Children in Need is a terrestrial takeover of bean baths, celebrity humiliation, singing Muppets and Terry Wogan. But harmless humor aside, it’s a national institution that has epitomised the unwavering generosity of the Great British public not to mention fundraising a net total of £600 million since its birth in 1927.
For 88 years the charity has grown, changed and adapted to current, popular and technological trends and continued to be even more triumphant than the year before. And it really has succeeded because each year, despite us groaning at the cringey D-list jokes, we still delve deep into our pockets, whether it’s by texting a number, downloading an app or sponsoring a colleague to shave their head.
Quite frankly there’s no escaping it. In the weeks leading up to that Friday night in November you would have to be living under a rock to miss Fiona Bruce doing Beyoncé, Sir Terry missing his audio cue, or that big yellow bear with the patch on its eye.
But it hasn’t been without its challenges. In 88 years the UK has seen numerous recessions, a war and relentless government cut backs that would pose a threat to any fundraising initiatives. More notably, the charity itself has been at the centre of several media storms, one in particular that recently questioned the integrity of the whole the BBC.
So just how has Children in Need maintained its position as one of the top 3 most successful charity telethons in Britain. Well it’s all in the communication….
Radio and Television broadcasting
1927: The BBC broadcast the first ever appeal on Christmas Day. It was a 5 minute radio broadcast with an astounding response, raising £1,143 18s 3d, which was then divided between several different children’s charities.
1955: Children in Need was shown on television for the very first time. It was presented by Sooty and raised a total of £625,836 (an impressive sum for 1955!). The Christmas Day appeals continued until 1979.
1980: This was the first time it was broadcast in a new telethon format and was hosted by Terry Wogan, Esther Rantzen and Sue Lawley. The idea came from Mark Patterson in an era when telethons were all the rage. Maximising on the feel good factor along and hysteria of a celebrity telethon increased donations and broke the million mark for the first time.
1985: Children in Need captured the nation by fronting the charity in the form of a mascot – a cuddly, forlorn teddy bear called Pudsey. This became the iconic brand logo of Children in Need, which has been revamped over the years, but has remained largely the same- a friendly, yellow bear with a spotted bandanna over his eye.
Sarah Monteith, from Children in Need, said: “Pudsey is integral to the success of BBC Children in Need. He is unique in uniting generations and galvanising the nation to get fundraising. There is no mistaking that yellow bear with his colourful spots that the nation loves the best.” (BBC).
Pudsey not only became a mascot, he provided a strong identity, symbolic of the charity and recognised by both adults and children. His friendly, but perhaps vulnerable appearance became an emblem of Children in Need, synonymous with its core values – helping sick, underprivileged and vulnerable children/young adults.
Embracing Social Media
2008/2009: Children in Need embraced the social revolution and joined Facebook and Twitter. Photos of celebrities and volunteers were shared to gain momentum ahead of the annual event. The public were encouraged to share photos and achievements of their fundraisers and organisers could interact with the audience. By November 2011 the charity had already accumulated 500,000 Facebook fans, the biggest at that time of any UK charity.
2011: Government cuts and financial insecurity were cause for concern for charities, believing that this would impact massively on donations made by the public and fearing that children who relied upon the money raised would suffer as a result.
So the next strategic move came in the form of clever partnerships with household names that included Peugeot, Lego, Boots, Asda and Greggs. They leveraged their fundraising initiatives on the back of the broader reach of communications. The big brand’s CSR policies in turn would benefit from the association with the charity, as well as an institution such as the BBC.
Pudsey even managed to commandeer the Peugeot brand by taking over the lion logo for a day in 2012. This included being in Peugeot’s printed press advertising. (Marketing Week)
2012: Ahead of the telethon in 2012, Children in Need created iPud in conjunction with Sage Pay. This mobile app was part of a new set of marketing initiatives aimed at boosting its fundraising activity and encourage speedy, seamless donations at the touch of a button. “We are thrilled to introduce our first mobile app, offering users another way to engage with the charity and help raise vital funds, to support disadvantaged children and young people across the UK. We are delighted to have Sage Pay on board as one of our official technology partners.” (Sage Pay) The mobile app allowed users to locate fundraising events geographically in order to encourage the public to get involved and contribute to community activities.
The simplification of the donation process was more crucial than ever because it was around this time that the BBC was rocked by the allegations surrounding Jimmy Savile. Maintaining momentum of the fundraising efforts and reassuring people to have support in Children in Need was imperative.
Online User Experience
2014: Last year saw the charity enlist the help of digital transformation company Techdept to create a new website. Their focus was on optimising the user’s online experience and encouraging more interactivity, as well as making it a vibrant reflection of the charity’s identity.
The new site was made mobile friendly from the start – which was a smart move given that only 19% of traffic was from a desktop computer on the day of the launch. ‘Silicon valley thinking’ meant that they were able to create a bespoke CRM type program to build a data profile of UK fundraisers to optimise future campaigns. Their other focus was to improve the user experience. Their core objective was ensuring that the focus remained on the fundraising, not where to click next.
Ultimately, it’s the kindness and generosity of the general public that ensures that millions of pounds are invested into Children in Need. But in this ever changing digital (and fickle) world, the challenge is to maintain visibility of the charity in the first place. Ensuring that it remains at the forefront of people’s minds and still engages people enough to make them want to continue to donate their hard earned money is imperative to success.
People’s personal priorities change, their financial status shifts and other environmental factors can affect how significant the charity remains. An easy mistake to make would be to revel in the previous successes and become complacent.
Children in Need has succeeded in staying relevant, monitoring and harnessing social and technological trends and becoming apart of the next big ‘thing’, not behind it. Whether it be embracing the latest selfie phenomenon, launching a new mobile app or partnering with the next big household name, their team ensure that focus doesn’t stray from what’s the most important factor – raising money for children in need.
Image courtesy of Suecook.com.