Photo: Sarah West, Hospice UK’s Director of Campaigns and Communications
No one can deny that these are challenging times for hospices. Brexit, financial deficits and over-stretched local authorities are all having an impact on the sector. This year Hospice UK’s conference for communications professionals aimed to help them confidently handle communications for these challenges and the changes they may lead to.
Over 60 hospice communications professionals gathered at the Holiday Inn Birmingham Airport to hear tips and share knowledge of how to create impactful messaging for their campaigns during demanding times, whether for fundraising, reputation management or raising awareness.
Hospice UK’s CEO Tracey Bleakley gave the first talk of the day, on the need for revolution and evolution in the hospice and palliative care sector to address some of the challenges hospices are facing. Her speech sparked plenty of questions and comments from delegates, including a debate on different approaches by hospices to their public messaging about the urgent need for funding.
Sarah West, Hospice UK’s new Director of Campaigns and Communications, who was celebrating her first fortnight in post, talked about the impact of digital campaigning, using as example projects she led on at humanitarian organisation Plan International.
One of these was the creation of the period emoji, which thanks to a mixture of celebrity involvement and public engagement became a highly effective way to get people on social media talking about the much stigmatised issue of menstruation.
Moreover it was backed by a report on the risk this stigma posed to girls’ health and a manifesto with girls’ voices at the centre of it. “This gave us evidence and gravitas, so the emoji had knowledge behind it” Sarah explained. The campaigned cost very little, and the period emoji reached millions of people around the world.
Next there were workshops on communicating change effectively, and how to use digital tools for fundraising. The latter session, led by Dan Malin from Mary Stevens Hospice and Lee Clark, founder of digital fundraising platform GivePenny, provided a number of practical tips such as thinking carefully of the demographic of each social media platform and targeting accordingly, and creating hyper local ads for Spotify, which could potentially reach tens of thousands of people.
Dan spoke about the virtual marathon they created in February this year, which involved running one mile a day for 26 days – a more realistic alternative to the New Year’s resolution of doing the entire race in one go in January. Supporters received scheduled emails each day with inspirational messages, and were encouraged to send in pictures of themselves running. Dan explained the campaign took two days to plan in December and was virtually free – they used Canva to design resources, publicised it via social media, maintained contact with supporters via email, and linked the sign-up process to Give Penny to bring funds in. The key to the campaign’s success, Dan said, was to ensure people felt they were part of a community.
After lunch Chris Lawrance and Nick Evans from PR company JBP, shared the “seven golden virtues” of reputation management based on their experience of helping several hospices address recent challenges. These include reading and acting on signs as soon as an issue emerges, developing an emotional connection with audiences – by offering a look behind the scenes to show what goes into providing excellent care – being transparent with all stakeholders, and helping leaders take the lead on new initiatives.
The next session gave an overview of the three main campaigns Hospice UK runs: Dying Matters Awareness Week, Open Up Hospice Care, and Hospice Care Week. Toby Scott, the charity’s Head of Communications and Campaigns, highlighted achievements such as Open Up Hospice Care, which took place in March and aims to raise awareness of the benefits of hospice care while highlighting gaps in funding and reach, drawing more visitors to the Hospice UK website than ever before. Meanwhile Dying Matters Awareness Week continues to grow each year with more organisations and individuals hosting events to get people talking about death.
Toby also used his session to talk about the new, bolder direction Hospice Care Week will take this year, with a more hard-hitting message than in previous years. With the theme ‘This is what it takes’ the campaign will show the public exactly what is needed to deliver hospice care in figures, such as how many toilet rolls, bacon sandwiches, and bottles of detergent it takes for the hospice to run effectively in a year. It will also show people all the sources of funding needed to pay for all of this.
In the final session of the day Dr Sophie Castell, Director of Relationships at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), gave an account of the events of 2018 – ‘a year of two halves’ as she described it, which saw the charity celebrate its 150th anniversary with a re-brand that challenged the public’s assumptions of blind and partially sighted people, to later dealing with negative newspaper headlines following allegations against a former RNIB children’s residential home. Chiming with the other sessions that had taken place throughout the day, Dr Castell highlighted the importance of being open, transparent and proactive with communications in times of crisis.