NEWS IN FOCUS: Pink ribbons and bangers but check your diary first

Patrick McCurry

The number of organisations running special campaign months, weeks and days is threatening to swamp the calendar. Patrick McCurry finds that the spirit of co-operation can still yield good media coverage.

At the end of this month, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust will launch its third National Sausage Week, to draw attention to the charity's work and raise funds. The link between sausages and Cystic Fibrosis may seem bizarre, but fatty high protein foods, such as sausages, are recommended for people with the disease, and they have the added advantage that they make for fun events and media interest.

But when the charity first ran the campaign it didn't realise there was already a British Sausage Appreciation Week, run by the meat industry.

When the trust found out about the rival event, it got in touch with the commercial sponsors. To prevent public confusion, each side, while continuing with its own campaign, agreed to co-operate so that the events took place in the same week.

The situation highlights the increasingly crowded calendar of awareness campaigns run by both charities and commercial sponsors, focusing on a particular day, week or month. This month alone offers, among many others, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Personal Safety Week, Learn to Sign Week, Leonard Cheshire Week, World Mental Health Day and World Sight Day.

"The past decade has seen a huge increase in the number of such awareness campaigns," says Vicki Ormiston, editor of the Awareness Campaign Register, which tracks events and advises charities on when to run campaigns. "In 1996, our register had about 200 campaigns, but by this year that had reached 500," she says.

Much of the growth is due to the success of campaigns such as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, now in its tenth year. The campaign brings together around 80 breast cancer and cancer charities and raises millions of pounds for them each year. More importantly, it generates wide coverage of the topic in the media.

"We're one of the most well-established campaigns and the pink ribbon has become an internationally recognised emblem," says Sangeeta Haindl, communications director of Breast Cancer Campaign.

Some might question that if the breast cancer charities can come together for an awareness campaign, why they don't merge their other operations to avoid unnecessary duplication? Although Breakthrough Breast Cancer and the UK Breast Cancer Coalition have just announced a merger, Haindl says that the campaign alliance does not presage more formal links among the charities involved.

"Each charity does something different in the field, but it's great that we can come together for this campaign," she says.

Haindl says that, even though the campaign has been running for a decade, there is still strong media interest, particularly in women's magazines.

But for other less established campaigns it can be very difficult to get attention. This is partly because charity awareness campaigns can be drowned out by frivolous but well-marketed commercial campaigns, such as the highly successful National Cleavage Day organised by The Sun and bra manufacturer Gossard a couple of years ago.

"National Cleavage Day got a lot of attention, partly because it was picked up by The Sun, but it only ran for a couple of years, like many commercial campaigns," says Ormiston.

The aim of charity campaigns has changed over the years, she says, with a move away from the traditional doorstep collection towards awareness-raising and developing activity to engage with the corporate sector.

However, Christian Aid, which pioneered awareness campaigns and whose Christian Aid Week has been running for 46 years, continues to focus on house-to-house collections in its campaign.

"We have 300,000 volunteers who help raise around £14m during the course of the week," says Simeon Mitchell, churches fundraising manager at the charity.

But Christian Aid Week is also an opportunity to get stories illustrating the charity's work into the press. "Our media team do a lot of planning in the run-up to Christian Aid Week, such as releasing new reports that will attract publicity," says Mitchell.

He adds that it takes time for an awareness week to build up the supporters and networks on the ground - "but you do need those supporters and that grassroots activity supporting the week, otherwise it's just spin."

Daniel Procter, marketing and communications manager, at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, agrees that volunteer involvement is important. During National Sausage Week local volunteers are encouraged to arrange events such as sausage tasting photo opportunities with regional newspapers, and to include a child with cystic fibrosis in any photographs.

"Photographs such as these increase our name awareness with the public, and having someone with cystic fibrosis in the photo may encourage people to find out more about the disease," he says.

Avoiding clashes with other high-profile campaigns is key to any campaign. Christian Aid Week, for example, is traditionally preceded by Red Cross Week.

Calendar negotiations

"We realised that in 2005 the two campaigns were due to happen in the same week, which would not be to either charity's advantage," says Christian Aid's Mitchell. "So we got together with the Red Cross and had discussions about how we could avoid a clash."

But there are some charities that are able to get more media coverage if their campaigns coincide with others that are in a similar vein but not directly in competition, Ormiston believes.

Mental health charity Mind, for example, wanted to change the date of its awareness week. Ormiston says: "I found out that the week they were looking to change their campaign to also included Missing Persons Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Week. These other campaigns are related to Mind's work, but not in competition, and it's possible journalists will make the link and so be more likely to write articles highlighting the aims of all three."

Back at the Cystic Fibrosis Trust they are hard at work planning another campaign: "Next year is our 40th anniversary, and we're thinking of introducing the theme of 'the big bounce' to our national awareness week," says Procter.

The charity has already been talking to The Sun about publicity.

"We want to get Britain bouncing, because it's good exercise for the public at large and good physiotherapy for people with cystic fibrosis."

Although smaller charities may not have the resources of the big campaigns, Procter says: "It's amazing what you can achieve if you have a good idea that the media and the public pick up on."

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