Category Archives: Communications

Pauline’s story

“In his day he had jet black curly hair and he had beautiful eyes, real chocolate-brown eyes”.

Real stories by real people make for engaging campaigns.

You can have all the statistics, experts and cartoon characters you want, but for an awareness campaign nothing comes close to the power of personal testimony.

I don’t mean the infomercial and Internet creations that we are all now programmed to tune out, along with most of the other rubbish that’s pushed relentlessly at us through various communications channels all day long.

I mean genuine and sincere testimony, one that people can connect with or – better again – can’t help connecting with, on an emotional level.

This rule applies to all organisations, from companies to NGOs, but is routinely ignored in favour of gimmicks.

People will always listen to other people first, as long as they are real people with real stories. It’s that simple. Some key communications rules are no different for social media or newspapers than they are for television or radio.

Pauline Bell, who lives in Piercestown, Wexford, tells her story, and that of her husband George, in a moving new ad for a HSE campaign to encourage people to quit smoking.

The QUIT campaign focuses on one key fact: 1 in every 2 smokers will die of a tobacco related disease. but crucially it uses real people, the words of those left behind, to bring that fact to life.

“Evidence from all over the world has shown the impact that real-life, personal stories, like Pauline and George’s, can have on smokers’ drive to quit,” said Dr Fenton Howell from the HSE, correctly diagnosing the problem with many other campaigns.

There are, of course, lots of other ways to engage people, like giving them something to enjoy, as I have discussed here, but for awareness campaigns specifically none of them pack the same punch as personal testimony.

Pauline’s honesty, love for her husband and heartbreak are palpable in the three-minute video above.

In the well shot video, the loneliness of life without George is clearly reflected, not just by her words, but by the emptiness and quietness of her home, where her husband once used to sit watching Bond films or listening to Christy Moore songs while doing the ironing.

George, a heavy smoker, was just 48 years old when he died from a heart attack while they were enjoying a holiday in Alicante just over three years ago, leaving behind not just Pauline, but their children Darragh and Rachel.

I don’t smoke, but if I did this video would give me serious pause for thought.

I spoke to Pauline earlier today and she told me she was approached the HSE to participate in the campaign after she joined their Facebook page aimed at people trying to quit smoking, currently approaching 14,000 “likes”.

Pauline said she only smoked about 20 cigarettes a week before George died. He was the much heavier smoker out of the two of them.

However, following his death she began smoking more heavily, despite the fact that this was precisely what led to him being taken from her far too early.

Grief and logic are strange bedfellows.

“I started smoking more after he died than I did before. it’s not good enough for me to say that, but for the first year I was in no man’s land, I was just about functioning,” said Pauline.

However, she said it eventually dawned on her that she had started smoking heavily and for the sake of her own health and her children she sought help to quit the habit, joining the HSE’s Facebook page for support.

“I found it was a great help, talking to other people in a similar position. I was talking to people about George too. Quitting smoking is a hard thing to do, even after a death in the family. It’s been a struggle but I’m getting there,” she said.

Click here for further info on the campaign.


Engaging the living and the living dead

We were taking a stroll in sunny Dublin on Saturday when we noticed an unusually high volume of the “living dead” in the city centre.

Now I’m not about to make some grand philosophical point about our society, I’m talking about the real deal here – zombies!

We quickly ascertained, through excellent investigative work (asking people!), that all the zombies were making their way – slowly, purposefully and menacingly – towards St Stephen’s Green for a charity walk in aid of two very worthy causes, the Irish Cancer Society and the RNLI.

The sight of these kind-hearted zombies out in the sunshine certainly turned a lot of heads as the city was teeming with shoppers and visitors from early morning.

Being a brave blogger, I decided to venture into the heart of the darkness in St Stephen’s Green just before the zombie walk was due to begin.

There were a large number of zombies there and the majority of them had gone to great lengths to ensure they were as convincing as possible. The make-up and costumes were great and I was very impressed by their efforts, particularly those committed few who stayed in character and were a lot of fun to watch.

Second only to zombies in head count terms were photographers, of the professional and passerby variety, including yours truly until my phone really got into the spirit of things and died! It was easy to see why so many snappers went along. It really was quite the spectacle and everyone was more than happy to pose and show off their scary side.

The attention that this event garnered throughout the day (many people stayed in costume and we even saw some zombies at a gig in Marlay Park that night) is a  great example of  how engaging a fundraising campaign can be.

Charities are operating in a crowded market and in a hugely challenging environment where there’s a greater demand on their front line services, while people have less money in their pockets to donate.

Putting the FUN into fundraising (if you’ll please pardon the pun) is a surefire way of engaging people. The zombie walk did that, as did the recent “Where’s Wally” world record attempts, which I took part in myself.

That particular fundraiser took place in different locations in Ireland (Cork, Laois and Dublin) in conjunction with the Street Performance World Championships (SPWC) and was designed to keep that entertaining event a free one for us all to enjoy, with a portion of the €12 cost for each Wally costume also donated to Africa Aware. Last year the SPWC went for a mass space hopper world record as their fundraiser and it worked quite well too. Also, see this previous post for another good example.

Saturday’s event in Dublin was good fun and it wasn’t just for sci-fi fans and goths I should point out! It was a real family event and there was a great mix of people taking part, as well as a fantastic atmosphere. Zombies get bad press, but the ones I met were lovely!

I’m not suggesting that a fundraiser has to involve fancy dress or mass gatherings of zombies or children’s book characters etc. and I’m not advocating gimmicks either, I’m simply making the case for good ideas.

A good idea can elevate your campaign, whatever it pertains to, into the minds of a public incessantly battered with more messages than we’ve ever had to cope with before. Harnessing good will is not as easy as you might imagine, you need to be engaging.

If you can capture someone’s attention – and more importantly their imagination – you not only boost vital fundraising, but also greatly increase the awareness of the excellent, life-changing and life-saving work that so many charitable organisations in Ireland are carrying out at home and abroad.

Now I’m well aware of the great work of the RNLI and the Irish Cancer Society, but if I hadn’t seen zombies wandering around on Saturday I wouldn’t have known there was a fundraising walk on for them. I wouldn’t have been there to put a few bob in the bucket either.

The two events I’ve mentioned here also did something else very important. They engaged far more young people than most other fundraisers in Ireland do. There were fresh faces (behind the zombie make-up!) everywhere on Saturday. Just what any charity wants to see as it looks to increase awareness and build relationships.

Charities, no matter how big or small and whether they are local, national or international are tasked with an increasingly difficult mission in communicating clearly the great work they do and the results they achieve with your donations. This message should not be trivialised in any way.

But, while your work may be hugely important, to combat information fatigue and get people to participate in your fundraisers you’ve got to ask a key question: “what makes us stand out from the crowd?”

Though, as is always the case in life, bear in mind that whatever you do, not everyone will be happy – particularly if you mastermind the invasion of a tranquil and sunny St Stephen’s Green by the living dead…