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Clara Hughes, National spokesperson for Bell Let's Talk Day (Hand-Out/BELL CANADA)
Clara Hughes, National spokesperson for Bell Let's Talk Day (Hand-Out/BELL CANADA)

Why Bell chose to champion mental health Add to ...

A day of heavy texting and tweeting injected some $4.8-million into Canada’s mental health system, as cellphone users across the country took up Bell Media’s offer to donate 5 cents for every message sent that mentioned the company’s name and its Let’s Talk Campaign.

But the institutions that provide front-line mental health services weren’t the only beneficiaries of the high-profile campaign, which saw more about 96 eligible million messages sent from coast-to-coast. Canada’s largest media company thrust itself into conversations across the country for an entire day.

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Mary Deacon runs the program for Bell, and talks about why the company decided to tackle mental health and how it feels about the critics who suggest the project is little more than an elaborate marketing exercise meant to help sell their products.

Why mental health?

I think mental health is an issue whose time has come. It’s just starting to take off across the country, you have a new mental health strategy for Canadian workplaces. There’s so much growth in awareness – you just see the issue now becoming part of the mainstream. Some of the work to eliminate the stigma has been done.

How much credit does Bell deserve for that?

I think Bell has been important, because we do have a well-known brand. We’ve been in business 132 years. We’ve put the strength of the Bell brand behind a cause that has been almost silent and invisible and did not ever really get the corporate support that can help people pay attention.

You worked raising money for CAMH for 10 years – was there much corporate support behind the scenes?

Without lying, I had to work extremely hard to persuade donors to let me use names and not be anonymous, whether it was naming a building or funding a professorship. We’d go down that road with major corporations, and for whatever reason they would always decline. So there’s no doubt in mind there’s an issue of stigma.

I heard Bell wanted to focus its donations to one cause instead of a more scattershot approach. Why mental health?

As part of the way the George Cope is leading Bell there’s a real emphasis on focus. He wanted to bring that same vigor and focus to community investment and we went through the process of looking at what we could do that could have an impact. We wanted to focus on a cause, and in my mind there is not a health issue that is more pervasive.

Was there any concern about Bell’s reputation?

The risk to the brand was a consideration. I know those discussions took place at Bell and Bell decided it was important to do because it would demonstrate leadership and differentiate us from the pack – which is important in a competitive marketplace. We can also very clearly see how having a focus that is different from competitors and other major corporations is important. But in the end, it’s been right for the mental health community and it’s been right for Bell.

So no second guessing about choice of cause?

We picked a cause that builds awareness and credibility around the brand in a very authentic way. As somebody who has been involved in mental health for 15 years and had both brothers die by suicide, I can say this is an absolute Godsend for mental health services. But it’s also helped people see Bell in a different, more positive light and made them think about giving Bell a second chance.

How does it actually help your business?

Qualitatively from what I hear people say to me and others is that people never really thought about Bell as a company that would support a cause like that and that it made them think twice about Bell. It’s helped people see Bell in a different, more positive light and made them think about giving Bell a second chance.

Why attach your name? That gives the cynics a chance to dump on the campaign and dismiss is as marketing.

I can understand that there is cynicism. But if you know about the issue of mental health, you know the single biggest barrier to people getting help is the stigma. So having an organization with the history, breadth and heft of Bell being associated with it so publicly gives a boost to the mental health community.

Where does the money go, and when does it go there?

We made a commitment to invest $50-million over five years. Now that number has grown because of the Let’s Talk day, which is on top of that. We’re halfway through, so we haven’t spent it all yet. But that money will be spent.

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