Category Archives: PR guides

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.

Amazon at 15: older and wiser?

To mark our 15th birthday, we considered shouting about our greatest achievements. Exciting campaigns, award nominations, high profile events. They are some of our favourite moments. But so are many of the small projects we’ve done for little-known charities. Not to mention our work on challenging and complex social and environmental issues.

Many wonderful people have worked with us and supported us over the years. Thank you to those who have advised us, to all our inspiring clients, to our loyal friends and partners, and especially to our talented and tireless Amazonians. You rock!

Reflecting on the many clients we’ve helped and the people who have helped us, what seems more important than individual highlights is what we’ve learnt along the way. Things like…

Hand-in-hand is the only way to land
A successful project depends on a successful relationship. The way agency and client teams plan, work and communicate is directly linked to results. The same is true when there’s no agency and it’s in-house departments working together. We all know this, but it’s one of those maxims that’s easier to say than do.

What works? Constantly checking that lines of communication are open, issues and opportunities are being discussed while there’s still time to act, and achievements are celebrated together.

Not every ‘creative idea’ is a good idea
We all love an imaginative solution and a cool concept. But not if it doesn’t achieve objectives. The very best ideas are dripping with strategic thinking. Take a risk, but a considered one.

Does it fit? Do your research, figure out your strategy, come up with your ideas, then check back. Does the idea truly fit the strategy?

A difficult delivery?
Everyone rates ‘high-level’ thinking. But sometimes people under-value the hard graft and boring old project management that goes into effective delivery. There’s not much point having a stand-out campaign plan, but messing up on the implementation.

Our tip: Put as much effort into doing a campaign as you did in crafting and developing it. Value every member of the delivery team, whatever their role.

Less is more
Again, easier said than done.

Do this: Only say what really needs saying. You’ll gain hours. In which to be a smart and ruthless editor of everything written.

We’ve learnt – and are learning – these lessons. If we continue to practice what we preach, our next 15 years will be a breeze. See you all along the way.


As one coalition fades into the history books, many more are springing up, not in Westminster, but across the charity sector.

Over recent years charity coalitions of various forms have become increasingly popular as ways for independent organisations to join forces behind single issues – some of them organisations that, in the normal course of their work, would describe each other as competitors in terms of funding and share of voice.

One of the most recent to launch is A Fair Deal for Women, an umbrella group of 11 women’s rights charities, including Women’s Aid, the Fawcett Society, the Women’s Resource Centre and Rape Crisis, with funding from the Barrow Cadbury Trust. This model, with its own brand, website and communications, is just one of many forms these collaborations can take. Others see charities uniting for shorter periods or one-off projects, in the form of co-signed open letters for example, joint events or even protest marches.

There can be no doubt that charity coalitions can have a real impact. Look at Time to Change, for example – the programme run by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness to tackle mental health discrimination and stigma. That initiative has a significant amount of time and money behind it, but smaller versions work well too. That said, from a communications point of view coalition arrangements of any type can raise important questions, particularly for those who are not the largest or loudest at the table.

Many coalitions see big household names joining forces with smaller, more special interest groups – take the Children’s Charities’ Coalition on Internet Safety, which sees NSPCC sitting alongside, for example, ECPAT UK, which campaigns against child trafficking and transnational exploitation. Clearly there are stories that ECPAT are going to be best placed to offer comment and insight on for the media, but how do they ensure that their role in the coalition doesn’t send journalists who should be speaking to them running off to chat with the NSPCC press office, who they’ve dealt with before and know are in a position to respond with all the speed and confidence of a large comms team?

Clearly the differences in expertise and size among these groups represent a key strength – pulling together the various perspectives that exist around an issue. But if you are a small-medium sized organisation considering getting involved in a coalition or collaboration of some kind, or if you’re already in one, it’s worth taking the time to think about how to get the best out of it, and how to avoid some possible pitfalls.

1 – What do you want to get out of it?

It sounds obvious, but smaller organisations need to be absolutely clear on what they want to get from a coalition; even more so, in some ways, than the larger players. You have to be confident in expressing this, and single-minded in applying it in discussions around direction and communications, to avoid being swept along by someone else’s agenda. Some good ground work in the early stages, to establish your must-haves and what you bring that no one else can, will stand you in good stead.

2 – What do others want to get out of it?

Obviously everyone should broadly be working towards the same thing, but it’s worth taking time to think about whether bigger or more well-known organisations in the group are using this partly as an opportunity to move into new areas – your own area of specialism being one of them. That’s not a deal-breaker of course, but it’s best to be clear on everyone’s motivations and what they might mean, even indirectly, for your own work.

