Top tips for preparing a comms strategy

We’ve recently been asked to help several charities develop a comms strategy. It’s something that all organisations should have. But what makes a good one?

A good comms strategy gives careful consideration to what you should communicate, to whom and how, based on insights drawn from across your organisation and beyond it. It also tells you what you shouldn’t waste time on, which is just as valuable, if not more so.

However, not every organisation needs the same sort of strategy. Small charities with a few services and audiences should have a strategy that reflects that, focusing on what’s needed. Bigger organisations, juggling lots of viewpoints, stakeholder groups and sub-brands need to invest time and energy in a strategy that takes account of them all.

Here are our tips for developing a comms strategy that works for you not against you:

  1. Make it relevant –your strategy must be thorough, yet relevant and appropriate. There’s no point in creating a huge document, pulling in every view, opinion, bit of theory and every imaginable target – you’ll never be able to fulfil it, and you’ll end up pushing it to the back of your mind in favour of just ‘getting on with the job’.
  2. Make it robust – give thought to everything the strategy might need to weather, and build in enough flexibility so that, if new and unexpected opportunities come up, you can adapt and shape it accordingly.
  3. Workshop – we often find that workshop sessions offer a great way to explore core elements of a strategy to help establish buy in from across the organisation at an early stage. Involve people from different levels and include service users and volunteers.
  4. Share it and live it – writing your strategy isn’t the end of the process – you need to make sure it’s usable and remains relevant. Develop easy-read handouts or checklists for other departments to use and consider running training or information sessions to help others understand how it relates to them.
  5. Review – it’s also important that you make time to review your strategy at regular points to make sure it’s still relevant and achievable. If it’s not, make adjustments to reflect the reality of the situation you’re now working in.

Let us know your tips for developing a comms strategy.

Why small can be beautiful

Small Charity Week (13-18 June) is an opportunity to reflect on the incredible work done by some of the smallest organisations in the sector.

In a world where bigger is often considered better, it’s easy to overlook the work of organisations run by small teams with modest turnovers, and without the resources of big charity ‘machines’.

But, through our recent work with the amazing charity Birth Companions, we’ve been reminded of the power of small. Instead of being a negative, modest size can often be a real positive, particularly when it comes to comms and PR.

Here’s a reminder of how small charities can use their size to make a big impact:

  1. Be the expert – Rather than working at arm’s length, being part of a small charity often means you’re closer to the action. You understand the needs of your beneficiaries, the challenges they are facing and how they are changing over time. Use this to your advantage and keep an eye on trends. Build anecdotes about the service users you come across into your media and marketing materials. Authentic story telling is what it’s all about.
  2. Stay focused – A good comms strategy is tied to wider organisational objectives, so it doesn’t just serve its own purpose, but those of the charity. No one knows those better than you and your team. A clear comms strategy with measurable objectives will keep you focused on what you’re trying to achieve, and the best way to do that, ensuring no efforts or resource go to waste.
  3. Keep it personal – Good PR is all about building relationships and journalists love to know they can come to you for comment. As a small charity, having good relationships with a handful of trusted journalists who understand your organisation will set you in good stead and will make achieving quality coverage much easier.
  4. Be nimble – Free from the challenges of large teams and disparate departments who don’t talk to each other, you’ll find that decisions get made faster and sign-off is easier, which means you can be more responsive, not only in dealing with the media, but in reviewing your activity and adjusting it if it’s not achieving what you need it to.

Let us know about your experience of comms at small organisations.

Whole lotta love (or haha, wow, sad or angry)…

You’ll have noticed a new set of ‘Reactions’ buttons on Facebook. An extension of the ‘Like’ button, you can now choose from a range of emojis to show how you feel about a post. You can add a reaction by hovering over the Like button on a PC or by holding it down on a mobile, and then clicking on either Like, Love, Haha, Wow, Sad or Angry.

reactions picReactions will initially work in the same way as a Like – they’ll carry the same weight (loving something won’t mean more than liking it) and by ‘Reacting’ to something, Facebook will infer that users want to more see more of that type of content. Facebook has said this weighting will change over time, as they gather data and develop their understanding of what people want to see, since, clearly, being sad or angry about something doesn’t necessarily mean people want to see more of that in their newsfeed.

