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Case study: Understanding schizophrenia

Rethink campaign won Excellence in Media Relations at Communiqué 2013

Published: 13 Feb 2014

Excellence in Media Relations

Client: NA

Agency: Rethink Mental Illness in-house team

Campaign: The Schizophrenia Commission

Timescale: 2012

A quick look

Communiqué Awards 2013 Winner
Excellence in Media Relations

Schizophrenia is one of the most misunderstood and feared illnesses in the UK. Despite the difficulties that people with schizophrenia have with the NHS, social care and the welfare system, the media generally only want to talk about it when a horrific crime has been committed. This campaign not only put schizophrenia at the top of the news agenda but also managed to shift the debate from violence to the 'catastrophic failings' in treatment and care for patients.

By focusing on a single compelling message, working closely with key journalists and opinion formers and using experts as spokespeople, Rethink Mental Illness gained unprecedented media coverage including BBC Breakfast, The Today Programme, Channel 4 News. As a result it has been able to secure real commitment to improve the lives of patients, including a 'development network' of eight NHS mental health trusts, and increased brand awareness.


In November 2011, Rethink Mental Illness set up an independent inquiry into the state of care for people with schizophrenia and psychosis in England. The year-long investigation resulted in a report, The Abandoned Illness, which laid out how patients are being failed, and what needed to change.

The major challenge was to change the national conversation about schizophrenia from one rooted in fear and violence, to the 'catastrophic failings' in treatment and care for patients.

Within this Rethink needed to raise awareness of the report's recommendations among commissioners, policy makers, politicians and donors. It wanted to influence the adoption of best practice across all systems and bodies affecting people with schizophrenia, educate the general public, increase brand awareness and position itself as a source of help and support for anyone affected by schizophrenia


In order to reach key audiences, Rethink focused its attention on a small number of outlets and aimed for quality, in-depth coverage. The charity worked closely with existing contacts well in advance of the launch to provide them with everything they needed to tell the campaign's story. This included well-briefed spokespeople, case studies appropriate to each outlet and attention-grabbing facts and statistics.

Rethink worked with the Science Media Centre to set up a press briefing two days ahead of launch, with a panel of experts from the Commission. The briefing positioned this as a key story and helped secure coverage from Reuters, Radio 4 and Channel 4 News.

Rethink complemented this approach with online activities including an infographic about schizophrenia and a series of blogs – each one aimed at a specific professional audience.

Charity ambassador Alastair Campbell hosted a guest blog post from Rethink's CEO on his website and promoted the story throughout the day on Twitter.


The campaign secured 39 pieces of national broadcast and print coverage, including BBC Radio 4's Today, features in The Independent and The Times and supportive comment pieces in The Guardian.

In total, media coverage reached a potential audience of over 110 million. None of the coverage focused on the issue of violence, but instead emphasised the poor state of patient care.Parliament held an adjournment debate on schizophrenia just weeks after launch, the first for over 40 years.

The APPG on mental health also dedicated two sessions to discussing the findings of the report. The coverage helped secure a meeting with health minister Norman Lamb and a commitment to ongoing fortnightly meetings to discuss progress. The raised media profile of the issue helped Rethink to raise over £150,000 in donations. NfP Synergy's monthly Charity Awareness Monitor also showed that for the first time, potential support for Rethink went above that of its closest competitor.

Client verdict

On December 10, 2012, health minister Norman Lamb told parliament the report was “very important”. He said: “It sets out how things must change, how services have to be more accessible, how staff have to be fully supported, how integration of services can change lives, and, of course, how people's mental and physical health must be treated equally. Too often in the past, mental health has been seen as the poor relation. The Government have established the principle of parity of esteem, and we now have to make it a reality. This debate is an important moment at which to consider that.

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