How Comic Relief is trying to stay relevant year-round as TV figures hit 20 year low

How Comic Relief is fighting to stay relevant year-round

In the face of falling TV figures, Comic Relief has spent the past year solidifying a strategy to make the charity relevant 365 days of the year and less reliant on its one-day BBC telethons – Red Nose Day and Sport Relief.

Ahead of Red Nose Day on Friday (March 15) The Drum caught up with Comic Relief’s Bill Griffin, head of brand and creative, to discuss its turnaround year that has seen it restructure its leadership team, broaden its digital offering and launch a new brand identity.

New management team

The charity is facing various challenges as linear TV audiences start to fragment. One predominant challenge is engaging younger generations who have a different relationship with the brand. Simultaneously, the majority of its revenue occurs during the BBC telethon but the number of people tuning in is falling, so Comic Relief needs to engage new platforms to bolster its fundraising efforts.

From a public perspective, the charity suffers from a degree of confusion over the difference between Comic Relief and its subsidiary activities, Red Nose Day and Sport Relief. As it is seen predominantly as a one-day annual event, Comic Relief was faced with the task of keeping the momentum going all year-round.

After Kevin Cahill stepped down in 2016 after 20 years as chief executive, Griffin said there was a feeling among the trustees that it would be a good idea to inject some “fresh thinking” into the heart of the organisation leading to a shake-up of its core management team.

In 2018, led by Cahill's successor, Liz Warner, Comic Relief embarked on a mission to “reshape the structure of the whole organisation.”

Warner's vision was to expand its digital media and live event fundraising and ultimately make it less reliant on BBC telethons.

To get there, she merged and created a number of directorates within the organisation, with its former six senior figures expanded to seven to include a new digital and innovation director in the form of Charlotte Hillenbrand.

As well as Griffin and Hillenbrand, the charity bolstered its leadership team with the former deputy executive director of fundraising at Unicef, Catherine Cottrell, to lead its own fundraising and partnership efforts.

A charity 365 days of the year

The charity is known predominantly for its biennale one-day events and it acknowledged that there has always been a degree of confusion over the relationship between the two, said Griffin.

“In some ways we’ve been a bit responsible for that as we haven’t organisationally been super clear as to the difference,” he explained.

To help distinguish between the two, the charity enlisted Whistlejacket to produce a new identity for Comic Relief and Red Nose Day that clearly established the relationship between the charity and its various other activities.

Whistlejacket creative director Kathy Kielty said the brand needed to have a “chameleon identity” which would “read as fun and entertaining some of the time but as serious and compassionate the rest of the time.”

Everything was stripped back to a simple, bold, “confident” mark which Griffin said he wanted “to feel joyous and full of hope and optimism for the future” – a nod to Nose Day’s ‘Come Together’ theme that reflects the UK’s current politically uncertain climate.

Alongside its new brand identity, the charity is still in the process of planning how to keep the momentum going throughout the year.

“In terms of our own voice and the ability for the organisation to stand on its own two feet, we’ve only just started experimenting,” Griffin admitted.

Considering the next year, Comic Relief is planning to schedule a program of live events and pop-up shops, while testing how its digital offering could help it stay relevant after the BBC show has ended.

Although the charity aims to be less reliant on its one-day events, this doesn't undermine the fact that Red Nose Day is a key moment for big market investment.

Ahead of the event on Friday, it has launched an ad campaign that takes a less 'in-your-face' approach to fundraising. It is the first work released by Wonderhood Studios, and reflects its 'Come Together' theme. An ode to a grandchild, the grandfather reflects on the commonalities that unite the UK, during a politically divisive time.

The switch to digital

As it emerges from the rebrand thoughts are also turning to how it gets in front of more people. Griffin isn’t too alarmed that the previous Red Nose Day received its smallest TV ratings for 20 years, suggesting it’s a “microcosm of the issue” of a wider decline in linear TV viewing that has affected the entire media industry.

Only 6.3 million viewers tuned into Red Nose Day 2017, which was two million less viewers than its 2015 event and three million less than the 2013 figure.

In the face of this, the charity is retuning its fundraising model to reach a more digitally focused audience to ensure it doesn’t “keep photocopying the same thing year after year,” said Griffin.

“We’re acutely conscious of the fact that historically the overwhelming majority of revenue is made on one night of TV and the threats and risks around that.”

Regardless of falling TV figures, the charity it attuned to the opportunity that social media offers to help reach digitally engaged audiences.

Alongside hiring a digital and innovation director in January, Comic Relief also appointed a new media agency in MC&C which has been tasked with drawing audiences to Red Nose Day while also reaching a digital audience the rest of the year.

Christian Taylor, MC&C’s digital client strategist explained that the agency is looking at how to better “leverage Comic Relief’s talent in a digital environment.”

“From a digital point of view, because you have the opportunity to work with celebrities like Kate Moss and Lewis Hamilton, you have the potential to reach audiences in their channels, as they’ve probably got 20 million followers between them,” explained Griffin.

Alongside using digital to develop and increase connections outside of the telethon, MC&C has also been working with Comic Relief’s own social team to improve the digital capabilities during the event.

This has seen it developed an extensive content schedule that runs through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Snapchat.

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