Trying to get a seat at the political table is as difficult as ever, even if you’ve been in the charity world for a long time.
Take for example Orchid, a male cancer charity established in 1996 by cancer patient Colin Osborne and the oncologist who saved his life. Their aim was to build an organisation that would help deliver better outcomes to generations of men and their families facing a male cancer diagnosis. As part of this approach, they wanted to position the charity as a core player in policy development affecting male cancer, strengthen relationships with stakeholders holding an interest in male cancer, and to help drive education and awareness to patients and the public.
Yet despite having a substantive history and ambition, it is only recently that the charity has been able to enact the political influence they wanted.
First step: clarity
With the help of my communications agency, Spink, Orchid developed a strategy to ensure the ambitious result of gaining political clout was achievable. Therefore, the decision was made to focus specifically on prostate cancer, a growing problem, which needed urgent attention. In addition, we decided to:
- Use available resources and new data to reveal the extent of the issues as well as generate ‘news’ that would make an impact and get the attention of the target audience
- Use the insights to create a cost effective and shareable piece of content for consumers, and disseminate this to stakeholders
- Use multiple media channels to reach the target audience and key influencers to encourage organic dissemination
Together, Spink and Orchid recruited a team of experts to help produce a report that highlighted the potential prostate cancer crisis that the UK faces, unless the Government and healthcare professionals address the issue.
The report highlighted that one man every hour dies from prostate cancer despite it being one of the more treatable types of cancer if diagnosed early. Lack of awareness was a key issue, and therefore Spink commissioned a national survey which found that 1 in 3 men ‘know nothing about prostate cancer’, confirming this view.
This was a significant turning point which reinforced the need for a public educational initiative.
Spink then worked with experts to identify the key areas for consideration that the public needed to be aware of, including the main prostate cancer symptoms. This lead to the creation of the acronym:
Changes in your pee
The “Face up to Prostate Cancer” campaign was formed. Using the acronym, Spink created a physical infographic which was distributed across multiple channels including Twitter, media outlets, politicians identified to have an active interest in health, in person to MPs, the Orchid network and the report itself.
Second step: Building momentum
There was an overwhelming response to the ‘Prostate Cancer Report’, as it generated over 120 pieces of media coverage that included national papers as well as broadcasters such as ITV and Sky News, achieving great awareness for the charity.
On social media, 34 MPs also supported the campaign by sharing the infographic, including the shadow minister for public health, Sharon Hodgson and the leader of the Lib Dems, Sir Vince Cable. NHS England and NHS Choices, also shared their support. That week #FaceUpToProstateCancer became the No. 1 trending twitter topic by Parliamentarians.
Third step: Establishing political influence
During Orchid’s attendance at the annual parliamentary “Britain Against Cancer” conference, the charity presented its report to influential MP’s such as the then Public Health Minister, Steve Brine and the Cancer APPG Chair, John Barron.
- Steve Brine congratulated the team on the report, and went on to mention Orchid in his next Parliamentary speech
- Sharon Hodgson was impressed and asked Orchid for help on her upcoming HPV Parliamentary Speech
- A subsequent meeting between Spink and the MP Maria Caulfield, a former oncology nurse, led to the agreement that Orchid would set-up, provide a secretariat, and chair a new male cancer specific APPG, which met for the first time in February of this year.
- Through this awareness campaign, Orchid was also able to build stronger ties with key health organisations, including proactive support for the campaign from NHS Choices, Prostate Cancer UK, Patient.info, NICE and the European Association of Urology
- As Orchid’s CEO, I was also invited to sit on the ‘Advanced Cancer Coalition’, (a coalition of UK cancer patient groups with a shared interest in delivering improvements in care and treatments for people with advanced cancer).
Finally, two days after the launch of the report and the resulting media coverage, we were delighted that Theresa May coincidently announced £75 million of funding for research into early diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.
This campaign highlighted that in addition to their role in policy development, political figures have a huge influence with the public and are receptive to disseminating information within their constituencies.
Developing a hard-hitting, credible report provided the insights and motivation that MPs needed to support the campaign, whilst the F.A.C.E. acronym and supporting materials made it easy for them to disseminate information via multiple channels to a wide and engaged audience.
In an era when public trust in politicians is at an all-time low, working collaboratively in partnership with MPs to improve health outcomes can only be mutually beneficial and is something Orchid will continue to build and develop their political engagement with.
Spink is an integrated healthcare communications agency. Find out more here.