Holding out for a hero

Media intelligence firm CARMA has recorded the incredible story of Captain Tom Moore’s £32.8m fundraising effort in a special report. It’s a lesson in life and PR.

At a family barbecue in early-April, 99-year-old Captain Tom Moore took some of his first steps of the year outside.

Recovering from a broken hip he had previously only been able to exercise indoors. As he walked, the idea came to him and his family that he could walk around the premises 100 times before his 100th birthday and do this to raise money for NHS Charities Together.

At first, the idea was limited to family and friends sponsoring him £1 a lap. “We thought we might make £100 quid”, said Captain Tom.

They then decided to be a little more ambitious and Captain Tom’s daughter Hannah Ingram-Moore asked her friend and company’s freelance PR consultant, Daisy Craydon, to promote the story to the regional media.

Daisy sent out a press release on 7 April to local media contacts and a JustGiving page was set up. An initial target of £1,000 was set.

Within a week, more than £100,000 had been raised. Within the month, the amount raised had increased to a staggering £32.8 million.

In a special report Stories that matter: Captain Tom Moore, CARMA has set out the story of how this incredible fundraising feat occurred, and the critical role that PR played.


1. The power of PR

An idea originally conceived as a small fundraising initiative over a family barbecue on 5 April ended the month by raising more than £32 million, dominating the news agenda, changing the history of charitable fundraising in the UK and lifting the spirits of the nation.

It can all be attributed back to one thing: a humble press release that changed everything. There was no other form of marketing involved or grand strategic plan. No advertising, no sponsorship, no sales promotion or other fundraising efforts.

The entire series of events that occurred can be traced back to that initial press release, supported by ongoing authentic communication, a compelling story, a hero, a strong sense of purpose, and an emotional pull that resonated with much of the population.

2. Great stories matter

Storytelling is at the heart of all successful communications and PR campaigns. Done right, it creates an emotional connection with audiences, triggering thoughts, feelings and behaviours that are incredibly powerful when aligned with an organisation’s objectives.

Captain Tom’s story had many of the classic elements of a great story: a plot, a hero and multiple emotional triggers with which the public could connect. Captain Tom’s walk encapsulated the classic ‘hero’s journey’, in which we find ourselves cheering on a hero embarking on a perilous mission to save the less fortunate – a plot line that has resonated among readers for millennia.

What made Captain Tom even more special was that he was a returning hero from the last great national threat, once more stepping up to play his part despite being a member of the generation most at risk of serious consequences from the virus.

3. Understand your audience

Lockdown has meant that different media channels are being consumed and at different times of day. For example, print has fallen off the cliff on which it was already teetering precariously. It has struggled to produce, distribute, and monetise during the pandemic.

Even where available, in a germ-phobic world there is a reluctance to pick up what many can see as unclean printed publications. Broadcast has seen a significant uptick in consumption across both radio and TV

Captain Tom’s story seeded with such an emphasis on regional broadcast was able to capitalise on this new dynamic.

Social media interaction is also up significantly lending itself well to the different hours that people are consuming the news as they adapt to the lockdown. As a communications professional, make sure you understand how your key audiences’ media consumption habits have changed.

4. Traditional media is alive and well

These days it can be tempting to think that the traditional media has lost relevance and to focus instead on digital channels alone, but Captain Tom’s story shows that to do so would be a mistake. It demonstrated that traditional media remains highly influential.


Broadcast can be an often-overlooked component of media outreach. Since the lockdown began, broadcast consumption has been significantly higher than normal. More people watching and listening to regional TV and radio helped contribute to a higher than usual exposure to Captain Tom’s story which in turn led to greater awareness.

As the month unfolded and Captain Tom’s story moved from regional media to national media, larger and larger audiences were involved, helping to keep his achievements front of mind.

Traditional and social media helped to reach the masses but there was another important factor at play that appealed to multiple audience categories. Celebrities, sports stars, politicians, comedians, pop stars, royalty, broadcast journalists and other influencers all promoted and engaged with Captain Tom, significantly contributing to the success of this campaign.

5. Content is critical

Since the start of the pandemic, the news agenda has been inundated with COVID-19 news to the expense of almost everything else. With most of the world in lockdown, the media is struggling to generate new and engaging content.

The new realities have meant that the production values that were expected up until recently are no longer so high. As content is difficult for media to produce, their appetite for amateur content has increased.

At the same time, our acceptance of watching this lower quality content has also increased. We have all become accustomed to streaming content over heavily congested networks. Facetime, Zoom, Houseparty, Skype, etc. have become our new normal. Lower quality images and sound are accepted. Even Netflix has reduced its streaming quality amidst the pandemic.

Now more than ever the news media is more likely to use interesting amateur quality content in its reporting. Audiences in turn are happy to engage with and share this content too.

6. Measure well

The true impact of this campaign is demonstrated by the very measurable outcome result that it delivered. The story is linear – an idea to raise some money from friends and family grew in ambition to include the local community.

A press release was written and distributed to the regional media. They found the content to be relevant and resonating with emotional appeal. The local media picked it up and covered the story. It then started to escalate, social media came into play, promoting and injecting it into wider and different relevant communities.

As the story grew, the national media took an interest and within three days Captain Tom was appearing on national TV news. His character attributes and the emotional resonance with the UK and latterly global audiences did the rest.

As the coverage exploded and the story escalated, awareness levels were growing. A story that resonated at multiple levels with its audience and was timed so well had a clear call to action. Search increased significantly, hits to the JustGiving page followed, followers to Captain Tom’s new Twitter account likewise, and over 1.5 million of us, from 63 countries around the world, contributed a world record amount for a sponsored walk of over £32 million.

This is the real story of those 24 days in April. This is the true legacy of an incredible man. These then are the numbers that show the awesome power of great communication, PR and a story well told.

Image courtesy of Crown Copyright Open Government Licence

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Managing Director, Metia and Visiting Professor in Practice, Newcastle University. Author #brandvandals, #PRstack, Share This, and others.

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