We saw the first disabled contestant on The Great British Bake Off and the second Paralympian on Strictly Come Dancing. Then there was the powerful but not overt inclusion of disability in mainstream adverts such as McCain, and other more overt examples for retailers H&M and Tommy Hilfiger. It was also a year filled with purple, with the first Purple Tuesday for UK retailers and a bigger, brighter and bolder #PurpleLightUp campaign, turning workplaces, businesses and public spaces across the globe purple.

Storytelling continued to be an important part of campaigns, bringing to life the lived experience of people with disabilities and mental health issues. Authentic campaigns are an important part of a disability network’s toolkit, but it’s crucial that the campaigns are led by and for disabled people and people with mental health issues and not by diversity and inclusion (D&I) or marketing teams. The saying ‘nothing about us, without us’ means that disabled people and those with mental health issues must define, drive and lead storytelling campaigns for them to be authentic, otherwise they risk being tokenistic and coming across as corporate tools, rather than real opportunities for culture change.

There is, however, an important role for D&I and marketing professionals to play in storytelling campaigns. These campaigns should be defined and led by those they represent, but they do need support with the creative design and delivery of the campaigns, to navigate the corporate minefield, to ensure that campaigns get maximum airtime.

When campaigns are led by those they represent, they are a powerful tool for culture change and can result in far-reaching awareness building and change within an organisation. They can also be a vehicle for societal change. We saw this starting to happen at the end of 2018 through the Government’s Disability Confident campaign, which ramped up on individual and organisational storytelling in the lead up to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Creating an authentic campaign is a bit like baking a cake (yes, that’s another baking reference!). You need some key ingredients and an approach which brings everything together – just like a good cake.

Here’s my recipe for a truly authentic campaign:

  • Storytellers – you’re going to need a couple of these amazing people. They’ll need to be comfortable in their own skin, understand the power of storytelling and be ready to tell their story.
  • Culture – it doesn’t have to be ‘disability confident’ yet, but it needs to be ready for people to tell their story. Most cultures change because of storytelling campaigns.
  • Support network – the people telling their stories are going to need support. Make sure you’ve got something in place to ensure your people are supported – whether that’s peer support, HR, an EAP or counselling service.
  • Diversity and inclusion professionals – these people are the magic ingredient because, without them, it isn’t going to work. They know how to get things done, so make sure you get them onboard early.

Start your preparation early. Your storytellers need time to understand how to tell their story and time to practise it, you’ll need time to build the campaign design and approach and your D&I team will need time to ‘sell’ the campaign internally.

If you’re wondering what impact workplace counsellors can have in authentic campaigns, I see that there is an obvious connection in the ways that counsellors can support employees to tell their stories, helping individuals to create, develop and understand their own story, exploring whether they might want to share it and how they might do so in a way that feels empowering and authentic for them.

As always, PurpleSpace is here to help disability network leaders with a toolkit called Telling Purple Stories. It provides helpful tips on how to deliver authentic campaigns at: https://tinyurl.com/purplestories

David Caldwell is a Digital Accessibility Manager at Barclays and a Founding Ambassador of PurpleSpace.