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How Joanna Lumley and S Club 7 helped Sinclair Mason align BT with Children in Need

By The Drum, Administrator

April 10, 2002 | 6 min read

We take a look into how BT enabled success for BBC's UK charity Children In Need, and the steps it made to ensure monumental funds were raised.

The Background

BT has always been a significant sponsor of BBC Children in Need (CiN). In fact, the UK's longest established telethon could not happen without BT's commitment, which includes telephone network management, donation line, call centre support, and thousands of volunteer hours each year.

As BT's work is 'behind the scenes', it has not always maximised its association with the charity, a high-profile 'consumer' campaign was required to clearly align BT with CiN in the public's consciousness.

As part of its customer retention strategy, BT launched its free answer service, BT Answer 1571, to UK commercial and residential users in summer 2001. Supported with mailings and TV advertising, the service received approximately 80,000 new subscribers each week. While this was an excellent level of response, BT wanted to boost awareness of the service and give people a clear, time-sensitive call to action.

This campaign was undertaken solely in the UK, where the BT Answer 1571 service is available. BT's consumer division, in conjunction with BT's social policy unit, decided to donate £1 to BBC CiN for every person that signed up to BT Answer 1571 between 3 and 30 November 2001. As BT has 21 million residential customers, and all other households are potential customers, the target audience was the entire adult population of the UK.

In addition to PR activity already undertaken for BT's support of CiN, Sinclair Mason was assigned to manage the BT Answer 1571 campaign and asked to come up with an effective campaign to attract new customers to the 1571 service during November 2001 and, in so doing, help BT raise up to £1 million for CiN.

The Brief

BT wanted to build on the success of BT Answer 1571 and encourage future sign-ups to the service, and raise as much money as possible for BBC CiN. It aimed to reach as many people as possible with the 'call to action' - sign up to BT Answer 1571 and help raise money for CiN, positioning itself as a key supporter of BBC CiN. It was decided by Mason that an integrated plan to target TV, radio and print media should be undertaken throughout the campaign period in order to reach as wide an audience as possible, and persuade BT's customers to act - by picking up their phones or going online - and register for BT Answer 1571 during November 2001.

Joanna Lumley

The Idea

Sinclair Mason wanted to attract a wide audience to the launch of the BT 1571 campaign, and so organised a national photocall launch on 2 November at Tate Modern (BT is a corporate sponsor of the gallery), fronted by Joanna Lumley.

Lumley was dressed up as a schoolteacher, 'summing up' the message for a group of local schoolchildren: to raise money for the charity by registering for the BT Answer 1571 Service. Lumley was chosen for her close association with CiN (since her 'infamous' striptease in 1983's show to raise money) and her ability to champion the initiative through interviews, as well as securing picture coverage.

A letter to the editor, signed by S Club 7 and sent to national, regional and local newspapers, was distributed on 8 November, followed by a second letter to the editor, again from S Club 7, thanking people for their support and distributed to national, regional and local media on 17 December.

The use of S Club 7 built on a TV execution featuring the band in a series of adverts supporting the BT Answer 1571/BBC CiN campaign. To pass on specific messages about the Answer 1571 service, a series of advertorials was organised in the Mirror, appearing in the body of the paper on 10 and 13 November, and featuring the strap 'BT Bringing You and BBC Children in Need Together', to fit with and maximise BT's 'Bringing People Together' campaign.

S Club 7

Damian Peachey, head of PR at BT's consumer division, summed up: "The beauty of this campaign is that it delivered for the BT brand, BT Answer 1571 and Children in Need - and on a very tight budget. The inspired choice of Joanna Lumley, allied with a relevant creative, judicious use of BT collateral such as S Club7 and intelligent use of paid-for media, created a high-impact campaign that reinforced BT's reputation as one of the UK's most socially aware businesses."

A radio editorial loop was recorded with key campaign messages, featuring Joanna Lumley and BT's Damian Peachey, and online competitions were negotiated with 50 radio stations and 10 online media, highlighting the key messages of the campaign. Terry Wogan recorded a message, which was put on to the sign-up audio loop - i.e. when people phoned 1571 they heard a recorded message from the nation's favourite TOG thanking them for signing up and helping to raise money.


  • Through this PR-led sponsorship, BT, with the aid of Sinclair Mason, achieved significantly increased media exposure over previous years, successfully persuaded three-quarters of a million people to sign up for BT Answer 1571 in a four-week period and donated £728,562 to BBC CiN in 2001.
  • The photocall attracted 23 national press and news agency photographers and two film crews. Highlights of the launch included an extended interview on BBC Radio 2's 'Steve Wright in the Afternoon', a significant feature in HELLO! magazine and extensive regional coverage.
  • Coverage appeared on the Children in Need night, which included a live OB from the top of BT Tower, with 'Handy' Andy Kane and Sinclair Mason PR Account Director, Justin McKeown (standing in for Anna Ryder-Richardson), which incorporated the call to action. Additionally, a screen crawler appeared every hour inviting people to sign up to the service by dialling 1571.
  • A half-page advertorial appeared in the Mirror's 'The Look magazine' that included idents appearing above each day's TV listing. The idents also appeared the following week (10 November).
  • An audience of 102,787,465 was reached by the PR campaign. A further audience of 320,000,000 was reached through the advertising campaign, and 728,562 new subscribers were registered during November resulting in BT donating £728,562 to BBC CiN.

BT was successfully positioned as a major sponsor of BBC CiN. At the BBC Children in Need Awards for 2001, the 'BT Answers the Children in Need Cause' won the Creative Initiative Award.


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The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters are at Broadcasting House in Westminster, London.

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