Do It Day Media Childline

Dame Esther Rantzen on the success of Childline and the power of marketing


By Stephen Lepitak, -

November 10, 2016 | 6 min read

As part of The Drum's Do It Day, Dame Esther Rantzen, broadcaster and founder of Childline spoke about the success of the organisation which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year and how important marketing has been to its success.

"I don't feel proud in any way myself," was her surprise answer when asked about how proud she was that Childline had lasted and contrived to thrive three decades after she started it. "We have helped four-and-a-half million children in 30 years and that wasn't down to me. That was down to generations of extremely skilled staff and volunteers who created a service and kept it evolving as technology changed and children's needs changed."

Childline currently has 12 locations across the UK, with just under 1,500 volunteers, who councilled 330,000 children during 2015 alone.

"That's an awful lot of people giving a lot of time and skill so I am very proud of them, but I cannot feel personally proud of their achievement," she added.

"I have been very lucky because I came up with the thought that children should have their own free and confidential 24-hour helpline and people immediately got the idea and understood why it would be a unique way of enabling children who are locked in prison with things going badly wrong at home. They simply couldn't ask for help so they had to sit in silence. People got that idea and they ran with it and made it happen."

Dame Esther added that her status as producer and presenter of That's Life, the popular long-running BBC consumer programme, gave her 'a marketing advantage' as viewers were used to hearing her discuss difficult real-life situations and offering solutions.

"We had 15-20 million viewers every week which meant that we could spread the awareness. And there was a special documentary on the launch that got about nine million, which was another useful way of marketing. Making everyone aware that it existed and what the phone number was. On our launch day I also took part in 19 different broadcasts. That was then and that was children."

She adds that she found things had changed greatly when the organisation launched The Silverline in 2013. "I was very lucky to get some local radio. The One Show," she states, recognising the fragmentation of mass media in the last decade with audiences of 20m viewers a rare event.

"It is much harder to get the attention of the print media so you have to rely on social media which is not nearly so universal."

That means Rantzen has to work harder and harder to shine a light on the service and continue to create awareness.

Childline now offers a school service called "Speak out, stay safe" which sees the organisation go into primary schools to tell children how to stay safe. They are then given the private number 0800 11 11 which Rantzen claimed had spread through out the UK's child population.

"It's very rare for me to meet a child who hasn't heard of Childline. It still happens and some of the children who need us most are least aware of the service."

Of the future strategy in the digital age, Dame Esther revealed her ambition to reach secondary schools in a similar manner as primary schools that would reach those pupils too. She revealed that in that she they contacts the service more through email or message boards.

"The problems they talk about are not just the ones we've always had, but they also talk to us about depression, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, self harm. These are very serious mental health issues and we need to be able to make young people at school who are going through these crisis aware that they can and should contact us confidentially so we can support them."

She also claimed that social media had created a 'loneliness' within today's youth as well, before discussing the problem of online bulling.

"That is always tricky as what we don't want to do is make things worse," she stated. "What we know is that bullying doesn't stop by itself and now it has extended to cyber bullying and it has followed kids home. What used to be a sanctuary, bullying can follow children home now. Schools need to take it very seriously."

Finally, when asked how marketing can change the world in her opinion she used the US president elect as an individual who represented the negative side of marketing in her view. "If you can spread a message, with all of the things that are going in in the world is someone else's fault and you can actually isolate people who are to blame, then you can call your opponents 'crooked' and you can market yourself in the most extraordinary way to people who have no responded to that message," she stated, adding her belief that there need to be more care as she believes marketing to be "a very powerful tool."

"We need to make sure that messages that are out there are true and honest," she concluded, referring back to the opening night launch for Childline and the initial engagement campaign which included a function being held by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. "It was an extraordinary way of altering people with good information and evidence of children who were suffering abuse of all kinds and this was a unique way of helping them."

She said it was a model that had now been copied in around 150 countries around the world which was an example of using evidence based information to "inspire the compassion and generosity of the British Public."

Dame Esther Rantzen was speaking to The Drum through its partnership with NSPCC which was one of the challenge partners at Do It Day.

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