Health campaign storytelling - to get the human angle, look to Hollywood or The Archers

Cheltenham Literature Festival today lifts the lid on Alzheimer’s and asks can fictional representations help us understand the experiences of sufferers and their families?

Yes is the obvious answer and much credit goes to authors Lisa Genova (Still Alice) and Elaine Proctor (The Savage Hour) and to Tim Parry, Head of Communications at Alzheimer’s Research UK, speaking at the popular #CheltLitFest.

What all health campaigners can learn from the film of Still Allice, and @TheArchers, who showed Jack Woolley’s dementia (umbrella term for symptoms affecting mental health, like alzheimers) is the power of real stories.

Every health campaign on the planet is competing with others for funds, support and understanding and a share of the public’s time and brain-space.

And to a degree the public would really rather read about stuff that comforts and amuses them, rather than scary or serious things.

So how to capture their imagination, and persuade the media to run page-features, or bloggers and serious social media activists to give you some time?

  1. Make it real.  OK, you may not have book publishers or @TheArchers ready to tell your stories, but if you follow these principles, who knows what could happen?
  2. Find the human stories that illustrate what your health campaign means: the worst and the best that can happen to real people, the real human experience, the victims, the heroes etc.  What is the “drama triangle”?
  3. Get trained interviewers who coax that story out of a nervous, shy patient or carer, and help them want to share their story with the nation. (Many of our best are ex-journalists, forensic but nurturing – a heady mix.)
  4. Don’t kill this process with too much political correctness or lack of nerve.  Be gutsy, gritty and keep the stories simple and uncomplicated.
  5. Film the stories using the best film people you can afford and get it out on YouTube or Vimeo and up on your website and make it good enough for the conventional media, like the Daily Mail to want to use, editorially.  
  6. Get celebs in support: they don’t all need to be A-listers, but dig and you’ll find a TOWIE star who can relate to it.  Persuade great bloggers to target the Huffington Post.
  7. Be politely persistent with journalists, professional, tenacious then their most reliable source, available 24x7x52, when they want your help.
  8. Learn from the masters: this Guardian feature didn’t happen overnight but how powerful is this report?

Dementia is a group of symptoms not a disease. This group of symptoms affects mental tasks like memory and reasoning.  Dementia can be caused by a variety of conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer's disease.

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