Why case studies count

The subject of this week’s PRCA’s Public Sector Group was prize-winning campaigns. We were lucky enough to have Leonie Austin from NHS Blood and Transplant, and Linda McIntyre from Consolidated in Scotland come along and talk about their PR Week and PRCA Award winning entries – coincidentally on the related topics of getting people to give blood, and to sign up for the organ donation register.

As you’d expect from award-winning campaigns, there were some lovely creative touches in both, as well as all the usual hygiene factors done really well. But what came across really strongly from both campaigns was how good, emotive case studies can dramatically increase a campaign’s impact.

Of course, I’m not telling people anything new here. PR people spend half their lives on the hunt for case studies, often getting increasingly frustrated when they don’t appear, don’t want to drop everything to be in the BBC Breakfast studio the following morning, or forget to give your client a name check. And even the most obliging case study can sometimes have difficulties with journalists – taking too aggressive a line in questioning, choosing a particular angle to cover that the case study might not find appropriate, or just dropping them in the end because news priorities have changed.

Listening to Leonie and Linda talk about the incredibly inspiring case studies they deal with – especially in the case of organ donors, where you might be dealing with a recently bereaved family, or someone undergoing the stress and tension of waiting for an organ transplant – brought home a fact that it’s sometimes easy to forget. Case studies are flesh and blood people, with entirely separate lives of their own – not an extension of your PR campaign designed to “amplify the emotional factors.”

Of course, I’m sure we’d all be incredibly protective of our case studies in such life and death situations as those set out above. But we do need to remember any case study – even someone saying how much they like a new brand of toothpaste – probably isn’t used to dealing with the media, might be a bit scared by it, will have their friends texting them to take the piss when the piece appears, will be a bit disappointed if it doesn’t appear, and basically is doing you a massive, massive favour.

As the PRs, we’re responsible for putting a case study up in front of the media – a situation they might otherwise never find themselves in. So we have a responsibility, even a duty of care, to make sure that they’re well prepared, comfortable with what they’re asked to do, and protected where necessary, as well as properly thanked. The case study work done by Consolidated in Scotland encouraged over 1,000 people to sign up for the Organ Donor Register – when we know they can make that kind of impact, it’s only right that we treat case studies as the incredibly important people they are.

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