PR lessons from the feel-good story of the year

Written by Yoo Mee Pontonnier, Global Head of Marketing , CARMA

The story of a 100-year-old war veteran who inspired the world and raised over £32 million in a month.

Earlier this year, the Coronavirus was rapidly exerting its terrifying grip over everyday life in the UK and the world. Everything we had taken for granted was being turned on its head as schools, restaurants, shops and workplaces shut their doors indefinitely. Families, friends and loved ones were unable to see each other and instead were being ordered to stay at home. We were surrounded by daily government press conferences, bleak graphs of COVID-19 cases exponentially rising at a frightening rate and stories of loss and sacrifice sprawled across every media channel day after day. 

Among this depressing chaos, emerged Captain Tom Moore, an unassuming WWII veteran. The retired army officer refused to be cowered and instead rose to the challenge once more and showed us how to act in the face of adversity. His goal was to raise £1,000 for the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), the heroes during the pandemic who had recently helped him with a broken hip, by walking a hundred laps around his garden by his hundredth birthday. Within the first week he had already raised over £100,000. By the end of the month he raised nearly £33 million from donations from around the world, appeared in over 29,000 online articles and over 43,000 pieces of global broadcast. 

The story of Captain Tom captured the hearts and minds of people sitting at their home office desks, their television sets and their kitchen radios. From Bradford, England to Boston, Massachusetts; Captain Tom was everywhere. But this isn’t a story of how ‘things just fell into place’, this is evidence of the power of PR and how good storytelling and authentic stories can go viral. 

What factors contributed to the success of Captain Tom? And what can PR pros learn from this story? Media intelligence solutions provider, CARMA, captured and analyzed global media coverage across all channels to understand how Captain Tom’s story went viral and the impact that PR had on its success. Some key insights from the research include:

  1. PR is powerful as ever. With opinions floating around for some time that the press release was dead, CARMA’s report demonstrates how this longstanding practice started a domino effect, proving PR is very much alive and well
  2. Understanding your audience is critical in today’s complex world. Captain Tom’s story tapped into the landscape and mood of the entire country which was key to its success
  3. Don’t underestimate traditional media. While some think that digital reigns supreme over traditional media, CARMA’s analysis highlights how traditional media played a critical role in making this story go viral
  4.  Measurement matters. It is what has allowed us to identify the power PR had throughout this story and to understand what activities and coverage drove donations throughout the campaign

Based on the in-depth analysis of the story and with input from leading PR experts, CARMA has identified six key lessons we can all learn from Captain Tom’s success. Read the full report and lessons here: https://bit.ly/397hPGv

Yoo Mee Pontonnier heads up marketing for CARMA and is based in London. Always the curious learner, you can find her out and about exploring London and other cities, or listening, watching and reading anything to do with mythology and history. Prior to joining CARMA, Yoo Mee gained diverse marketing experience working both client and agency-side at Ketchum, Estée Lauder Companies and Christie’s. 

Photo by Gabriel Bassino on Unsplash