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“It’s the biggest issue affecting women and children in this country”

How Avon, Refuge and Red Consultancy raised awareness of domestic abuse during lockdown.

Izzy Ashton

Deputy Editor, BITE

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Two women are killed every week at the hands of a former or current partner, while one in three women will be impacted by abuse in her lifetime. Domestic violence in the UK is getting worse, an alarming trend which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent nationwide lockdown, confining many people to their houses with their abusers.

Avon, Refuge and Red Consultancy saw this profoundly unforgiving time as a vital period both to raise awareness of domestic violence and to help those who need it most. The team launched the #isolatednotalone campaign to try and dispel the myths which still surround domestic abuse, which remains a taboo subject so shrouded in misconceptions and stereotypes that often stifle people’s understanding of it. 

Refuge has a long-standing partnership with Avon spanning 14 years, one of the organisation’s “longest and most significant partners,” as Lisa King, Director of Communications and External Relations for Refuge, explained. “We desperately need that support because domestic abuse has been and remains a very taboo subject in this country,” she added.

King spoke alongside Creativebrief’s Associate Board Director Stephanie Nattu, Natalie Deacon, Executive Director of Corporate Affairs and CSR at Avon and President of the Avon Foundation for Women, and Jenny Fieldgate, Strategy Director at Red Consultancy for the final instalment of the Creativebrief Explores series highlighting thriving creative partnerships. The team embody the notion that it really does take a village to both make and keep someone safe.

People could start to think actually relate to what it might be like for a woman experiencing domestic abuse where lockdown is her everyday life irrespective of COVID.

Lisa King

The biggest issue affecting women and children in the UK

Deacon highlighted that in its 135-year-old history, Avon has been supporting women every step of the way both through its business model, “which is about creating opportunities for women to earn and learn,” she explains and also through supporting the causes that matter to women. One such cause is the funding of frontline resources for fighting gender-based violence and domestic violence as well as working towards longer change.

As King says, domestic violence “is the biggest issue affecting women and children in this country,” with over 850,000 children witnessing or experiencing domestic abuse in the UK last year. She outlines that Refuge relies heavily on corporate donations such as those from Avon. The partnership, King says, is twofold: “It’s very much about raising awareness of the issue. Letting women know that Refuge is there to support them. And also raising funds to support some of those frontline services.”

For Deacon and her team at Avon, when the crisis started to hit other countries around the world before reaching the UK, they reached out to their network of partners and NGOs to determine what was going on. When they heard reports of a twofold increase in domestic abuse in countries that were already in lockdown, it left the team thinking, “what’s our role in this? How are we going to respond?” says Deacon.

“An unintended consequence of the isolation that was needed to contain the virus was [that] we were seeing an increase in the number of instances of domestic abuse,” explained Deacon. This meant NGOs like Refuge were seeing a huge surge in the number of calls they were receiving to its helpline.

King says that May 2020 saw a 66% rise in demand to an already very busy service, rising to 77% in June while the Refuge website saw a tenfold increase in the number of visitors. The organisation also launched a digital platform in May to offer silent support to women who might need help but couldn’t pick up the phone. King adds that it’s, “certainly been a period of time where demand for Refuge services has been greater than we’ve ever seen in our near 50-year legacy.”

Support is out there

Fieldgate says that it was during one of the agency’s weekly catch ups with Deacon and the Avon team, in which they spoke about the horrific statistics around domestic abuse, that they collectively decided to do something about it. She explains that the team, “felt it was time for us to activate incredibly quickly and that was the key: what could we do very simply, very quickly just to get some awareness out there?” 

A simple media strategy was drawn up to both encourage people to donate but also to remind people who needed it that help was out there. They created some quick social assets using #isolatednotalone so that social channels around the world could share it, says Fieldgate, to “let people know that they’re not alone, to let people know that support is out there.” 

To compliment the campaign, King did several radio and other media interviews, something that became more essential as people’s media consumption went up during lockdown. “If you are in your home, radio could be the only thing you have access to if you’re in a terrible domestic abuse situation so it was really important for us to get that regional broadcast element going,” she explains. 

Soon after the campaign launched, the Home Secretary Priti Patel clarified that women could leave home if they were being abused and that they had the right to contact the police and access safety. King says the team were reassured to see the clarification although she believes it perhaps came quite late in the day. 

The campaign’s reach, King says, goes some way to explaining why Refuge has seen such a surge in demand for services. It raised awareness, and got people talking. “The world got so much smaller,” King says. “Those things that were relevant to COVID got a lot of attention, domestic abuse being one of them. People could start to think actually relate to what it might be like for a woman experiencing domestic abuse where lockdown is her everyday life irrespective of COVID.” 

The space offered to the conversation meant the team could talk about the subject in a more extended way than they have done in the past, “to go beyond just snippets of information…beyond broken bones and black eyes,” and to properly explain what domestic abuse entails. “So that women could really identify and understand,” she adds. 

