Hedgehog Hall of Fame: Acceleris - Keeping heart surgery in Yorkshire
29th August 2013
Children’s Heart Surgery Fund – keeping heart surgery in Yorkshire
Not for Profit Campaign of the Year - North - WINNER
Community Engagement Campaign of the Year - North - Shortlisted
The government has set out its intention to rationalise the number of centres performing children’s heart surgery in a national consultation entitled: “Safe and Sustainable”. Yorkshire’s surgical unit, based at Leeds General Infirmary (LGI), only appeared in one of the four consultation options.
If the Leeds unit was to close, the children who require life-saving surgery each year would have to travel hundreds of miles to get that treatment. This could put their lives in even greater jeopardy.
The campaign has achieved unprecedented support demonstrated by 600,000 people signing a petition, high profile media coverage and significant interest in the outcome of the review.
Three objectives were set for the campaign:
- Save the Leeds children’s heart unit
- Change the options presented in the consultation document
- Establish a link between children’s and adult congenital heart surgery
Objectives set for the PR campaign were:
Strategy & Target Audience
- Ensure a high profile campaign remains in Yorkshire with hearts and minds activity
- Highlight the flaws and inaccuracies in the review
- Ultimately save the unit
Presenting a consistent argument delivered in an authentic voice
Developing a simple and persuasive argument was a key undertaking.
Raise awareness across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire
It was important to raise awareness of the unit’s plight across the whole of the catchment area. This required a high impact campaign including bought media, classic PR activity both regionally and nationally, stunts and on-line presence.
The emotive subject matter, photogenic subjects and coherent arguments make this story attractive to journalists. Local News magazine programmes BBC Look North and ITV Calendar regularly follow the campaign and documentary “Inside Out” devoted a twenty minute special to the campaign. The results day saw 11 local and national print, broadcast and radio programmes recording from the ward at the LGI.
Creating a movement to ‘save our surgery’
Success depends on the ability to create an active region-wide movement which begins to replicate our arguments without being prompted to do so. Simple arguments and a high profile start lit the blue touch paper. A series of demonstrations and rallies have been organised to demonstrate the strength of support this campaign enjoys. We worked with minority radio stations and publications and secured the support of all faith groups and the BME community. Every part of the community has come together; Yorkshire’s business leaders and companies have been generous supporters of the campaign giving time and energy to the campaign. We have also enjoyed the support of campaigning journalists and newspapers across the region.
Placing the review under political pressure
Councillors from the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee have been persuaded to refer the review process to the Secretary of State for Health on the strength of our argument. Led by Stuart Andrew, the region’s MPs have supported Early Day Motions, asked Parliamentary and Prime Minister’s Questions, taken part in a 2 hour debate in the House of Commons and organised a series of meetings with ministers and campaigned cross-party on our behalf. Our representatives in the House of Lords have also support the campaign.
Most of the activities undertaken have not required financial backing, however, a campaign of this magnitude does require funding. Our aim throughout has been to replenish charity funds through supporting donations. We have been successful thanks to local supporters, philanthropists and commercial partners.
Acceleris took over the PR campaign in September 2011 when an initial decision was due in November. An immediate piece of creative activity was agreed to reinvigorate the campaign within the region. Almost 100 patients, parents, supporters and MPs donned red t-shirts and caps to stand together to create the image of a ‘human heart’. The activity attracted every major regional press and broadcast including Look North, Calendar, BBC radio Leeds and the Yorkshire Post.
Shortly after this, Acceleris worked with a parent who runs a choir to draft a new version of the Elton John and Kiki Dee classic ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ which was recorded at a studio and media was invited to the event to film rehearsals as well as interviews with key charity members.
Highlighting the flaws and inaccuracies
A visual representation of the gap which would be left in Yorkshire if the unit was to close was created with a ‘black hole’ over Yorkshire. This image was issued to the media with a press release highlighting the flaws and inaccuracies in the review. The image was used across various other platforms including social media and at the demonstration.
The initial consultation wasn’t available in any other language than English until five weeks before the closing date. Black, minority and ethnic communities have a higher rate of congenital heart defects and yet the community was not offered the same consultation opportunities. A photo was set up with key community members and issued with a press release with quotes from the representatives to highlight another flaw in the process.
The decision was finally made on 4th July 2012 and Safe and Sustainable decided to close surgery in Leeds. Acceleris set up a media centre in the office and two staff members attended the ward where a studio was set up for all attending media and another staff member attended the decision in London with key charity staff. Acceleris co-ordinated all media activity and interviews that day and issued a media statement following the decision (which was given very late in the day). Decision day coverage exceeded 100 cuttings.
Following the decision day a demonstration was arranged in Leeds City Centre which Acceleris publicised with the charity. Acceleris utilised the Twitter feed and Facebook page as well as traditional press to publicise the activity. The demonstration was an opportunity for the Yorkshire community to come together and express their disappointment in the decision as well as showing that the charity would continue to fight the decision.
The charity already had a Facebook page which was very active with parents using it as a support network. Acceleris was able to utilise the page to share important information on the campaign and also enlist people for media interviews. The Twitter feed is a useful tool to connect with media, supporters and celebrities to share the campaign among a wider audience.
Acceleris developed the ‘Fighting Fund’ concept to target local businesses and individuals to pledge money to the campaign to support a potential judicial review should the decision not be overturned in a referral to the secretary of state.
Direct Media Results
Acceleris has generated nearly 300 pieces of coverage in the 12 months of activity including numerous TV appearances for the client. Additional radio, TV and offline coverage was generated but not captured so the figure would be much higher.
- Nearly 500 million opportunities to see across on and offline coverage.
- Equivalent advertising value equated to nearly £750,000 which is a return on investment of 17:1.
- The fighting fund has so far raised £40,000 to support the campaign.
- The lawyer which represented the Royal Brompton Hospital in London in its judicial review against the decision praised the strength of the publicity around the Leeds unit highlighting its importance in supporting a legal challenge.
- More than 3,000 people attended the peaceful demonstration in Leeds along with media from across the region.
Wider Outcomes against our Objectives
• We have not deviated from our simple messages.
• The campaign has dominated the health and general news agenda in the region for 12 months.
• The campaign has demonstrated higher public support than any other regional health campaign in history collecting over 600,000 signatures in support of the unit.
• The charity has created political pressure, including debating the matter with the Prime Minister.
• Raised significant funds to off-set costs.
• The decision brought disappointment, however, the charity is confident of securing referral of the review to the Secretary of State for Health and that the decision will be overturned. Acceleris will continue to provide media support across all areas.
• The options have been redesigned.
Presentation highlighting all activity from September 2011 http://prezi.com/6mxl30iyuuks/present/?auth_key=eoi94sp&follow=podmbfsx5njp
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