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What I learned from my Archers Helen Titchener fundraising campaign going viral

By Paul Trueman | head of social

April 14, 2016 | 6 min read

So one night a few months ago, I had a silly idea.

I wanted to create a real fundraising page for a fictional character in The Archers, who was trapped in an abusive marriage. The twist was that we would raise money for real women, because all the money would go to the charity Refuge. As I set up the page and it asked me to set a target, I (wildly optimistically, I thought) selected £1000.

Ten weeks later I’m looking at the largest single donation Refuge has ever received: a sum fast approaching £140,000. I’ve also had hundreds of lump-in-throat comments on the JG page, a huge pile of national and local press coverage, a stack of primetime TV coverage for Refuge and tons of positive PR for the charity. Oh, and a Fairtrade merchandising range that is donating all proceeds to Refuge.

It’s always fun watching a creative idea go viral. Even better when it’s your own idea.

I’ve been asked by several people why I think it’s done so well and, as you’d imagine given my day job, I’ve been thinking about it myself. So here are some thoughts from the eye of the social storm…

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People love a good story

This whole idea is powered by a slow-burning storyline that has wound up 4 million listeners tighter than Joe Grundy’s grip on his wallet. Brilliantly written and acted, it’s the show’s story that powers everything: the audience’s reaction, their desire to help and their subsequent generosity.

Understand your audience – and their networks

Of course, to get those people to help you have to reach them in the first place. The Archers is a huge show on Twitter, with the Sunday morning omnibus having its own tweet-a-long community. There is also a labyrinth of raucous Facebook groups that I used to get the word out and energise the thousands of frustrated listeners.

Timing is everything

If there were ever an example of ‘right time right place’, it’s this idea. The storyline was already starting to pick up press, and after its first week of dizzying success the fund became wrapped into all the ramped-up coverage. Hindsight’s a wonderful thing, ain’t it?

Stay single-minded

A clear focus and tone-of-voice has been essential so that ‘mission creep’ doesn’t set in. So yes, I know that funding for women’s refuges has been slashed over the last few years, but my job has been to focus on the fundraising, not on the politics. It means the campaign stays inclusive, open to everyone, and follows the money.

Work with good people

I’m lucky enough to be working closely with the crack team at Refuge on this and it’s paid dividends. We communicate often, and they support and augment my efforts on their own (much more popular) social platforms.

Use what you have

I have been asked by a few people in the last few weeks why I haven’t come up with a hashtag for it and my answer has always been the same: I’ve already got one. A hugely popular one, seen by thousands of people each week: #thearchers

Other people say it better than you

I realised early on that the real power of the JustGiving page was the powerful testimonies people were leaving, along with their donations ranging from £2 to £1000. By carefully curating comments, which then get picked up on Twitter, we’re able to drive donations and awareness.

Don’t be afraid to pivot

With the help of brilliant co-conspirators, we’ve also managed to create a range of fairtrade merchandise. Every penny of the profits goes to Refuge and calls for the freeing of ‘The Blossom Hill One’ (if you have to ask…). Just in time for the imminent court case too, as the storyline shifts into a different gear. So what are you waiting for? Buy a teatowel and join the cause…

Paul Trueman is head of social at Bray Leino. Follow him on Twitter @paultrueman74

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