The judges were impressed by the passion and professionalism of the Macmillan team. This was a superb campaign, based on clear objectives, to combat the impact of Dr Google by directing those with concerns to Macmillan’s digital nurse and the wealth of relevant, accurate information on the organisation’s website. Supported by well-thought-out and relevant research, the campaign leveraged the interest in ‘Fake News’ to achieve some spectacular media results. More importantly, it drove home key messages about Macmillan and its wider role in helping cancer sufferers at every stage of their journey, rather than purely providing end-of-life care.


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Winner entry:

Brief and objectives:

Macmillan is often associated with end of life care. But we offer support across the entire experience of cancer – whether that’s being in the room when you get your diagnosis, supporting people to access benefits and financial support, or helping find the best way to tell your friends and family you have cancer. That’s why a key strategic objective for Macmillan is to raise awareness of the support we provide from the point of diagnosis – shifting perceptions that our work is only focused around the end of life.

To achieve this, we set the following SMART objectives:

  • Reach 25% of people affected by cancer with messages highlighting the support we offer beyond end of life care
  • Increase awareness amongst general public and Macmillan supporters about our services
  • Drive people affected by cancer to use our services
  • Drive greater awareness of Macmillan services amongst nurses

Rationale behind campaign, including research and planning:

The internet is a vital resource for people affected by cancer. However, Macmillan was concerned patients were turning to unverified sites for information which could leave them needlessly frightened and at risk of bogus cures.

Insight from our Online Community told us that many were turning to ‘Dr Google’ and facing a wealth of misinformation. This was also reflected in national media coverage, with countless
news stories and features around ‘cyberchondria,’ ‘fake news’ and bogus cures. We wanted to understand the scale of the issue so we conducted a YouGov poll to ascertain how many patients were googling their diagnosis and what effect this was having. Led by research and internal insight, we planned a media campaign that would help raise awareness of the problems of Dr Google and false information about cancer.

It would also provide a strong opportunity to highlight Macmillan’s role away from end of life care and drive awareness of our services, showcasing Macmillan as a trusted source of information online.

Target audiences were:

  • People affected by cancer
  • Cancer nurses
  • General public

Audience insight informed a list of key media targets where people affected by cancer are most likely get their news. This list of national, regional, consumer print, online and broadcast titles formed our target media list. To target cancer nurses, we targeted health trade media.

Strategy and tactics, including creativity and innovation:

When a chance conversation highlighted the creation of a new post – the Digital Nurse – whose role would be to provide support to people affected by cancer online, the team seized the opportunity. The Digital Nurse would be available help people and answer questions on Macmillan’s Online Community and social channels. Before the campaign, we knew that the key messages about our support offering and the appointment of our Digital Nurse were important. But neither were ground breaking on their own. We had to be creative. Tapping into the zeitgeist around ‘fake news’ enabled us to amplify our messages and turn an unremarkable appointment story into a national media hit, enabling us to drive people to Macmillan’s Online Community, and position ourselves as digital innovators, as well as reiterating Macmillan’s support offer.

With a strategic objective to build a deeper understanding of the services Macmillan provides – to change perception from end of life care – the PR team seized the opportunity to shift the narrative.

Implementation of tactics:

Using our research, we highlighted that many people were turning to the internet following diagnosis. We presented Macmillan as the organisation to turn to. Inserting Macmillan into the debate around ‘fake news’ ensured we gained cut-through with the national media. After drafting a press release, Q&A, and spokesperson briefing, we pitched the story to the media. We timed our story for a Monday, selling in from the previous Tuesday through to all day Sunday. This gave us an advantage as fewer PR professionals sell in over the weekend. Our Digital Nurse, Ellen, was a key spokesperson alongside other Macmillan experts. Case studies were briefed and available to give personal perspectives. We pulled together collateral such as
myth-busting pieces and top tips – all positioned as combating fake news. This provided a range of different angles for news, features, trade and broadcast.

Measurement and evaluation:

Results against SMART objectives:

Reach 25% of people affected by cancer with messages highlighting the support we offer beyond end of life care:

  • The story reached 64% of cancer sufferers an average of 3.4 times (Gorkana analysis)
  • Almost all coverage contained key messages about our services from diagnosis

Drive people affected by cancer to use our services:

  • Registrations on Macmillan’s Online Community almost doubled on the launch day, compared to the days leading up to it
  • 30% increase in calls to Macmillan’s telephone support line on the launch day and the following day compared to previous days
  • 60% increase in written enquiries to the support line the week after the story launched

Increase awareness amongst general public and Macmillan about the services we offer:

  • Reached 63% of UK adults (average of 3.2 times)
  • Reached 68% of Macmillan supporters an average of 3.5 times
  • 82 pieces of national and regional coverage
  • 20 pieces of national print and online including BBC News Online, Mail Online, Sun Online
  • 9 pieces of national broadcast including Radio 4’s Today Programme, BBC Breakfast Drive greater awareness of Macmillan services amongst nurses
  • Trade media coverage in Nursing Times, Nursing Standard, Nursing in Practice, Digital Health, and News Medical.

Our campaign exceeded all targets securing a high volume of press coverage across broadcast, national print and digital, regional, trade and social media. We’ve since had interest
from organisations such as The Ministry of Justice and Mencap who either want to set up a similar role or are interested in how we executed the campaign. PR Week has invited our Director of Communications and Digital Nurse to present about fake news at its next conference.

Budget and cost effectiveness:

The campaign was planned and executed by Macmillan’s in-house PR team. Our budget was minimal, only covering the cost of the YouGov survey, which was approximately £450.