NEWSMAKER: The shock tactician - John Grounds, Director of communications, NSPCC


The NSPCC is Britain's fifth-biggest charity advertiser in terms of the value of media time and space used. But in terms of the techniques used, and the controversy aroused - and perhaps even courted - by its advertising, the NSPCC behaves more than any other charity like a mainstream consumer marketer. Its latest advertisements, created by Saatchi %26 Saatchi and showing a cartoon boy being beaten by a human father with a soundtrack of canned applause in the background, have provoked more than 100 complaints to the Independent Television Commission. But that has only served to raise the organisation's profile even further.

The man responsible for taking the NSPCC's Full Stop campaign into its next phase is John Grounds. He joined the organisation in January as head of communications. That means he is responsible not only for advertising but also for brand management, internal communications and public relations.

Hardly a week has gone by in which he has not been in the news, not least in dealing with the difficult questions raised by the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie. The inquiry heard that the NSPCC was one of a number of organisations that had been in a position to take action that might have prevented the child's tragic death.

"The fact that we could have done something that might have helped and missed the opportunity is not something that we feel at all good about.

Thankfully, it is not a charge that is laid regularly at the NSPCC's door, and we have apologised publicly. But people in the organisation were hurt by the fact that we got a lot more attention than other bodies which arguably were in a better position to do something."

The fact that the NSPCC's role in the Climbie case was leaped upon by the press with more relish than might have been warranted is quite predictable.

The organisation's high profile - and the moral high ground marked out by advertising which says it is unacceptable not to do anything about child abuse - has made it an easy target when things don't go quite to plan.

Grounds is quite unapologetic, however, about the NSPCC's media activity, and he is grateful for its high profile. "We currently have the highest ever levels of awareness of abuse of children, and depth of understanding of the issues,

he says. "The public awareness campaigning that we do is not something that can be separated from the delivery of services.

We seek to end cruelty to children, and one way to do that is to reach out loudly to as many people as possible. Our public education and campaigning activity is as important as any other part of our work - as important as national or local services."

The purpose of the "real children don't bounce back

ads that ran through March (Third Sector, 20 March) was to start to move the public from awareness to action. Despite the widespread awareness, says Grounds, there is a kind of "action paralysis". "People don't know what they should do if they become aware of a case of abuse, they're worried about what the implications might be for them, or about getting it wrong. We're saying it's not acceptable to do nothing, and if you really don't know what to do, call us,

he says.

It marked the beginning of the second phase of the Full Stop campaign that has been going since 1999, and is likely to run for the next three years. "Full Stop is not a campaign that is here today and gone tomorrow. It's not just an advertising campaign, it's not just fundraising, and it's not lobbying. Full Stop is what the NSPCC does,

he says.

Grounds firmly rejects any suggestion that the advertising and other awareness raising activity surrounding Full Stop might have come to overshadow the other, face-to-face work that the NSPCC does. The fundraising that has accompanied Full Stop has been as much to pay for on-the-ground services as for the advertising itself.

The latest TV ad campaign cost £2 million. The NSPCC's spending on direct services, however, increased from £36 million in 2001 to £45 million this financial year. But just as important, says Grounds, have been the organisational changes that have been made over the past few years. "We've been through a reorganisation of services across the UK to make them more co-ordinated and easier to manage, and to be in line with our targets as an organisation."

Although calls to the NSPCC helpline doubled over the course of the latest round of advertising, Grounds is quick to point out that the NSPCC is only one of many ports of call, including the police and social services.

"It is important that a campaign like this is done in conjunction with other agencies and we were careful to talk to all of those before embarking on it. The impact is not just on us."

He is sensitive to suggestions that the NSPCC runs the danger of leaving smaller children's charities buffeted in its wake as it charges ahead with raising its own public profile. The NSPCC is now such a strong brand that it sucks in donations that may in the past have been spread out among many organisations. It is also one of the favourite charities for companies to be associated with.

"It is true that Full Stop has raised the game in terms of competitiveness between charities. The development of charities as brands is one of the main areas in which the voluntary sector has changed over the past few years. The NSPCC has been prominent in that, although it is certainly not the only one.

"But we are not trying to distance ourselves from other charities. We do seek to work and have relationships with other organisations, large, medium and small,

says Grounds.


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