This is a potentially exciting development for charities, which often employ emotive and moving content, meaning users may be reluctant to ‘like’ a story highlighting the negative impact of a disease, for example. The fact that people can now express a wider range of emotions will help give a more accurate reflection and nuanced understanding of their reactions – which can be monitored and used to inform future content and campaigns.

It will be easier to see whether people are reacting in the way we want or expect them to, and to analyse which type of content gets which particular reaction. So if, for example, a positive post gets a large number of angry responses, you’re either doing something wrong or reaching the wrong people – and it’s possible that in future Facebook might let you select your ad audience based on different Reactions.

This latest development will hopefully lead to increased engagement amongst Facebook users, but let us know what you think and how it might change what you do.

Our #digital future

After attending the recent CharityComms seminar on digital communication trends, we wanted to highlight and share just two of the many interesting and inspiring ideas discussed, about how we should be using technology now and in the (near) future to engage audiences, and make sure we’re not just talking to ourselves.

Breaking out of the bubble was one of our favourites. Joe Hall of The Climate Coalition and Woo Hoo Yeah Yeah! reinforced the idea that while we might be doing very nicely in our bubble – having fantastic, engaged conversations – many activists and others who care about our issues remain on the outside. Meaning there are literally millions not being reached. Joe is right to argue that these people should become a much more prominent target and a defined focus for future campaigns.

With the assertion that social media is becoming people’s main source of news and information and Facebook making many of us more narrow-minded, it’s vital that we make a conscious and concerted effort to reach less engaged audiences, and not leave them behind.

Virtual reality (VR) was another idea with a lot of buzz. The technology has been around in various forms for a while. It looks like its moment has finally come, as devices are more readily available and affordable. For example with Google Cardboard anyone can make their own headset and experience virtual reality from a smartphone for arond £3.

These exciting developments open up a whole (virtual) world of possibilities for charities and organisations that rely on creating a connection between their work and their audience – giving supporters an immersive experience of the charity’s work.

Some organisations have already been exploring the use of VR. In May last year Amnesty International launched a virtual reality street fundraising project using VR sets to transport members of the public from the streets of London to the war-torn streets of Syria. And it worked. Amnesty reported strong, emotional reactions; some people were brought to tears. The figures are also impressive: after a week they registered a 16% increase in regular givers.

A big thanks to CharityComms for another great event, and to all the presenters for their enlightening talks. We look forward to seeing how these trends influence charities’ communications activities in the coming months and years.

For more info, look on the CharityComms website where you can check out all of the presentations and see some of the Twitter reaction from the day.

Charity Christmas Campaigns – a few of our favourites

‘Tis the season to be jolly, and charitable, so we’ve rounded up a few of our favourite charity Christmas projects. We’d love to hear which ones have struck a chord with you, or which you’ve been involved in! Tweet us @amzpr.

Crisis Christmas Party
This is a great way of building an easy fundraising ask into a season packed with pre-planned, cause-ready activities. Great to see it has been well promoted on social media by party-throwers and party-goers alike using #crisisxmasparty.

Crisis cropSainsbury’s and Mog for Save the Children
Sainsbury’s has pulled off another great charity tie-in, with a huge amount of editorial as well as advertising-led exposure for Mog’s Christmas Calamity with Judith Kerr, raising funds for Save the Children.Mog24 Lever Street Manchester – with Wood Street Mission
A beautiful offline project, with a giant calendar on the side of 24 Lever Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Each window will reveal a design created by local designers and illustrators which will then be sold to raise funds for Wood Street Mission, a charity helping children and families living in poverty.

Lever StWWF Advent Calendar
Unveiling easily shareable content including photography, films and facts each day to prompt donations in the run up to Christmas.

