Every now and then, the opportunity arises to develop a PR campaign that has the potential to really make a difference. We’re talking about making a difference in people’s lives.
Shreyas, nine, has been described as ‘the greatest British chess prospect in a generation’ by Malcolm Pein, the International Director of the English Chess Federation. He has represented the country internationally and regularly competes with success against strong adult opposition in major tournaments.
Yet Shreyas faced deportation in September as the expiration of his father’s Tier 2 work visa loomed. Furthermore, a letter of appeal written by the ECF to the Home Office received a response stating that there was ‘no route, within the rules, that will allow [the] family to remain in the country.’
Pretty definitive then. Indeed, Pein admitted that he, ‘never thought we had much chance of overturning a written decision like that.’
But all was not lost. Brazil works with Pein in his guise as chief executive of Chess in Schools and Communities, a charity that uses chess to encourage children’s educational and social development. On top of growing awareness of the charity’s mission, Brazil offered, pro bono, to devise a campaign that would highlight the family’s plight. The aim was to appeal to the Home Office to reconsider this stance on the grounds that the UK would lose Shreyas’ prodigious talent should he be made to leave.
In Pein’s own words, ‘what followed was pretty incredible.’
With support from the English Chess Federation and with the backing of ‘chess-friendly’ MPs, Brazil’s campaign saw coverage land in the Guardian, BBC News, The Times, Metro, Daily Mail, inews, The Spectator, internationally in the Hindustan Times, Corriera Della Sera and the NY Times, and across multiple broadcast outlets (The Today Programme, Radio 5 Live, ITV and Channel 5). John Cleese even tweeted about it!
A week later, Shreyas’ father received correspondence from the Home Office granting an extension of the visa – Sajid Javid, the Home Secretary, had himself pushed this through after hearing John Humphrys interview Shreyas on The Today Programme. He said, “After carefully reviewing the evidence, I have taken the personal decision to allow Shreyas and his family to stay in the UK. The UK is a country that fosters world class talent and Shreyas is one of the most gifted chess players in his generation. We have always been clear we want a world-class immigration system that welcomes highly-talented individuals from across the globe.”
It was a remarkable turn-around, against the odds, proving the power of PR to deliver a message, and was one of PRWeek’s ‘Five Campaigns We Liked In August.’ The decision to allow the family to stay then became global news, being picked up by outlets in the UK, US and as far afield as New Zealand.
Since then, we have taken Shreyas to Parliament, where the young boy challenged Javid to a game of chess. It took him less than ten minutes to beat the Home Secretary and The Times ran a picture of the game the next day.