The increase in demand for the services has come, says King, “because women have had that lightbulb moment through the campaigns that we’ve run, through the media interviews that we’ve undertaken to think golly, that person they’re describing is me. I am being controlled.” 

We’re going to continue to keep the pressure up on that because this doesn’t go away.

Natalie Deacon

Getting attention and raising awareness 

For the Red team, as Fieldgate explains, “it’s definitely a topic that people wanted to write about and wanted to hear from us about, so we had that completely on our side. It was literally just, how do we get in touch of and in front of the right people?” They knew they had a strong story and that there was an appetite to print it; it was just essential that they spoke to the right people, to get the best person to listen to them. The campaign’s launch week was also the same week the UK reached nearly 1,000 daily death tolls so the news agenda was otherwise engaged with navigating this unknown and devastating territory. 

For the team, broadcast was important to get into people’s homes as was coverage in lifestyle publications. But it was social where the message really gained traction, with the assets seeing 10 million impressions in the UK alone; “They really were shareable and they really did start to make an impact,” Fieldgate explains. 

“This issue is so difficult to get attention for,” says Deacon but this moment felt like the right opportunity to really raise global awareness. With Red leading in the UK, the #isolatednotalone campaign activated across 50 countries, in Avon markets around the world. The campaign saw over 200 million in terms of reach and impressions, partly through earned media but also through shareable assets. The brand also involved its network of over five million Avon representatives, “who are really engaged in this issue and who are an amazing vehicle for us to really spread the word,” says Deacon. 

“Through the social assets with a really clear call to action, we were able to mobilise our communities and beyond that we have started on some open dialogues with governments across the world to ask them to keep this front of mind,” Deacon explains. While the brand will continue to support the issue moving forwards, she believes it’s vital that legislators and people driving forward the post-COVID agenda also keep it front of mind. “We’re going to continue to keep the pressure up on that because this doesn’t go away,” she adds. 

After the campaign launched both on social media and then covered extensively across media platforms, there was a 120% increase in calls to Refuge. Fieldgate explains that it was a situation that was “extraordinarily sad but good to know that hopefully we were able to make some impact in getting people to call up and ask for help.” 

“Many people don’t understand that domestic abuse is a crime,” says King. “They don’t understand Refuge is there. So, this has been a great way, albeit very sad and distressing, to share the fact that Refuge exists and that our services are there 24/7 for women and children.”

Pace and agility

All three acknowledge that it was the team’s capacity to react at speed and with agility that also contributed to the campaign’s success, particularly considering the extraordinarily difficult situation.

When the country went into lockdown on 23rd March, says King, Avon called Refuge to say that a donation of £150,000 would be made within the week. “I remember when I got the call, I was so emotionally overwhelmed I think I had a little tear,” says King. “To have that one-off donation to support us in a time of crisis was absolutely amazing.”  

It meant that it was something King could cite in all the media interviews she was doing as an example of the challenges facing the charity and the way corporate businesses could step up. “We have subsequently raised a lot more money and that is in part as a result of others seeing corporates like Avon take action and think, we should really be doing the same,” she says. It has meant the organisation has been able to continue to keep things running in these difficult times.

“Pace and agility, that is the key to this. Just do things as quickly as you possibly can. Get it out there,” says Fieldgate. “Don’t overthink it; sometimes you just need to get messages out there when it’s something as important as this.” With the media landscape shifting as quickly as it was, the Red team realised that ideas might not have the same relevance a week or even a few days further down the line. It meant constant adaptation and iteration of ideas and campaigns.

Deacon praises the leadership shown by the collective Refuge, Red and Avon teams and reveals her pride at how a campaign that began in the UK then stretched its impact around the world. With a $1 million donation from the Avon foundation and activation in 50 countries, Deacon says this is just the start, “or perhaps that’s one of the peaks.”

With Avon having supported Refuge and its work for 14 years, Deacon believes that what happens next is all about keeping the conversation top of mind: “Our big challenge as we move forward is to make sure we’re able to create other moments in time. From an Avon perspective we are looking at how we can find other opportunities to continue to resurface the conversation.”

With conversations circulating in the media about the disproportionate effect the pandemic is having on women, Deacon believes this offers the team a chance to mobilise the conversation once more. For the team, it’s about creating “opportunities to speak out,” to keep raising funds and to keep raising awareness. It’s about reminding people that domestic abuse isn’t going anywhere; that conversation around the subject is vital to keep organisations like Refuge running and to ensure that those who need it find the help that is on offer.

To watch the full interview, visit the dedicated Creativebrief Explores page.

If you or anyone you know might be experiencing domestic abuse visit https://www.refuge.org.uk/or call Refuge’s National Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0808 2000 247 or visit https://www.nationaldahelpline.org.uk/ for more information and a live chat.

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