If you have ever heard me speak, or read much of what I have written, you may know that I consider OST to be the three most important letters in the language. O for Objective. S for Strategy. T for Tactics. Get them muddled or wrongly ordered and you are setting yourself up for failure. But let’s move on from politics!
Instead let me tell you of a very good piece of OST work from one of my favourite charities, Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research.
O – beat blood cancer.
S – investment in the best research in the world.
T – Read on.
I got involved with Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research for the same reason most people who haven’t been diagnosed themselves get involved: someone close to me – in my case two people close to me – died from leukaemia. My best friend John Merritt died of the disease in 1992 and in the most horrible of coincidences, so did his beautiful 9-year-old daughter Ellie, just six years later.
So when I first started realising that my profile could help raise money, and I entered the London Marathon in 2003, I did it for them, and raised almost £400,000. Then they roped me into the next new big thing, triathlons, and after a few years I was captain of the biggest triathlon team in the world. As chairman of fundraising, I then began to plunder my and my agent Ed Victor’s contacts books to deliver A list names for an annual ‘Audience with’ event in the West End.
We are not short of people who want to support us out of personal experience. Ed is a leukaemia survivor. And if you put together all the people in Britain who will be touched by blood cancer this year, you would just about fill Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium.
That is the thing with blood cancer: you might not hear about it in the way you do breast cancer but when you add up the hundreds of types of leukaemias, lymphomas and myelomas (all blood cancers, every single one of them) what we actually have on our hands is the third biggest cancer killer in the UK.
So I’m always happy to do whatever I can to help fill this particular charity’s coffers. But recently they’ve been asking me for a different kind of support, more in line with the day job that gave me the profile in the first place.
Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research have had that same O for Objective of beating blood cancer since they were founded back in 1960. But their S for Strategy does not come cheap, and needs continuing fundraising and innovation to do so.
One of their strategic goals is improving their reach, their reputation and their brand, organisation-speak for ‘if we’re going to succeed we need lots of people to know who we are and understand what we do’. A charity whose name, cause and work is not known by the public will not raise the money it needs, nor be able to fight for the goals it is trying to reach.
Now there is a lot in a name, and Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research does at least say a good deal about what the charity is about. But they have decided they need a change, a shift to generate fresh thinking, fresh energy, and fresh funds for the research.
So this is the T for Tactic.
They’re changing their name. A big, bold move and, provided it captures the imagination and as it fits with the O and the S, it is something which can help deliver both.
Thanks to the work these guys have been doing for the last 55 years, more and more blood cancer patients are surviving for longer and people are starting to talk seriously about living well with blood cancers. So things have changed since 1960 when people were just desperate for a cure, and childhood leukaemia was a death sentence. Now it’s about better treatments that don’t cause the bad side effects, better diagnostic tests and better support.
So realising how much things had changed, two years ago the charity decided it was time to take stock, to stand back and plan the next half century. They took time to understand exactly what it means to live with blood cancer today and their research took in the views of doctors, nurses, patients and carers, reams of data and also the views not just of me, but of a number of branding and communications experts.
Just like in politics, focus groups don’t always tell you what you expect to hear. What’s important though is that you’re open to listening, able to sift through what you hear and then act on the most important bits.
Among the main findings were, frankly, that the world simply doesn’t understand blood cancer as is does lung, liver or breast cancer, that blood cancer patients don’t feel part of a community or a cause and that people struggle to find information and support. Also, it was clear that the name just wasn’t working hard enough for us, especially given it’s a name that means so much to so many people across the country, including me.
But under the leadership of chief executive Cathy Gilman, who started out as a volunteer after losing a loved one, they’re a charity always looking at problems with eyes wide open all the time. Once the evidence from patients, health professionals and hard data was there in front of them, they set to tackling these challenges head on and finding solutions (or tactics) that are rooted in this evidence and will help them achieve their objective of beating blood cancer.
The evidence says that awareness of blood cancer is low. So they’re launching an awareness campaign. The evidence says people with blood cancer don’t know where to go. So they’re launching a signposting service. And when your evidence says that actually myeloma is the blood cancer that kills most people 5 years after diagnosis and your name only mentions leukaemia and lymphoma, it’s time to do something bold and brave about it.
So they have. They’ve found a new name that can help create the blood cancer community patients are saying so loudly that they want, bring together all the work they do (not just research) and be so memorable that people know exactly where their first port of call should be if blood cancer comes anywhere near them.
After two years of thought and consultation they’ve decided on the name – Bloodwise. I like it. Yes, there’ll be a few people who say it doesn’t explain exactly what it does on the tin. And I do understand how attached people can become to a name when it’s linked to someone you’ve lost.
But from a strategy and campaign standpoint, I am sure it works, and I think it can be a strong foundation of the future success I know this great charity will have. The thing that unites all these diseases is what the cancer is living in: blood. We all have it and we don’t tend to think of it as being healthy or unhealthy, it just is. But unhealthy and indeed deadly it can most certainly be. So that is where the ‘wise’ part comes in. We all need to be wise about our blood: how it works, what can go wrong with it, what the symptoms look like when it does.
So here’s to the new name, Bloodwise. Help us meet the objective of universal UK recognition for what it is and what it does. Help us with the Strategy of shouting out about it. Do both of those and this new Tactic can help us meet the bigger O that brought the charity into being, and is now so much closer to being met.
PS: Find out more about the charity here