WORKSHOP: Case Study - McAndrew heightens DEBRA's profile


Background: DEBRA provides care for people with EB, a genetic and very painful skin condition where the skin blisters and breaks at the slightest touch. The charity also funds extensive research into the cause and a cure for EB. This year is DEBRA's 25th anniversary and the charity wanted to use this hook to build an awareness-raising campaign.

The charity had a DEBRA Week from June 21-28, a relatively quiet week in terms of national events. DEBRA recruited PR agency Biss Lancaster for six months, with a remit to attract celebrity support and get the charity into the national and regional press. Because of the emotive nature of the cause, DEBRA has been fairly successful in the past at attracting celebrity support, but Biss Lancaster introduced model Nell McAndrew to the charity as a new supporter.

Aims: The main aim was to create as much national awareness about DEBRA as possible, so that the organisation would become more widely known and attract more funding. The charity was aiming for mass appeal, to match the charity's supporter profile.

How it worked: During DEBRA Week, a 'Butterfly Release' photocall with Nell McAndrew and some young children with EB was held at Hyde Park. The charity chose a butterfly release because children with EB are known as the 'butterfly children', because the fragility of their skin can be compared to that of a butterfly's wing. Similar releases also took place with EB children in Liverpool with Ken Dodd and in Leeds with Nicola Wheeler from Emmerdale.

The Hyde Park event was featured in the following day's Daily Star and The Sun, in Heat magazine, and several local and regional newspapers.

At the photocall, McAndrew wore a necklace that spelt out DEBRA, and later wore it at at the Hulk preview and was featured in The Sun. The pictures also appeared in New, Heat and Now! magazines, which revealed "the mystery of the necklace". The Evening Standard carried a story about McAndrew's support for the charity, and Best magazine interviewed a family affected by EB. At the end of week, supporting celebrities were featured in the Sunday Mirror's M Celebs supplement.

The contract with Biss Lancaster ended in August, but the press coverage had a snowball effect as journalists continued to make contact with DEBRA.

Further features appeared in the Daily Express, on Radio 4's Home Truths, and Carlton Central News.

As well as the awareness raising, the charity promoted 'The biggest dinner party in the world', whereby individuals were urged to put on a dinner or BBQ from June until September and charge guests.

Results: DEBRA estimates that coverage of the campaign was worth around £50,000, and the 'biggest dinner party' initiative brought in around £20,000.

Nell McAndrew's recruitment was vital to the success of the campaign.

Philippa Stannard, fundraising development manager, said: "The cause is often not enough to get into the press and having Nell on board has been key. It has been crucial to have a range of case studies, children and families, who are happy to be photographed and talk to the media."

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