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Sincerity is key in campaign spokespeople

By Tom Roche

30 October 2015

This week, Professor Green has received mass adulation for speaking out on an issue that’s so personal to him, yet relates to thousands of unheard voices – depression in men.

The rapper, real name Stephen Manderson, lost his father seven years ago due to an ongoing battle with mental health issues that led to his suicide, and ever since that day he has been open about his experience in a bid to show young men that it’s okay to talk about their mental state.

Forster Communications have championed mental health as an issue for several years, and what’s so brilliant about the work Stephen is doing is that he is on a mission to ignite real change. His life experience has affected him in such a way that he’s driven to alter the way society perceives mental health in men – it is not a weakness, it is a problem that affects one in four people, and he is using his celebrity status to save lives. Through BBC documentaries, an autobiography and countless interviews, Stephen is succeeding at putting male mental health on the agenda. As ever, Twitter was an indicator of the success of his recent coverage, I’ve made a short Storify to show how men responded to his recent talks.

His success, and what makes a campaign in general so effective, lies in being able to speak from the heart, draw on true experience and deliver messages that resonate with the target audience.

However, what struck me in particular, as a communications company working with many non-profit and corporate clients is that he appears to be tackling the issue without partnering with an organisation, and charities are understandably stumbling over themselves to tag onto the press he’s receiving.

Of course, there are partnerships between celebrity and organisation that work perfectly together. A prime example is Sir Ian McKellen, a founding member of the gay rights organisation Stonewall. I’m a big fan of how far the organisation has come, and it’s in part due to the actor’s relentless touring of schools across the UK on behalf of the group to talk about homophobic bullying, in addition to his active involvement in Stonewall campaigns. Like Stephen, Sir Ian is driven purely by his desire to create real change, and people can see their passion shine through.

For an audience to sit up and listen, the aspect of being genuine must be there. Take the unfortunate incident of Barnardo’s and Made in Chelsea’s Binky Felstead as an example. Other than being a ‘long standing supporter’ of Barnardo’s, her link to the organisation wasn’t clear and scepticism grew. She was a spokesperson on Friday, and then vilified on Monday for taking £3,000 to support the organisation. The debate about paying celebrities is a separate one, but for me what’s most evident here is that we’re not idiots – sincerity will win our attention, rent-a-gobs will win our groans.

Finding the right celebrity for your client or campaign is not an easy task, research and time has to be dedicated. You need someone with a strong link to your cause, who resonates with the audience and, most importantly, will speak passionately about the subject at hand.

If you haven’t already, please do watch his documentary on his experiences with depression and suicide.

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