Interview: Sherry Adhami

The director of communications at Beatbullying talks about taking the charity's latest campaign international

Beatbullying's Big March campaign
Beatbullying's Big March campaign

Beatbullying's Big March, one of the most successful digital campaigns ever organised by a charity, is returning in 2012. Last year's event, which culminated in the delivery of a petition to Nick Clegg, the deputy Prime Minister, during Anti-Bullying Week in November 2010, attracted 900,000 supporters.

The next one, scheduled to take place in March, aims to recruit more international supporters and deliver a petition to the United Nations.

Sherry Adhami, director of communications at Beatbullying, has been heavily involved in both campaigns.

She says one of the main reasons for the campaign's success is its accessibility. "Bullying affects everyone and most people want to support action against it," she says. "The Big March enables them to do it - anytime, anywhere they want."

But it also has a lot to do with the charity's ability to understand young people, new media and campaigning.

The idea grew out of the charity's CyberMentors social networking site, where young people can discuss bullying online with trained mentors.

The march built on this by getting supporters to create their own avatars and sign a petition urging the government to take action.

The avatars then marched across the websites of 63 partner organisations, including Google, YouTube and the Office of the Children's Commissioner, before delivering the petition online to Number 10. This was accompanied by a deputation from the charity that handed a hard copy to Clegg at the Cabinet Office.

The campaign cost £35,000 and generated £176,000 in donations as well as increasing awareness of bullying and contributing to changes in education policy.

It subsequently won numerous accolades, including the Use of Digital Media award at this year's Third Sector Excellence Awards.

Adhami says the success made a second march inevitable. "We created a movement," she says. "We gave an eight-year-old old girl in Plymouth the chance to stand up and say 'I care about my friends'. Once you create that kind of platform you can never take it back."

She says that more than 4,000 people from Brazil alone have already pledged their support for the Big March 2012.

Beatbullying is still recruiting partners. Adhami says Universal Music will be among them but won't name others - however, more third sector organisations are likely to be involved.

Will it attract as many supporters as last time? "All I can say is there will be more than one million people and it will be brilliant," says Adhami.

"It's a campaign of the people, for the people. We really don't know exactly what will happen. It's up to supporters."

The march has shown how a relatively small charity, founded only 10 years ago by Emma-Jane Cross, can use digital media to secure the kind of exposure that traditionally only large charities could achieve through expensive offline campaigns.

What can other charities learn from it? "Think big," says Adhami. "And do it. Don't be afraid. There are so many campaigns that you sometimes need to change the formula."

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