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Putting stroke on the map: a survivor-led approach to transform our cause

20 August 2019

The Stroke Association recently launched its first ever TV-led advertising campaign in a bid to change perceptions and reach more people who need support to rebuild their lives. Here’s how we went about the ‘rebuilding lives’ campaign, and what we learnt:

What needed to change

When I joined the Stroke Association, I embarked on a steep learning curve. Given that someone’s life is turned upside down by stroke every five minutes, it seemed almost unbelievable how little the public knew about it, or the fact that you can make a recovery. This lack of awareness and understanding meant there were so many people out there who weren’t living their best life possible after stroke.

If we were going to reach more people who needed our support, not only did we need to tell more people that we’re here for them, we also needed to win the hearts and minds of potential supporters. We needed to transform stroke into a cause that more people felt compelled to support. As one stroke survivor told us,

I knew you were a charity but I didn’t think you were the sort of charity that you donate to.

Creative process

We worked with AMV/BBDO on the concept. Several of our account team had a connection to stroke, which added extra understanding and passion. We knew we needed to tell our audience something new about stroke (specifically, that it doesn’t just happen to older people); to show the devastation it causes in an instant; and to show how with the right support and a ton of courage, recovery is possible.

The one theme that drove us all was authenticity. Real stroke survivors – Alisha, Baz, Erin, Luna, Max and Paul – took centre stage to share their stories. As Toby Allen, one half of our AMV creative team, said:

We knew nothing we’d come up with would be as powerful as the truth.

We also chose a stroke survivor to direct our advert, award-winning director Lotje Sodderland, who handpicked six artists to vividly visualise our survivors’ description of their stroke. Visual impact was really important for us to stand out from the crowd. It was crucial that we showed the reality of the stroke experiences without the depictions becoming crass or a caricature of the obvious effects that people may already know. So in her selections Lotje needed to consider artistic style, media and how these could relate to the unique experiences of our advert stars.
Finding the stars of our ad was a carefully managed process. We needed to make sure we found a group with diverse experiences, who were happy to be the face of our national TV campaign.

Lotje developed an instant rapport with our final six, accessing thoughts and feelings on film that would have been impossible without her experience of stroke, and ensuring that different needs were acknowledged from the outset.

Delivering the campaign

We used the full mix of paid, owned and earned channels to deliver our campaign.

Our limited budget meant that value for money was everything. Our media agency, PHD, developed a plan based around a partnership with Channel 4, which delivered extra value from a premier spot for our ad during Gogglebox. We also created all our owned channel content in house, using assets provided by AMV. This involved intensive design sprints with regular check ins to make sure we stayed true to the campaign. The approach initially raised eyebrows, but it brought different teams closer together and inspired a level of creativity and understanding that we wouldn’t have achieved using a traditional, more siloed approach.

Our internal engagement and comms plan was key. We built momentum internally with regular intranet updates and a weekly e-newsletter. We delivered briefings for frontline teams. Our hero content pack enabled colleagues to integrate the campaign into their existing communications. And we established clear asks of colleagues to share the campaign with their personal networks.

It all culminated with a launch event, complete with Eurovision-esque link up between our offices across the UK and a visit from one of the stars of our ad. The sense of pride and positivity in reaction to the first screening was overwhelming.

We felt more connected than ever before.

The impact

Launch day was electric – we generated over 1000 tweets and a depth and range of feeling we’d never seen before. Reading them, seeing how our messages were cutting through to new audiences and resonating with existing ones, was amazing.

Stroke Association

Traffic to our website increased by over 70% in the first two weeks and we secured widespread national and regional media coverage.

But what about transforming stroke from a condition to a cause? Well, it’s a bit early to tell. We have to keep reminding ourselves that this is a long game! But everything is pointing in the right direction – we’ve seen some positive movement on metrics like awareness, understanding of stroke and propensity to support. And our fully integrated warm appeal has outperformed previous packs and smashed its target long before the end of the run.

Aside from our main objectives staff ended up feeling part of something bigger, saying:

This showed us at our best.

And possibly my favourite, unexpected outcome has been the fantastic friendship our ad stars now have, and the strength that comes from seeing the change from sharing something so personal:

Last night was unbelievable!! I cried tears I didn’t know I still had in me! The support we’ve had here from shares and comments has been amazing. Thank you so much!

Key lessons learned

1. Make internal engagement a priority, not an afterthought. Your people are a key audience and getting them behind you is vital to spreading your message and practising what you preach in your campaign. Not to mention the other positives of strengthening unity, motivation and pride.

2. Get your agencies together regularly. It might seem obvious, but this can sometimes fall by the wayside. It was really valuable to have weekly status calls in the diary to run through the latest updates. If it takes less time than you’d put aside, even better!

Image: Stroke Association

Jane Maber

head of brand, Stroke Association

Jane is head of brand at the Stroke Association, which supports anyone affected by stroke to rebuild their lives. Her team is responsible for the Rebuilding Lives campaign and embedding brand strategy across the organisation. Jane is passionate about branding from the inside out – developing brand-led cultures to make sure organisations walk the talk.