Competition or the cause?

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A story about a well-known Australian with media connections voicing a Community Service Announcement (CSA) caught the eye of the Cube team last week.

The Daily Telegraph reported on leading Sydney radio station 2GB’s decision not to run a CSA for little-known charity Retina Australia because it used the voice of the charity’s NSW patron, Don Burke. The reason? As it turns out, Burke has a weekend gardening show on rival station 2UE.

2UE's Don Burke

2GB went one step further and declared it would not air any rivals’ voices on its airwaves.

Unsurprisingly, this decision provoked an emotional response from Burke, who claimed the decision was ‘deeply hurtful’, especially as his name is not announced and it’s just his voice. The article also jolted the newspaper’s online readers into action, attracting in excess of 40 comments, most of which supported Burke and dismissed 2GB’s position.

This decision by 2GB raises an important, often unasked question – should competitive issues be set aside in the Australian media when the aim of the communication initiative is to raise vital funds for a charitable organisation? Or is it fair to put the needs of business before greater benefit?

Celebrities are engaged by companies and charities to help highlight a specific health cause more often than not – and their involvement is particularly crucial for organisations like Retina Australia who are inevitably deemed less ‘sexy’ (and therefore un-newsworthy) by the media.

The decision on who to use is often based on a combination of the celebrity’s personal connection to the cause and ability to attract the desired media attention – referred to in journalist circles as their ‘media currency’. If the chosen celebrity also has a regular column in a magazine, or fronts a television program, this is usually viewed as a positive by-product of the agreement.

Ironically, Retina Australia has received far more publicity from the decision taken not to air their CSA than would have been achieved through simply airing the CSA itself. But the situation does highlight celebrity affiliations to media won’t always lead to widespread coverage and that, in some instances, it can hinder – rather than help – the ability of communications professionals to spread a valid, important message far and wide.

This highlights how important it is to consider media outlet competition as well as cause connections and media currency when drawing up the shortlist of celebrities for a campaign.

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