Is live television organ donation the ultimate PR awareness campaign?

Given the global coverage of the apparent plans of the Big Donor Show (a reality programme where a dying woman will choose a donor for one of her kidneys), it is hard not to feel that the producers’ apparent objective of drawing attention to a shortage of organ donors has been achieved.

Laurens Drillich, chairman of the BNN network in the Netherlands behind the programme is reported as saying:

“We know that this program is super controversial and some people will think it’s tasteless, but we think the reality is even more shocking and tasteless: Waiting for an organ is just like playing the lottery.”

It is hard not to argue with the sentiment here – and the genuine involvement of the station given that its founder Bart de Graaff, died five years ago, aged just 35 from kidney failure after years on the transplant waiting list.

The approach illustrates the challenges facing campaigners and public relations practitioners working with health issues.  Would the media show such interest in a regular awareness campaign?  Would the public?  Undoubtedly, the strategy here has got people talking about this issue – the “shock appeal” has worked in generating coverage.

But, will it achieve any aims beyond publicity?  I doubt it – the politicians have been busy decrying the alleged programme but not acknowledging its underlying message. 

Campaigners need a change in public attitude towards registering and offering organs for donation – whilst the politicians seriously need to consider whether opt out donor schemes would be better than the current opt in ones.

Although the topic has been back on the agenda today – it is unlikely to have changed attitudes or behaviour.  And it has undoubtedly ranked up the “shock” levels required to generate such media attention just a little bit more.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.

6 thoughts on “Is live television organ donation the ultimate PR awareness campaign?”

  1. The immediate thing that struck me about this story is how on earth would you feel having to choose who should get one of your kidneys? How will she do it: a mental tick box of the most needy in her eyes of ‘someone like her’ who she can relate to the most.

  2. Jill – as you say, there is a huge moral dilemma here. I heard a discussion on television though that felt this wasn’t quite what it seemed – and made the good point that she could actually save two people when she died by donating both kidneys.

  3. Assuming of course that both kidneys are healthy. I was educated with this story; I didn’t realise cancer sufferers could donate any of their body parts at all.

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