Highlight on: Lifewise

By Marieke Esveld


For many not-for-profit organisations, PR campaigns are a main driver for donations and raising awareness of their work. PR campaigns make up a large portion of my work, and each of my clients use these to achieve a specific goal, whether it’s reaching a fundraising target, creating a shift in thinking about a certain issue, or getting people to get involved in a project.

But what makes a successful campaign? Strong stories and messaging are key. Let’s look at social development agency Lifewise’s 2015 Big Sleepout campaign as an example.

Lifewise Big SleepoutLifewise work to empower Kiwis on the margins, with a particular focus on ending homelessness. The Big Sleepout is their biggest fundraising event, which recreates the experiences of rough sleepers, raising awareness of and breaking down barriers surrounding homelessness. The event is targeted at influential business people, politicians and community leaders, and aims to raise funds, while inspiring people to implement change among their own networks. During the six years that it has run, the event has gone from strength to strength, in the number of people involved, funds raised and media coverage gained.

Leaving an impression is important, and consistent messaging is key to doing so. We wanted all coverage of the Big Sleepout to have an impact on the public, and leave them thinking constructively about the event, the issues faced by homeless Kiwis, and what they could do to help.

Right from the beginning, we ensured that key messaging about the Big Sleepout was reflected in all communication about the event. These were decided by the Lifewise team, based on the organisation’s values, key info about the issue at hand and what they wanted to public to “take away” with them.

Big Sleepout key messages:

  • It is possible to end homelessness
  • Homelessness is a growing issue
  • Nearly half of NZ’s homeless community is under the age of 25
  • Homelessness is not a choice, it’s a last resort
  • A home is not enough

Lifewise’s work supporting New Zealanders of all walks of life means that they have access to inspiring people and stories, and it was these that gave media coverage surrounding 2015’s Big Sleepout a real point of interest.

People relate to people, and when addressing a social issue, real stories from real people are extremely powerful. When pitching the Big Sleepout story to media, we focused on the different people involved, and issues the event addressed, to cater to each media outlet’s specific audiences.

Sarikha Rosli copyHowever, the main story centered around Rika, a young woman who Lifewise had supported off the streets. Once pregnant, homeless and scared, thanks to Lifewise’s support, Rika now lives with her partner and young son on Waiheke, and is healthy, happy and looking forward to the future.

Rika’s story added hugely to the campaign’s success. Not only was she intelligent and eloquent, but her story of emerging from an extremely dark time was emotional and relatable. She was young, bubbly and outgoing, the kind of girl one might have gone to high school with. She was an ordinary kid, from a good background, and her story drove home the fact that this can really happen to anyone.

Rika’s story of strength and resilience, along with her optimism, courage and passion for helping others, was a huge hit. Her story went viral, and and the Big Sleepout was covered by (among others) the New Zealand Herald, the Dominion Post, Newsworthy, Stuff.co.nz, The Paul Henry Show, 3 News, One News and the Otago Daily Times.

The most successful fundraising event Lifewise has held so far, the event was attended by 119 Auckland business, political and community leaders, and many others in Rotorua. The campaign raised over $317,000 towards ending homelessness, and generated over $718,000 of PR value.

Vault Media Productions - #BSO2015-9306 copyThe 2015 Big Sleepout campaign changed Kiwis’ perceptions of homelessness, allowing people to gain a greater understanding of one of the major social issues affecting our communities. It raised a significant amount of money to further Lifewise’s work to end homelessness, and it taught people how they can help others who are struggling. The campaign was interesting, exciting and challenging to work on, and our work was made much easier thanks to Lifewise’s brilliant and hard-working team, strong, consistent messaging, and a passionate young spokesperson who wouldn’t let life beat her.

To find out more about Lifewise’s work, head to www.lifewise.org.nz. You can read more about Rika’s story here.