Published: 12 July 2023

As part of our Festival of Partnerships, we're shining a light on partnering and collaborations, using examples from the sector to highlight how best to do it, the challenges it brings and the benefits. This blog from Worldwide Cancer Research focuses on collaborating for comms work.

By Stephanie Sinclair, Science Communications Manager, Worldwide Cancer Research

Want to partner with other charities whilst raising the profile of both your organisations? It may seem counter-intuitive to want to name-check other charities in your press release or share the limelight with anyone else, but my experience has taught me that working together can help a lot when it comes to writing a great story or getting decent coverage.

At Worldwide Cancer Research we fund discovery research into any cancer type, anywhere in the world. Increasingly, we have been partnering with other funders and charities so that we can make our supporters’ donations go further and ensure that more exciting, innovative research gets the green light. Out of the 30 projects we funded last year, eight were co-funded, and for the first time this year, we opened up applications to our funding in collaboration with five partners.

Dr Seth Coffelt and supporter (Claire)

From a research funding perspective, working in partnership has a lot of benefits, but as the Science Communications Manager at the charity, I was also very excited about these collaborations. I am always on the hunt for ways to champion our research and I wondered if these partnerships could give a new perspective. I also secretly hoped that they might be able to overcome one of the biggest obstacles I face in my role.

As I’m sure you will know, what can really help any science story is finding a patient or family member who can speak about what the research means to them. It adds that crucial human element. Plus, in our case, it gives an important platform to people affected by cancer to share their experience. However, since our projects can be about any of the over 200 types of cancer it can be a challenge to find someone with lived experience who matches up well to any specific project. That is, until you partner with a charity who are experts in that particular cancer type. I just couldn’t resist asking some of our partners if this was something they could help me with.

First of all, for oesophageal cancer awareness month I teamed up with Guts UK to write a story for our website and produce social media posts. I was able to provide a lay summary of the research that our charities co-fund, a project in Cambridge looking at how different mutations interact to cause oesophageal cancer (we already write lay summaries for all the projects we fund). In return, Guts UK had no trouble finding a supporter, Natalie, who bravely shared her husband’s experience of oesophageal cancer. Together we came up with content that both charities could use, and a way of working that I hope we can build upon throughout the duration of the research.

Next up, was the launch of a project in Glasgow about pancreatic cancer, co-funded with Pancreatic Cancer UK. Their brilliant comms team were not only able to track down a supporter, Claire – who has lost two family members to this devastating disease – but Pancreatic Cancer UK also helped write the press release and pitch it to a TV news station. With their help, it meant that both charities received considerable coverage in the papers and our researcher Dr Seth Coffelt and Claire appeared on the STV news.

I’m so grateful to our partners for embracing this collaborative way of working and I’ve certainly learnt a lot. So here are my three top tops for doing joint comms:

  • Play to each other’s strengths. Work out what each of you is good at, be it your social media savviness or your ability to breakdown technical science, and divvy up the roles accordingly.
  • Keep up the communication. On the day a story launches, Whatsapp might be an easier way to communicate than email. So don’t be shy about sharing your number if it will help keep everyone informed.
  • Consider how your brands work together. Think about how to place your logos alongside one another, what each of your key messages are, and how to raise awareness of both brands.

At the moment I’m working on a story with Leukaemia UK and one with Neuroblastoma UK, both of which I think have huge potential. So watch this space to see more collaborative communications. And in the meantime, if you’re interested in partnering with Worldwide Cancer Research please get in touch.

Read other blogs about partnerships and collaboration on our Festival of Partnerships: blogs page.

Image: Dr Seth Coffelt and supporter (Claire).