'Our target audience was the entire public'

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the Children's Society, describes how the charity grabbed media attention with its report on childhood

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive, the Children's Society
Bob Reitemeier, chief executive, the Children's Society

If it wasn't for the snow, the publication of the Children's Society's much anticipated report into what makes a good childhood would probably have been the biggest story in the UK last Monday.

The report generated the kind of publicity that would make most charities green with envy. So how did the Children's Society do it?

Bob Reitemeier, chief executive of the society, said the buzz around the final publication of A Good Childhood was created by regular planning and communication throughout the three-year inquiry on which the report is based.

"Your communications strategy depends on your objectives," he said. "Ours was a sustained change to the way society values and treats children. This can be addressed only at a national level, so we knew straight away that our target audience was the entire public. Our strategy was to stimulate as much discussion as possible."

The charity launched the inquiry in 2006 with an advertising campaign that invited people to submit evidence. It generated more than 2,500 submissions. The society continued to collect data and developed a multimedia campaign to reach young people, which included a partnership with BBC children's programme Newsround.

The charity held panel meetings to discuss new evidence and published summary reports after each one. "We sent press releases to our stakeholders and highlighted issues likely to interest the public - sometimes because they were contentious," he said. An example was the study of what children thought about working mothers.

The charity also distributed postcards to schools so children younger than five could express their views through drawings. It organised focus groups targeting hard-to-reach, disadvantaged children and young people, such as those in prison.

Reitemeier said the decision to publish the report as a Penguin paperback was part of a desire to communicate with the general public. "We knew we could reach the mainstream if we put the results out on the high street," he said. "Serialisation in The Sunday Times paved the way for even greater media hype around publication."

Recommendations to decision makers were included in the final report. Reitemeier is optimistic about the impact charities can have on government policy. "Organisations often benefit from lobbying together to advocate change," he said. "We are privileged in that our country and government are willing to listen.

"Charities are incredibly influential when they present their messages coherently."

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