WWF#ObjectsUnwrapped – Historic Royal Palaces
A series of 24 films showing festive objects from the Historic Royal Palaces collection being unwrapped. This is a great example of just how effective simple, carefully produced films can be without breaking the bank!

ObjectsThanks to @madlinsudn for highlighting some of these on her great advent calendar storify.

Our favourite charity chief exec blogs

Hot on the heels of this year’s Social CEOs list from our friends Zoe Amar and Matt Collins, we’ve been thinking about the role of the beloved blog. There’s no doubt that an effective blog, well-written and well-maintained, can provide an excellent platform for chief execs to connect with potential funders and partners, demonstrate expertise to influencers, and inspire and thank staff and supporters. There are some great examples out there, through which leaders are able to demonstrate their personal take on the issues they represent and the work they do, in a way that adds passion and personality to their organisational brands. We’ve rounded up a few of our favourites here, some of whom feature on the Social CEOs list thanks to their blogging but also their wider social media activity. Tell us who you think we’ve missed!

And if these examples inspire you to get started on your own blog, or perhaps revisit one you’ve left dormant, you might want to read our blogging tips on KnowHowNonProfit.

Taking Action: Deborah’s Blog

Deborah Alsina, Chief Executive of Bowel Cancer UK, writes a fascinating blog about all aspects of the charity’s work, and her personal commitment to the cause. It charts everything from Deborah’s fantastic feats of fundraising (complete with incredible photography) to emotional accounts of friends who have lost their battle with the condition. A powerful reminder of the importance of the work we all do, and the value of both words and deeds.


Frances Crook’s Blog

Writing in her role as Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook regularly shares brief, clear insights on the world of penal reform from the corridors of power to newspaper headlines. Her blog is tightly focused, providing a strong platform for engagement with the issues of the day and helping to crystallise the charity’s position on key topics.


John Burton’s Green Diary

As well as highlighting the World Land Trust’s work and responding to wider sector issues such as negative headlines about charity fundraising, John discusses his own personal challenges too, including blogging about his cancer diagnosis.


Bubb’s Blog

Not only a Chief Exec himself, but also a representative of many others, Sir Stephen Bubb’s blog provides an insight on the moving and shaking at the top levels of the voluntary sector and its dealings in Whitehall.






Trust in charities: Who cares?

Public trust in charities is low. A raft of recent reports and opinion pieces makes for gloomy reading. Many commentators and sector bodies are of course looking to the future. Yesterday NCVO and ACEVO said they will work together to promote the positive impact of the voluntary sector.

CharityComms has been at it for a while, through the Understanding Charities Group. Last week we saw their draft narrative for the sector. Charities are invited to comment and contribute and it’s important that they do.

While we’ve been considering it, we happen to have also been finalising our latest guide, ‘Preparing a comms strategy’, which has reminded us that narrative and messaging don’t exist in a vacuum.

We mustn’t forget who we’re talking to.

A strategy cannot specify as its target audience ‘the public’. A comms campaign will only be effective if it’s based on an understanding of the people it aims to inform or engage.

So, while we read about the collapsed relationship between charities and ‘the public’ we must ask who that means. And who matters.

Not all audiences are turning their backs on the sector. Long-standing volunteers and supporters aren’t all walking away. Beneficiaries and service users aren’t jumping ship. Policy-makers aren’t all refusing to listen.

Indeed some charities we work with are seeing donor numbers rise. New communities of interest are forming, for example to raise money for people seeking refuge from violence.

We need to know exactly which groups have lost faith and who we need to reach. Which ‘publics’ really matter because they influence the sector’s ability to do its work? Who are we shaping a new narrative for and how do we want them to respond?

It may be out there somewhere, but we haven’t yet seen any research that provides this understanding. Have you?

We’d love to hear from you on this important challenge facing the sector. Comment here or find us on Twitter @amzpr.

The Amazon guide to preparing a communications strategy will be published tomorrow on our website.