The recent conflict in Gaza has prompted mass media coverage and an outpouring of shock and concern from the public. With large areas of the Gaza Strip destroyed and over 1,800 people killed, nearly 400 of them children, the area is desperate for aid. But what is the best way for charities to channel public interest into donations? CR talks to Save The Children’s head of film & photography Jess Crombie about the complexity of campaigning for help during a conflict…
Save The Children began its latest Gaza campaign about ten days into the recent conflict, when the charity launched a press campaign asking readers to text to express their support for a ceasefire in the region. The campaign featured two ads, each with an image of a child, alongside the headline ‘Stop killing children’.
In choosing which photographs to use in this first campaign, Crombie and her team looked through the images coming in from news photojournalists, as while conflict is taking place, this is their first source of imagery. She was keen for the two ads to work together to tell a story. The image of the little girl, shown above, appeared first: “We ran this first as we thought it was the most powerful image, it’s a little girl, she’s been injured, her father is very upset. It’s an emotive image. We thought if you’d seen that, then you go on a journey to [the image of the little boy].”
The second image, below (and shown cropped, top) features a six year-old boy who was photographed at the funeral of his younger sibling. While the boy is not looking at the camera – usually a key requirement in capturing the attention of the viewer – the emotion of his story is deeply evident. “I loved the fact that there were all these people around him, surrounding him and holding him, I thought that was very powerful emotionally,” continues Crombie.
Empathy and emotion are the key reactions that Save The Children is trying to achieve with the images it uses in its campaigns, rather than shock and horror. “What we’re not trying to do is shock you, what we’re trying to do is engage you,” says Crombie. “We’ve done studies in this and we find that with the really shocking images, people just switch off from them because it’s too much. What actually engages people is emotion. Lots of our supporters are parents, and lots of our supporters are women and people over 50 so we have to think about those audiences as well when we’re putting together our ads. However, the response to this has been very across-the-board in terms of the demographic, which has been interesting. I think it’s because it’s been so in the news and also it’s a very polarising conflict, everyone has an opinion on it.”
The charity is keen to keep the politics of the situation out of its work. “We’re a humanitarian organisation, our focus is children, our focus is not on the political situation,” continues Crombie. “It’s not for us to say ‘Israel stop bombing Gaza’ and ‘Gaza stop sending rockets into Israel’, it’s for us to say ‘377 children have now died, this is a fact and it’s not okay’. Whatever the conflict is, it’s not okay for children to die in conflict, that’s what we want to keep saying. Our voice in the clamour of all the voices is ‘let’s think about the children’.”
Save The Children also uses YouTube to spread its message. A recent film it placed online about Gaza – tactically titled ‘How to help Gaza’s children’ – has received over 130,000 views, and according to Crombie has been the most successful element of the campaign in terms of responses from the public. The charity has also put up documentary style films featuring Osama Damo, who works for Save The Children and is based in Gaza, on YouTube, which give a sense of some of the destruction that has taken place in the region.
Damo also gives regular interviews to news organisations, spreading the Save The Children name further in the media, and helping to emphasise that the charity is a place to go to should people want to take action.
Commissioning its own photography and film can only begin to happen in a ceasefire. “So we’ve now got two photographers working with Osama, who go out with the distribution teams,” says Crombie. “Potentially [the imagery from this] will go out in an email to the people who’ve given us their details, to say ‘thanks, this is what you’ve helped us to do’. And it will go up on YouTube as a follow-up to the ‘how you can help’ video.”
Sometimes the charity takes a different route in its ads, avoiding film and photography all together. The latest press ad, above, is text based, listing the names of all the children killed in the conflict so far. “Sometimes photography is not the most powerful medium to go out with,” says Crombie. “Sometimes in a situation like Gaza which is so photographed and you see so many images and so much footage all the time, actually sometimes you want to jolt people out of that.”
With all the images it uses, Save The Children has to be certain that the photographs or film can be verified and that they are able to find out the stories of the children they feature. This can be especially difficult when using images supplied by news photojournalists. “We have a really strict consent and child-safeguarding procedure that we go through so when we are buying in an image from a journalist that’s not working with us, which we only do right at the beginning of a conflict, we will have a conversation with the photojournalist themselves and find out what was the situation and what was the communication that they had [with the subject],” says Crombie. “Obviously this is all just coming from the photographer so we have to just take their word for it to some degree, but there have been images we’ve rejected because the photographer has said, ‘I just took it and ran’.”
This process becomes far more involved when Save The Children is the commissioner. “When we’re commissioning imagery, it’s very, very strict,” continues Crombie, “we have a consent form that everyone has to use and it’s really quite lengthy and involved. It’s designed specifically to be like that so you have to have a proper discussion with someone when they’re giving their consent… This slows people down in terms of gathering imagery in the field but is really important.
“There are also child safeguarding protocols – for every single image we use, we assess the situation for that child, we look at the context within which the child’s being photographed and whether or not that child will be put at risk with us showing their image. In conflict situations, most often we will change all the names of all the children featured…. Our procedures are very stringent and strict… You have to do it, it’s really important. Our focus is on children, we’re not a news agency, so our focus is to make sure children are safe first and foremost, before we do anything else.”
Looking into the longer term, the battle for the charity is to keep people’s attention when the immediate media interest has tailed away. “You get a spike in donations at the beginning of a situation,” says Crombie, “but you need a sustained amount of donations to keep that work going. That’s where we have to be a bit clever and creative and think what the stories are that are going to be a bit unusual, a bit different. What stories will make people emotionally engaged. So that’s the next stage and that’s what will be happening over the next six months and year.”
All creative by Save The Children’s in-house design and photography team