Page last updated at 16:55 GMT, Monday, 26 January 2009

Could ad ban be good for appeal?

A man walks over the rubble of a demolished building in Gaza
The DEC says the destruction in Gaza has led to a humanitarian crisis.

The row over the BBC's refusal to air the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Gaza appeal advert has generated virtual rolling coverage on the news channels, radio news programmes and in newspapers.

Many more people are aware of the appeal as a result, so could the ad ban actually help the DEC's fundraising campaign?

This defence seemed implicit in BBC director general Mark Thompson's defence of the ban on Monday.

Speaking to BBC's Breakfast programme said: "potentially many millions of people would find out about the appeal through BBC news programmes."

But what is the connection between coverage and cash?

Invaluable coverage

Chris Greenwood, director of planning and research for Bluefrog, a marketing consultancy which exclusively works with charities, said the coverage was absolutely priceless.

"PR is disproportionately effective in charity fundraising," he said.

"Get mentioned in the news and you see a massive effect in terms of money raised. That's why charities often have much bigger PR teams than companies.

The message people get is that 'The BBC's in trouble again', not 'There's a humanitarian crisis in Gaza'
DEC spokesman

"As a result of the coverage, more people will associate Gaza with aid and fundraising, whereas before they might just have thought of conflict.

"They are now more aware they can do something," he added.

Graham Page is a media director at RAPP, an agency working extensively with the charity sector.

He places adverts across the media for his clients and agrees that the coverage is invaluable.

"No company or organisation could afford to buy this amount of airtime and column inches," he said.

But will the quantity of the news coverage and the increased awareness of the appeal actually lead to more money being donated?

This campaign will raise less money than it would have unless we stop watching the story and start giving
Lindsay Boswell,
Institute of Fundraising

"An advert is designed to direct you to donate. It gives a phone number," said Mr Page.

"A news item leaves the viewer to take the next stage themselves.

"While the news item carries more weight and has more emotional impact, it leaves you with work to do.

"We say the news has a stronger front end and a weaker back end.

"An advert has a weaker front end, but a stronger back end," he said.

But Mr Greenwood thought the coverage probably would convert into cash.

He said: "As long as the coverage is out there, I think people are smart enough to make the connection themselves."

Lindsay Boswell, Chief Executive of the Institute of Fundraising, thought the ban would hurt the appeal.

"This campaign will raise much less than it would have unless we stop watching the story and start giving," he said.

"What you get through a TV appeal is the need.

"A picture paints a thousand words and with an advert you can put across a compelling case for need right into people's living rooms."

The last DEC campaign raised 9.7m for the humanitarian crisis in Congo.

After several weeks of news coverage, a DEC advert aired immediately after the BBC's Six and Ten O' Clock News bulletins, as well as on rival stations and radio outlets.

A print advert also appeared in newspapers.

The DEC who track their donations said the vast majority of the money raised came as a direct result of the television adverts.

Early success

So far the DEC says the Gaza appeal has received more donations than would normally expected for this stage of a campaign

As of Monday lunchtime, 600,000 had been donated, with 10,000 people visiting the appeal website over the weekend as a result of coverage of the row.

But most campaigns do not begin until the airing of the TV adverts, so it is difficult to compare.

The DEC said it is too early to judge how the campaign would be affected by the decision not to air the adverts.

Off message

While the DEC welcomes any increased awareness of the situation in Gaza, a spokesman said it was hard to know how helpful coverage of the advert row would be.

"The problem with the current coverage is that the message people get is 'there's a row with the BBC' or 'the BBC's in trouble again', not 'there's a humanitarian crisis in Gaza'. It's not the message we want to get across," a DEC spokesman said.

All publicity may be good publicity, but according to the spokesman, in fundraising it's no substitute for a direct advertising campaign.

"Unfortunately, in fundraising, if there's any reason not to give, people won't," he said.

"Campaigning organisers try to make giving as easy as possible for this reason - even enclosing pencils in mailings so people don't need to find a pen."

"If people are not asked to give, they won't. That's why an advert is needed."

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