Interview: The art of thinking big

Beatbullying chief executive Emma-Jane Cross is running a small charity at the forefront of virtual campaigning.

Emma-Jane Cross
Emma-Jane Cross

Beatbullying portrays itself as a 21st century charity in every sense, and there's plenty of evidence to support that.

Many might think that sending out their monthly newsletter by email is the height of progress, but Beatbullying already has its own online soap opera, which reveals what it's like to work for the charity from day to day.

In November last year, it became the first organisation to partner with Google to set up a Beatbullying YouTube channel, which rapidly became the third most viewed collection of videos on the site, amassing 400,000 hits. Not bad for a medium-sized charity with just 20 permanent employees on the payroll.

"Think big and compromise later - that's my motto," says Emma-Jane Cross, the infectiously enthusiastic founder and chief executive of Beatbullying. "Just because of our size, why shouldn't Google listen to us? Too many charities are stuck in the 20th century, or even further back, in terms of their way of thinking."

Cross and her team came up with the concept for the channel and pitched it to Google. Then came the soap, which is called Palace, a rhyming reference to the popular 80s TV series that gave us JR and the Ewing clan, and also to the charity's location in Crystal Palace, south London. Three episodes have already been broadcast on the YouTube channel, attracting 3,109 viewers, and 12 more will be released this year. Cross promises the soap will tackle controversial issues head on.

Her next project is another first - the launch in September of Cyber Mentors, a scheme to tackle online bullying. After years of hard lobbying, Beatbullying is also hoping to run a pilot scheme to prevent bullying in schools, commissioned by the Government. Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, recently announced that the scheme was likely to be one of the recipients of a share of £3m of funding.

"We had no luck with Tony Blair," says Cross. "But when we knew that Gordon Brown was going to replace him, we spent a year talking quietly to his aides, instead of constantly criticising the Government in the press.

"I knew if we could just get Brown to come and visit one of our projects, which he eventually did, he would be won over. I've been in meetings with other charities where they keep talking about the problems, but we wanted to show that we had the solution."

Beatbullying keeps its finger on the pulse of youth culture by ensuring it talks to its target audience. There are three teenagers on its board, and it has youth committees that advise on areas such as technology. It also has high-profile celebrity supporters such as singer Victoria Beckham and TV presenter Graham Norton.

"I would prefer it if we didn't have to use celebrities to access the media," says Cross.

"But there's a bottom line that we cannot change. We monitor and brief our celebrity supporters carefully. Although we get offers, we are not afraid to turn people down. If we are not sure about someone, we ask the young advisers for their opinions."

Beatbullying hopes to extend its youth involvement further by introducing apprenticeships for young people. Cross is proud of the charity's record for taking on and nurturing those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Indeed, good HR practice is something she feels is of paramount importance, and she sees her staff as the secret of the charity's success.

"Most of the people who work for Beatbullying have been with us from the start," she says. "We have almost no staff turnover and people rarely take time off sick. When people are passionate about their work and are treated fairly, they work harder."

Cross CV

1999: Founder and chief executive, Beatbullying
1998: Management consultant
1993: Academic and lecturer in social policy and research methods, Roehampton, Surrey and Westminster universities

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