Here’s another post froma guest contributor, Rob Dyson, discussing the challenge of PR when it isn’t about shifting products/shares/government funding…but *shock horror* about helping people. Over to you, Rob….
As Third Sector PRO’s do we need to tighten our tools?
Having worked in PR / Comms roles for around four years in the not-for-profit field, I’ve noticed some themes that run through our beloved ‘Third Sector’.
There is undeniably some incredibly good PR being done on malnourished budgets, poor resources and with ‘products’ that…well are just not that ‘sexy’, frankly. You tried selling an inclusive model of independent housing for disabled people over a sleek MP3 player with the ability to lend the listener teleportation skills?
But this can actually make us PR’s best kept secrets – innovative, resourceful, and approachable to our target media contacts. Yet before we place a worthy slap on our altruistic backs let’s agree that as a sector we’re not without our faults…
If you weren’t quick off the mark, you’ll have missed this year’s deadline in May for the innovative “Media Connections Awards scheme”, funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and run by the Voluntary Action Media Unit (VAMU) and the Media Trust. I’d urge applying in ’08. I entered last year, along with about 200-odd eager charity beavers, and secured one of 20 national placements.
The purpose of the programme is to “enhance the media skills of people who work in the charity sector” by placing them in shadowing – and often working – roles in media institutions across the UK.
My time was spent with the BBC and I quickly found myself immersed in editorial meetings of the likes of The Today Programme, and felt a little like I had been permitted into a very select coven – with the chance to influence the stance of big news-setting institutions. And, I had at times brutally honest conversations with journalists regarding their opinions of my sector and our -ahem – failure to sometimes deliver the goods…
So what did they tell me?
Forgive me if I’m teaching charity PRO’s to suck eggs here but one oft-overlooked point were reiterated to me time and again – from producers, editors, and reporters: there absolutely must be the media ‘peg’ for the charity ‘apparel’ to hang on. These could be…
1. New research
A piece of brand new research, or a survey (of over 1,000 people), that reveals something about society that needs addressing is one way in. It could be about discrimination, access to healthcare, employment rights, the environment, etc; all bread and butter not-for-profit themes – but whatever it is has to be big enough, ‘shocking’ enough AND be clearly asking or calling for something to be done about it.
2. Say something – don’t be bland.
A not-for-profit should be damning a policy or ministerial decision – not just giving a shoulder-shrugging ‘disapproval’ or raised eyebrow. A really strong line is needed, and even better if it resonates with a current theme – like a response to a policy that day, or piggy backing of broader media story with your twist on it. Not only must we stick our heads above the parapet but we need to understand the devil we deal with. Don’t be afraid to feed new lines, new angles and dimensions on an existing story to a journalist. As long as the piece has genuine longevity they will welcome it. Some will be positively grateful!
3. Colour with case studies
Without the colour or texture or ability to tell a story with a real affected person, the story is weakened. Media know that real people are worth a hundred charity talking heads. Here is where you can really be their best friend – just make sure the relationship is reciprocal and your cause gets a plug in the process. It is more than frustrating when you have killed yourself getting your best / most emotive case studies over to a journo, and then…they forget to plug your organisation or they leave a website / telephone number out. Brief them well, and be clear about what you want to get out of it too.
So what’s it like working for a charity?
Well it’s not all sandals and socks and knitwear, that’s for sure. In fact charities are *gasp* quite trendy these days, and very competitive. The average age of people breaking in is early to late twenties, with possibly a slight lean towards more women, especially in PR.
Charities are big business – and many work with large corporations either through corporate responsibility programmes, charity of the year partnerships, and on innovative projects. Many also lobby Government on big issues, and are increasingly turned to for consultations on shaping policy. Government know that they can’t change society on their own, and not-for-profits can be agents of real social change. Plus lots of celebrities want to be associated with a ‘cause’ to lend them some of that feel good stuff. So you could be working with the big brands and swanning around with slebs, whilst making waves that don’t just make stakeholders money but actually change their lives for the better.
If you are interested in PR careers in charity, log on to Facebook and join up to the Third Sector PR and Communications Network.
You could be surprised.
Rob Dyson is a Press Officer at disability organisation Scope. About cerebral Palsy. For disabled people achieving equality. http://www.scope.org.uk
• The Media Trust runs successful media training seminars and a media matching scheme to help charities access marketing and PR help. http://www.mediatrust.org
• The Voluntary Action Media Unit has developed http://www.askcharity.org.uk, a database of charity media contacts which journalists can subscribe and tap into when chasing leads and case studies for stories.