OPINION: Overkill of awareness weeks

The United Nations ran an international drug awareness week at the end of last month. The Chinese government took the event very seriously and executed 20 drug-traffickers.

Not quite what the UN had in mind I suspect, but at least the week got a mention in the papers which is more than you can say for most of such jamborees.

Here, for example, are some of the events scheduled in the PR bible, Foresight, to run over the next 10 days: National Vegetarian Week, Alzheimer's Awareness Week, World Population Day, Rose Week, National Drink Water Day, Root Out Ragwort Week, Catholic World Youth Day and National Poop Scoop Week.

How many have you heard of? At a casual glance there is a good case to merge some of them - National Poop Scoop and Then Put It On Your Roses Fortnight, for example. And for those like me who never had a pony or even a Josephine Pullein-Thompson novel, ragwort is a plant that poisons horses. The British Horse Society, which organises Root Out Ragwort Week, may consider the press name checks I have just offered as justification for their venture.

So, in PR speak, that's a result, but before they pat themselves and their trusty steeds on the back too fulsomely, I ought to make it plain, in case they've missed my point, that such events are largely a waste of time and money.

Once upon a rainbow, there was the first awareness-raising day or week and it worked triumphantly. On Poppy Day, for example, we still just about manage to stop and reflect on those who died in two world wars. But, as with all good ideas in the third sector, the hordes then piled in and repeated the format so many times that it has become invisible. Now to have a day or week or, God forbid, a month devoted to your cause achieves the very opposite of what is intended. It merely labels that issue as beyond the pale and the press in a world where matters of concern and acute need are confronting us at every turn as a result of more effective campaigns.

PETER STANFORD, a writer and broadcaster. He chaired the trustees of the national disability charity Aspire and now sits on various trustee boards

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