property owner.

Door drops, face-to-face and door-to-door fundraising based on the themes of the campaign were carried out in Norwich, where it was thought donors were better informed about and felt closer to the work of the charity.


Rethink has no regrets about its campaign, saying that the reactions confirmed the depth of prejudice about mental health and showed the need to continue working to reduce it.

The charity reports positive results from the campaign, which helped recruit 123 new members in Norwich during the month and was featured in 172 media pieces. The charity says it improved the public's perception of mental illness.


Rethink's attempt to shift attitudes towards mental illness using a potentially controversial strategy reflects the obvious difficulty in kick-starting a real debate on the issue. Using a PR stunt as leverage for a relatively small budget is a trusted communications technique that makes good sense.

The selection of Churchill as a figurehead to expose the universality of mental illness was always going to attract attention, but in my view it might have backfired. I'd be interested to see the PR coverage it achieved.

As with all stunts of this kind, the danger was that the attention would focus on the stunt rather than the cause. The criticism the statue attracted seems to suggest two parallel debates would have been stimulated - the more important issue of mental illness might have been lost among the indignation.

Interestingly, having dared to pick such a controversial figurehead, the campaign also appears to have lost its nerve elsewhere. After investing so much effort in grabbing attention, it would make sense to integrate the rest of the campaign. But, even on a basic visual level, there is no link between the stunt and the other collateral. If you're going to go for it, it's better to do so wholeheartedly.

Creativity: 3

Delivery: 2


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