The Gatehouse Blog

Keeping comms pumping at the British Heart Foundation

In July 2018, the British Heart Foundation launched its new promise to supporters to Beat Heartbreak Forever. Kerry Smith and Zoe Shaughnessy explain how this marked the culmination of an internal engagement campaign that set new standards for internal communications.

Founded in 1961, the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has become one of the largest charities in the UK, with more than 4,000 employees nationwide and a staggering 20,000 volunteers. Every year, it funds more than £100 million worth of research into heart and circulatory diseases through direct donations, fundraising events and a large chain of charity shops.

Over the past 50 years, the BHF has contributed to significant breakthroughs that have saved many lives. To achieve our mission to prevent premature suffering and deaths from heart and circulatory diseases, we knew that we needed to be more inventive. We had a responsibility to evolve.

Our new promise to beat heartbreak forever was a result of a strategic review, which lasted two years. After months of research, testing, refining and designing we had developed a story to help people better understand that whilst our research starts with your heart, it doesn’t stop there. Conditions like heart disease, stroke, vascular dementia and diabetes are all connected by your circulatory system and our research: if your heart’s not beating and your blood isn’t flowing, the consequences can be devastating. The new promise and story was bought to life with a new bold, modern look and feel, which illustrates how we fund research to keep hearts beating and blood flowing.

Taking our employee on a journey

We felt that the starting point for us was to take our employees on the journey first. We recognised that because we’ve spent the last 50 years talking about heart diseases that it may have been a surprise to some staff to learn that we fund more than £32 million worth of research into diabetes because it increases your risk of developing a heart or circulatory disease. We needed to help them understand how everything was connected by our circulatory system and why speaking about these other diseases or conditions was complementary to our original mission.

Our internal campaign had various objectives: empower our people to speak to our external audiences about the full breadth of conditions; explain what the new promise unlocked for us; and inspire them to share their stories and connection to the cause.

Building understanding

We took a multi-channel approach to rolling out the new brand internally ahead of the external launch and applied a unique visual identity to all tactics. A key priority was to build a clear understanding of our extended proposition, particularly for our retail and our customer service centre in Birmingham and Claygate and our Heart Helpline. We partnered with teams across the BHF to co-create and design a training programme specifically around the new promise. Talk BHF sessions were conducted as face-to-face workshops for our office-based employees and replicated and tailored as an online learning module for our store-based and field employees prior to the external launch.

We ensured that the thinking and positioning of Beat Heartbreak Forever was being led from the top, with regular progress updates from our CEO and executive team; we also created a network of dedicated brand ambassadors, who helped to cascade key information as much as provided us with much-needed feedback with regards to how successfully messages were landing and reverberating internally.

Of course, we made all materials available on our intranet, Heartnet – including short informational videos, bite-sized nuggets of text, FAQs and fact sheets to help teams understand key milestones.

Making it personal

What we do at the British Heart Foundation is deeply human – we save and improve lives. We promoted sensitive yet frank discussions about the impact these diseases have on sufferers and their loved ones. As part of this movement, we hosted intimate ‘show and tell’ sessions where people suffering from heart and circulatory diseases and their risk factors would come in and speak to members of staff, being frank about their conditions and answering any questions. Fully comprehending the effect these diseases have on people just like them was a powerful step towards getting staff to resonate with the BHF’s shift in position.

The internal campaign culminated with #CloseToMyHeart, which encouraged employees to share their personal experiences with heart and circulatory diseases on Yammer. We had reached that stage of the campaign where people understood the new terminology and felt equipped to share it externally, and it was starting to resonate with them personally. More than 60 online conversations, reaching over 2,000 colleagues and highlighting the power of encouraging individuals to bring their ‘whole self’ to work – the campaign is still in flow and has actually fed in to our external campaign around World Heart Day.

“We took a multi-channel approach to rolling out the new brand internally ahead of the external launch and applied a unique visual identity to all tactics.”

A strong pulse

The #CloseToMyHeart campaign has changed employee culture at the BHF. It’s been heart-warming to see so many employees connecting with our purpose on a more intimate level. Not only did this achieve our core campaign objective to increase awareness and engagement, but it has also made our working environment and culture warmer, more open and more supportive.

We have also recorded the highest employee attendance on record for our town hall meetings, and according to a survey in April, nearly 80% of office-based colleagues felt informed about the new BHF promise.

We realise that the work to truly embed this is only just beginning. It will require a constant and concerted effort to ensure that Beat Heartbreak Forever is embedded across our organisation. But the foundations that have been laid are very strong and enable us to understand and measure the impact that communicating the full scope of our pioneering research is having for our supporters.


Biography: Kerry Smith

With over 20 years’ experience in Human Resources and as a chartered fellow of the CIPR, Kerry Smith is an authority in the fields of organisational development and people strategy. The lion’s share of Kerry’s experience has been at board-level in the not-for-profit sector. For the past five years, Kerry has assumed the role of Director of People & Organisational Development at the British Heart Foundation and has recently been announced as one of HR’s Most Influential for the not-for-profit sector.

Biography: Zoe Shaughnessy

With more than 15 years’ experience in corporate communications in the public, private and charity sectors and an MSc in Applied Psychology, Zoe joined the BHF in January 2018 as Head of Internal Communications and has been focusing on growing employee engagement through enhancing the people experience at the BHF.