Identifying the problem
With a circulation of around 14,000, the Chorley and Leyland Guardian isn’t the biggest paper, but it does have big expectations.
So when the Guardian launched the biggest campaign in its 137-year-old history, the challenge was how to balance what we wanted to do with what we could feasibly manage.
The result was ‘Mary’s Prayer’– a cancer campaign in honour of Chorley’s mayor, Mary Wilson, who was battling the illness.
We couldn’t cure cancer, but Chorley has its own children’s hospice so we resolved to raise a modest £8,000 for the facility and three other local cancer charities.
What are we trying to achieve?
Saying you ‘want to make a difference’is a bit Miss World, so any campaign needs tangible objectives otherwise you’ll very quickly lose direction. The object of Mary’s Prayer was to raise as much money as we could to buy a wishlist of items, while at the same time raising awareness of our charities.
Research and planning
‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”. I’ve never forgotten that piece of advice, and preparing for a campaign is no different for a weekly newspaper than it is for a daily title.
In the case of Mary’s Prayer it was a matter of stockpiling a bank of stories, especially case studies. The difference between a campaign that looks good and one that is good is human interest.
We launched the campaign in March 2007 and I always had Christmas as the cut-off point for when it would finish. That’s a lot of stories …
Campaigns can’t go forward without momentum. A great launch will soon be forgotten if there’s nothing to back it up with. For our launch we devoted the front page to the faces of people whose lives had been touched by cancer. It was backed with an eight-page supplement, which included an interview with Mary Wilson about her cancer campaign.
Multimedia is the buzz word and Mary’s Prayer was no different. The launch was carried on local radio and our posters went up everywhere.
How can you judge if a campaign has been a success or failure without any measures? That was why we made a wallchart in the office that we raised every time the total grew. Although the target was £8,000, the wallchart went up to £18,000, just in case it took off.
However, the best measures weren’t planned. Two of my reporters, Karl Holbrook and Mike Day, gave up smoking and the campaign followed their progress. Then the assistant editor, Vanessa Taylor, completed the Great North Run. It was replicated by our readers, who held all sorts of fundraising events as part of Mary’s Prayer.
Eventually the campaign raised £53,000, but its biggest achievement was galvanising the community.
When you choose a campaign like cancer there’s a danger that it can be depressing. How many people still refer to it as the ‘Big C’because they can’t bear to say the word? That’s why we produced a range of eye-catching shopping bags and T-shirts to spread the message beyond the pages of our newspaper.
Every campaign needs an end, and we coincided ours with a talent show we held on 23 December. What made it remarkable was that it was all organised by the Guardian’s staff in less than six weeks.
Three days before the Guardian the title of campaigning newspaper of the year, our inspiration, Mary Wilson, lost her long fight with cancer.
We know she got satisfaction from the campaign’s success and we dedicated the award to her.