Making a broad-based advocacy campaign work requires a well-rounded strategy, integrated communications, and a media campaign that’s powerful enough to shift public opinion. It’s precisely the approach we took when The Swedish Childhood Cancer Fund, the largest financier of childhood cancer research in Sweden, and Narva Communications came together to address a critical public health issue: a lack of resources for childhood cancer care.
Our challenge was designing a campaign to illuminate the problem, and the need was clear: increasing the pool of resources would help alleviate stress in sick children, their families and healthcare staff.
We devised a campaign we termed “If I was Minister of Social Affairs,” which gave three childhood cancer survivors an opportunity to be Minister of Social Affairs for one day and target their messages directly to Sweden’s Minister of Health and Social Affairs, Annika Strandhäll.
What follows is the story of how we designed an integrated communications strategy that successfully brought our campaign to the attention of Annika Strandhäll, the Swedish parliament, and helped generate broader public support behind the commitment of more money for childhood cancer care.
Fine-tuning the message and finding allies
A report from the Swedish Childhood Cancer Fund revealed a shortage of hospital beds for child cancer patients, mainly due to staff shortages. As a result, some cancer-stricken children were forced to move to other departments and hospitals. It was an insecure and stressful environment for both children and their families.
The organization identified a number of requirements to be addressed in order to improve childhood cancer care. The objective was to reach key opinion leaders and most importantly, get the Minister of Social Affairs to pay attention to the problem and meet with the Swedish Childhood Cancer Fund.
The strategy revolved around communicating the stories and experiences of three childhood cancer survivors, which helped us generate public attention and increased engagement in social media.
With the coming election year in Sweden, we identified the opportunity to create awareness. By building public interest, we aimed to increase the chances of reaching policymakers. Therefore, our first challenge was to engage the public.
Using testimonials to make an impact
The core of the campaign was telling the stories of three childhood cancer survivors. In their own words, we had them describe their personal experiences of cancer care. Between letters and digital videos shared via social media, we created a platform for these survivors to tell their stories directly to the minister – detailing the changes they would make if they had her job. They always ended their letters and videos with a request to meet directly with the minister.
We coordinated the release of the letters and the videos to work in concert with the release of the report from the Swedish Childhood Cancer Fund. In advance of the report’s release, we secured coverage from three of the biggest national news outlets, which received the material in advance and interviewed the research director of the Swedish Childhood Cancer Fund, as well as one of the three childhood cancer survivors. Within 24 hours the report was the top story in Swedish media. The children's handwritten letters were also sent to the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The same afternoon as the report was released, the children's families published the videos on Facebook, asking friends and followers to share the videos so they would reach Annika Strandhäll. The following morning, one of the children's letters was published as a full-page ad in the leading national daily.
In total, more than 200 articles were published and the report was mentioned both in the morning and evening television broadcasts. The total reach exceeded 17.4 million people and the PR value is estimated at 1 million euro.
Within 24 hours, our Facebook videos had been viewed more than 230,000 times and shared by more than 7,600 people. The videos received thousands of cheering comments from cancer survivors, hospital staff and others. Today, the videos have more than a million views and have been shared close to 23,000 times.
It took less than 7 hours for Annika Strandhäll to answer the children in a comment on Facebook. Shortly after, an official invitation to the children was published on the ministry’s website. They also received personal letters from the minister and she raised the issue during a weekly hearing in the Swedish Parliament only three days later.
During the meeting with the minister, the children told her about their personal experiences and the Swedish Childhood Cancer Fund presented their recommendations on how to improve childhood cancer care.
Seize the momentum and double down
The next step was to get the other political parties in the parliament to support the promise of SEK 500 million per year in cancer care, with part allocated specifically to child care. It was achieved this past summer.
The Swedish Childhood Cancer Fund now has a close dialogue with Annika Strandhäll on what needs to be done to improve childhood cancer care.
In sum, our success was the result of four main factors:
- The campaign was based on transparency and the awareness that change occurs when we act together.
- We had an integrated communications plan that built upon each successive moment to increase public attention on the issue.
- We sorted communications based on which group best conveyed the message.
- Our digital strategy enhanced inclusion and participation—the cornerstone of any successful campaign.
Amelie Furborg is Head of PR at the Swedish Childhood Cancer Fund. The organization is the single largest financier of childhood cancer research in Sweden and also works to ensure that affected children and their families receive the care and support they need.
Annika Sundström is Partner and Head of Public Affairs at Narva Communications, one of the major communication agencies in the Nordic region. Annika is an IAPC-member and holds an M.S. in economics (international emphasis) from the University of Gothenburg.
Sara Wretblad Carreras was previously Head of Innovation at Narva Communications and client lead in charge of the “If I was Minister of Social Affairs” campaign. Earlier she worked as MD at the Golin Stockholm office.