Some interesting data regarding the impact of Action for Children‘s recent TV campaign has recently been published.

It shows the campaign did very well, gaining 9% awareness along with a 20% increase in people saying they would be likely to consider donating to the charity.

It’s useful to look at these alongside the results of the Barnardo‘s TV campaign (I posted on this a few weeks ago) in light of the very different approach that the Action for Children campaign has taken.

As baby creative, the agency who developed the campaign, explain on their website…

“Shot in a distinctive animation style that helped sidestep the issue of protecting children’s identities, the campaign ads balanced the drama of the young people’s pasts with the positive futures that Action for Children was helping them to achieve. By being forward-facing, and addressing what the charity actually did rather than the abuse suffered by the children, the adverts were able to engage the audience rather than shock them.”

It’s great to see that the voice overs weren’t done by actors, but were actually from interviews with children (Just like the approach taken by Leonard Cheshire in their Creature Discomfortscampaign).

The only trouble is, one of the ads – Dan’s story – upset a large number of people through its depiction of a child with autism. Following it’s broadcast, a debate started on YouTube, Action for Children’s blog and even on Facebook.

It’s an important piece of learning. Though many viewers may feel uncomfortable about the TV campaigns run by organisations such as Barnardo’s and The NSPCC, they are often supportedby people who have suffered abuse.

In this instance, it seems support from people living with autism wasn’t forthcoming.

I know Action for Children well. I’ve been lucky enough to visit a number of their projects. They are a fantastic organisation that does amazing work. I imagine the last thing they wanted to do was cause upset and I don’t think we will see that particular advertisement again.

The reason why I mention it, is that it acts as a lesson to us all. Things can go wrong – no matter how well intentioned we are. And we are more often judged by how we respond rather than by how we might have caused the original upset or offense in the first place.

I know because it happened to me!

When I worked at the YMCA, I received a call out of the blue from a national radio station to discuss a mailing pack we’d produced that had caused upset recipients to call their phone-in show to complain.

Luckily I had visited the project, met the people concerned and knew everything about the targeting of the appeal to answer their questions from a position of quite detailed knowledge. Even so, I also apologised for the upset we’d caused. That seemed to solve the problem and we later adapted our pack to take into account the issues that had been raised.

I hate to think what could have happened if that pack had gone out today. There are so many information streams where people can voice their feelings that We would have needed a response for probably half a dozen different types of media.

That’s why I’d always recommend taking some time to develop a contingency plan for when communications generate a different response to the one that you had hoped for. There is no magic answer to handling a crisis, but there are a few things that you can do to make sure you act in the best possible way to resolve the situation quickly and effectively.

1. Your plan should focus on what your charity should do when things go wrong, who should be involved and when. Detail information flows. Show who will respond and how.

2. Don’t presume those people criticising you are your enemy. They may have got the wrong end of a stick or be genuinely upset. Either way, it is their perception of you that counts. That is what you must work to change. Above all, show compassion.

3. Hold up an objective mirror to your organisation. Have you done something wrong? Are the complaints valid? Should you apologise?

4. Whatever your answer, always acknowledge someone’s concern, even if you honestly believe it is misplaced.

5. Concentrate on actions rather than words. People judge you on what you do rather than what you say.

6. Your first response is your most important communication. Don’t be rushed into responding too quickly. I always recommend people sleep on it before responding to an angry email (and guess what? Those draft emails always change).

7. Take external advice. Sometimes you are too close to the issues. Trusted colleagues at other charities can offer an impartial view. Sometimes your agency may have experience of helping to resolve similar issues.

8. Learn from what happens and incorporate this into your everyday working practices.

Finally, i’ve spent a fair few hours looking into and learning about autism as a result of this post and I think the following film made by the mother of a little boy with autism might be worth sharing.