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By Sarah Skinner, MD, Reputation & Issues

We’re pretty proud of these! And huge credit to the brilliant videographer, Ben Treston. London’s Air Ambulance Charity (LAAC) is exactly that, a charity, but many think it is Government funded. When the public realise that it relies on donations, their propensity to give, sky rockets. Cue the creative challenge – how do we get this message out to an audience (London) who are inundated with charity messaging and facing ongoing financial pressures? Well, in part, by developing impactful, concise and sharp video content. We have devised and led on the implementation of filming for the charity for a while now and whilst it’s a logistical challenge (try coordinating medics, fire crew and pilots to get on camera, who quite literally have life-saving work to be doing, whilst factoring in the short time windows where the helicopter is on the helipad and not out on a mission), it’s fascinating and I never tire of doing it.

One of these sessions stayed with me though. Dr Flora Bird was talking through how the medics each organise their own suits, whereby they place their medical equipment precisely in each pocket, so that in a trauma situation when every second does really count, they waste no time in getting what they need.

She was focusing on this occasion, on a thoracostomy (do have a look at the video here.) She arrives at the scene (often at the roadside), cleans the chest area, makes holes in the chest with her scalpel, opens it up, releases the blood around the heart and pumps it with her own hands to keep the patient alive in those vital seconds. Whilst many think that LAAC is a ferrying service, the reality is the majority of the job is carrying out complex procedures at the scene, stabilising the patient to then enable road ambulances to get them back to hospital.

The challenge on this particular filming day, was that we needed Flora and all the other medics and pilots, to tell us what they do on a daily basis, but to split their responses for the general public and media and major donors, Trusts and philanthropists, respectively.

The increasingly popular phrase “corpsumer” is being used a lot by agencies now - and rightly so - the industry evolves, but how do you go about achieving nuanced consumer and corporate messaging on film, with time poor medics and pilots? (We literally had minutes with them.) I won’t go into how we did it – you can make your own judgements below but I will say that whilst you can prep to your hearts desire (and as an avid prepper for pretty much everything, there’s nothing I enjoy more) sometimes you have to rely on being completely in tune with that person on camera, on the day, knowing exactly what is going to resonate with your audience. It's a similar principle to pitching, you can prep through the night but the key is reading the people in the room and making quick decisions on how to tailor your approach accordingly. You can only do all this by truly listening.

And this is where I think comms people are often sold short. The assumption particularly on agency side, is that we’re extroverted, we say what many have said before, we promise the earth and don’t always deliver. I’m not saying this is always the case but as a crisis comms specialist, I’ve lost count of the number of times people say “oh, so you spin stuff.” No. I get under the skin of an issue, interrogate the client, interrogate the stakeholders, be annoyingly obsessed with the detail, establish who has suffered or has the potential to suffer as a result of said crises, work out how it could get worse and only then, establish a way to proceed. Good comms people are exceptional listeners. We observe, we absorb and we will often remember things which have been said, better than most. To really understand a client, you also need to be humble. Clients have built something, whether that’s a service, a product or a career and they’ve worked relentlessly to be in a position where they can bring an agency on and they deserve our respect for this.

On the day during that filming session up on the helipad, it was an intense to say the least, few hours where we had to glean, very quickly, which crew member was going to deliver the best lines for each audience. This was then followed by a careful editing process whereby we relentlessly interrogated (with the client) whether we were effectively conveying what we needed to. Would a 30 year old Londoner who knew nothing about the service be inspired to donate? Would a philanthropist with 100s of requests on their desk, understand the true impact they could have on this charity?

I’d say we did well but I’ll leave it there. The true skill here is held by the medics, the pilots and the fundraising team at this incredible organisation. We are simply helping to tell the story. But we can only do that by truly listening.

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