Interview: Vivienne Francis

The communications director of Prostate Cancer UK says the charity made a decision to 'man up' and make its campaign appeal more directly to men

Vivienne Francis of Prostate Cancer UK
Vivienne Francis of Prostate Cancer UK

Vivienne Francis is the woman leading Prostate Cancer UK's move to 'man up' the way it communicates with supporters.

The charity changed its name from the Prostate Cancer Charity in 2012 as part of a rebranding to become bolder, more direct and unashamedly masculine. This has included a striking new colour palette of black, blue and white, a "man of men" logo depicting one man made up of lots of little ones and a new business partnership with the Football League.

"It is about blokes supporting blokes," Francis, the charity's director of communications, says. Before the rebrand, the charity kept men at a distance, she says: "We would talk about 'men with prostate cancer and their wives, family or friends'. We wanted to put men firmly in the centre of what we do and empower them to take control of their own health. We made a decision to 'man up'."

Francis joined Prostate Cancer UK in 2008 as head of media and PR from Sue Ryder, which supports people with incurable illnesses, where she had been head of PR. Her advice for other charities that want to overhaul the way they communicate with supporters is "take a long, hard look in the mirror, see how you are coming across and get to know the gap between that and what the people you are there for want from you".

Its latest campaign, the testosterone-fuelled Men United, epitomises the new approach and seems to be having the desired effect: 74,000 people - among them three times as many men as women - signed up in the first two weeks by taking an online quiz about prostate cancer. Quizzers can then opt in to receiving information from the charity: about 65 per cent of sign-ups pledged to take further action, the charity says.

The campaign was launched at the Football League HQ in London by the charity's ambassador, the comedian Bill Bailey, who also fronted 2013's awareness-raising appeal the Sledgehammer Fund, and other high-profile men, including the actor Damian Lewis, star of the TV series Homeland, and the former England rugby captain Will Carling. An integrated print and digital campaign runs until the end of March and the charity aims to reach 96 per cent of men and women aged over 45 in the UK.

Although the campaign targets men, it is also reaching women: the disease is presented as something that affects fathers and husbands. Francis says she is not concerned that men who don't fall into the football-loving, blokey stereotype will be put off. "We chose Men United because it is such a broad concept," she says. "We have other plans in the pipeline, but this one is general enough to be inclusive."

The campaign hammers home the facts - 40,000 men are diagnosed with this "dad's disease" every year, and 10,000 die. But research is badly underfunded, leaving tests and treatments trailing behind those for other common cancers, and survival rates in the UK are below the European average.

"I don't think it takes a man to lead a campaign for men," says Francis. "You've just got to tap into what they respond to and make sure you are hitting that. Whoever the audience is, look at how they communicate and become a part of that."

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