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The power of PR

Having a platform can make campaigns and messages infinitely more powerful, which is particularly helpful for charities wishing to raise awareness of their cause.

Look at the strength of public feeling when Captain Sir Tom Moore walked 100 lengths of his garden. His fundraiser came at the right time in the pandemic, which helped him raise more than his initial goal of £1,000.

His feat was challenging, given his age, but as examples of physical endurance go, it probably wouldn’t have been remarkable had his grandson done the same, for example. Captain Sir Tom Moore’s fundraising wasn’t really about the laps he completed with his mobility aid; it was his attitude that appealed to the public. He became an unofficial mascot of the pandemic—he represented the work the doctors and nurses selflessly carried out during the early days of Covid. Because funding for the NHS is collected via our national insurance contributions and taxes, it’s not able to accept financial donations directly. However, NHS Charities Together is an organisation that exists to accept donations for equipment and treatments that are not part of the NHS’s provision. It was on behalf of this organisation that Captain Sir Tom Moore raised more than £32m.

person putting bank notes into a fundraising pot

Rob Burrow, the rugby league star, is often in the news. He played his last match in 2017, at the age of 35, and he went public with his diagnosis of Motor Neurone Disease just two years later. Rather than hide behind closed doors, Burrow, with the help of friends, family, and team-mates like Kevin Sinfield, committed to raising £5m for charities associated with MND. Though he has now lost his mobility and even his speech, through technology and, again, lots of support from those around him, he continues to raise funds and awareness of the disease.

Deborah James is another person that made a difference and who used their platform to do good. Diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 35, she spent the next five years raising funds for bowel cancer charities and boosting awareness of the disease’s symptoms. She began a podcast, entitled ‘You, Me and the Big C’, and launched the Bowelbabe fund under the umbrella of Cancer Research. In her podcast, she talked about her condition, about her treatments…she even talked candidly about facing death. Her vivaciousness, her positive attitude and her energy saw her notoriety grow, which further amplified her message.

Her initial prognosis was that she had Stage 3 cancer, but this quickly turned to Stage 4. Interest in Deborah and her story increased significantly when it was announced that she had stopped accepting medical treatment and that she was coming home for her final days. Such was her zest for life, her style and beauty, it was only in the last few weeks of her life that it was conceivable to believe she had a terminal illness. Deborah was made a dame in her last few weeks, and she still found the energy and determination to implore the public to watch for symptoms of the disease, even though she knew it was too late for her.

Deborah’s commitment to saving the lives of others helped her raise more than £7m for her Bowelbabe fund. On the day of her death, visitors to NHS websites, searching for information about bowel cancer symptoms, topped 23,000. In a typical day, this figure would be around 2,000. This was the impact of Deborah’s story.

The power of a platform is amazing, and charities benefit greatly from people with a voice raising awareness of campaigns and conditions. Whilst a celebrity ambassador is always valuable, to have a celebrity/prominent person who has lived experience of your cause is even more powerful when it comes to getting in the media, introductions to other influential people and raising awareness of an issue/condition amongst the general public.

women interviewing man holding a microphone towards him.

It's always sad when someone in the public eye receives a diagnosis, but this just serves to emphasise that serious illnesses, for example, doesn’t discriminate; famous, not famous, rich, poor, old, young…it doesn’t matter.

Of course, not every famous/prominent person wants to shout about their condition—which is absolutely fine. People deal with things in their own way. Few people knew David Bowie, Steve Jobs, or Alan Rickman were suffering with cancer until they succumbed to the disease. Though it wasn’t the cause of Robin Williams’ death, his wife said his diagnosis of Parkinson’s was the catalyst, yet no one outside of his family knew what he was going through until after he’d gone.

Conversations can still be had posthumously, of course, but you’ve to tread carefully if using a celebrity death to amplify your message—more so if it’s a recent passing. Respect is requisite, and piggybacking on such news could do more harm than good to your cause if it’s not handled in the right way.


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