This is a guest blog by Sam Forsdike of Postcard Productions, the film company who worked on the #findingmike campaign alongside Rethink.
Back in September last year I was sat in a coffee shop waiting to meet Jonny Benjamin for the first time. I could never have imagined that just eight months later we would be about to premiere a film together based on one of the most successful and heartwarming social media campaigns in recent years.
As a production company that specializes in making thought-provoking films that have a social purpose we were keen to meet Jonny, an online mental health campaigner with a big following, to discuss collaborating together. For Jonny, the importance was producing a film that would reduce the stigma surrounding schizophrenia – a condition that he lives with – and as he talked very honestly about his own experiences he revealed he had once tried to commit suicide off Waterloo Bridge but had been stopped by a complete stranger.
I was immediately struck by this simple yet very powerful interaction between two unconnected people. Not only had it resulted in completely turning Jonny’s life around but it had inspired Jonny to become a campaigner so that other people wouldn’t go through the despair he had suffered, and so set in motion this spiraling butterfly effect from which thousands of people around the world had benefited.
The film was born. We would launch a campaign for Jonny to find this stranger and document his journey. It would have an engaging story of human interaction at its heart that would form a natural narrative but also, subliminally, raise awareness about suicide.
The task of finding ‘Mike’ – the name Jonny had given this stranger – was daunting. Jonny had tried in the past but with little success. Principally because he had very little recollection of what happened that day on the bridge, including what the man looked like. Testing the truisms that we are all only six degrees of separation apart and live in a global village, we decided the core of our campaign would be launched through social media.
We approached the charity Rethink Mental Illness, who Jonny had just been made an ambassador for, to see if this is a project that they would like to be involved in. Securing their backing gave the campaign a much wider platform and an existing social media base that could be harnessed.
We launched our campaign on the six year anniversary of when Jonny had met ‘Mike’. There was a natural emotional resonance to the date but also a hook that enabled the campaign to get picked up by the press. A media strategy was put in place to kickstart the campaign with appearances on daytime television, news reports and interviews with journalists lined up for the first day. Simultaneously, Jonny and Rethink Mental Illnesss, would make their online appeals to pick up on the reactions and encourage people to share and spread the story through their networks.
Within 24 hours the campaign had exploded. There was blanket coverage in all the press outlets the following day and the #findMike hashtag was trending in the UK and countries around the world. The mailbox that had been set up was receiving numerous leads that needed to be chased up and analysed whilst Jonny was also receiving messages through his own personal social media networks.
We had never anticipated such a response – TV stations and journalists around the world were bombarding Jonny to speak to them – but the success of the campaign wasn’t difficult to deconstruct. The story was simple but hugely emotive, and it captured people’s imagination. Furthermore, the ask of the participants was easy. All they had to do was click ‘share’ or ‘retweet’ and they could feel that they had made a valuable contribution towards helping Jonny.
We had always intended for the film to be observational, to be an honest and true reflection of Jonny’s search, whether this was successful or not, and with the campaign becoming such a phenomenon this acted as a natural spine to the story. There were many red herrings and dead ends along the route but we were all relieved when an email came in from a very convincing lead and on meeting him everything came flooding back for Jonny.
While Jonny was able to get the closure he had been longing for were also able to reflect on utilising social media for the positive effect of producing a campaign that had raised awareness about mental health and stimulated important conversations around suicide.
The film, which captures every moment of Jonny’s search, premiered last night at the BFI. It can also be seen online at www.findingmike.co.uk
Postcard Productions was established in 2010 by Sam Forsdike and Richard Bentley to make films that matter.