3 – Fight (nicely) for the spotlight

Working alongside organisations with a more recognised brand than your own can offer huge potential in elevating your charity’s position in the minds of audiences, but only if you are confident and assertive in taking the opportunities it presents. Make sure your spokespeople are as good as anyone else’s, so you can’t be side-lined in favour of more ‘media-ready’ interviewees. Invest in good quality training for your people, and make sure you are as able to offer compelling case studies and statistics as the others on the team. Only then can you make a powerful case for being the one to feature on the Today Programme, for example.

4 – Establish a shared and fair approach to handling communications

It’s all very well getting the content together and your spokespeople ready, but if journalists and producers are all calling the press office of your largest or best-known member, then you’re at risk of never getting a look in. Conversations must be had early on about how to share out the media interest and give all members their chance to speak, so far as they want to or are able to. A process must be agreed that will allow swift and consistent responses to media enquiries, but that takes account of the needs, expectations and potential benefits for all involved. One more slot on Channel 4 News is always nice for a major household name, but it won’t make the same difference to them as it will to a small organisation that gets few chances to talk at such a level.

5 – Think about how you’ll wind it up

Coalitions often form around distinct projects or campaigns, and they work well in focusing attention in this way. But campaigns are often left floating around when the group has run its course, with no clear end or next steps communicated to all those who have been engaged in the process. It’s important to invest in telling people what you’ve achieved and what you’ll be doing now – particularly so for smaller organisations, who may not have another significant PR opportunity for some time.

Working with others always brings challenges, but there’s no doubt that if you approach coalitions in the right way, they can offer a huge platform for the specialist and front-line expertise of small-medium organisations. Make sure you make the most of them.


When we were asked to speak at the National Housing Federation’s annual Marketing & Communications Conference in Euston last week, I juggled my diary around to make sure I could be there for the whole day. I was looking forward to hearing a range of views on the role of marcomms in the sector, particularly when housing is adopting an increasingly centre-stage role in the escalating general election furore.

I wasn’t disappointed. The conference, which this year had the theme ‘Strengthening Your Voice’, included a controversial presentation by the producer of Benefits Street, making his case to a room that struggled to accept his arguments. The breakout sessions covered everything from digital inclusion to voter registration. But the speaker who most stood out for me was Boris Worrall, Director of Futures at Orbit – one of the largest housing providers in the country.

Boris spoke passionately about the need to change the narrative across the housing sector, dropping an obsession with jargon and complex tenure explanations in favour of a stronger, more challenging story about the need for a range of housing options. He urged the sector to come together, in the same way it has done for the impressive Homes for Britain campaign, to increase public understanding of, and appreciation for, housing associations and the products they offer to so many different people – those in work, and those not in work. Boris argued strongly for a broadening of the debate, beyond housing associations as a ‘safety net’, to include the ‘springboard’ role played by much of the sector – a more positive, aspirational message.

I couldn’t agree more. While the mainstream media remain obsessed with dramatic, victim-filled bad news stories (which need to be heard, of course, if we are to highlight the implications of top-level decisions and push for policy change) the proliferation of digital channels means the housing sector can and should be pushing out an alternative view of social and affordable housing. What it is, what it does, who it’s for, and what it wants to achieve in the future. Boris made that case very well, and it was great to see the enthusiasm spread throughout the packed auditorium.

I’ll look forward to seeing how Boris’s message is taken up by the sector in the crucial coming months.

For some top tips linked to my own session, focused on making the case for communications, you can download our free ‘Introduction to Making the Case for Comms’ here.

See what was talked about during the day on the NHF Storify –

– Kirsty Kitchen



We were very proud sponsors of a CharityComms event last week focused on storytelling.  The idea of telling stories might make you think of fictional tales but, as our senior consultant, Kirsty Kitchen, told the audience at King’s College, we are all great storytellers and our stories are fascinating because they are true.

Stories are crucial for a charity as they are what brings its work to life.  They help supporters, donors, volunteers and new audiences identify with what’s happening.  They can often picture themselves in the situation and a well-told story with a beginning, middle and an end will help to keep audiences with you, to find out what happens in the end!

The speakers alongside Kirsty included Judith Barnard, director of strategic communications for Sightsavers.  She shared how they told Winesi’s story to bring to life their ‘A Million Miracles’ campaign.  It’s aiming to raise £30 million in the next three years to fund one million operations to restore people’s sight.  It was a very innovative way to tell the story, harnessing the networks of a blogger, offering live interaction with Winesi’s surgery through Google Hangout and even involving schoolchildren in telling their own stories of how it would be to lose their sight.

It had a clear beginning, middle and an end – which involved a lot of singing and dancing when the bandages were removed – and an emotional return home to the grandson he’d not yet been able to see.  There was many a damp eye amongst us in the hall.

Jo Graham, research director at nfpSynergy, explored the role of research in storytelling and how quantitative and qualitative data can provide the evidence to strengthen the story.  Plus, the need to keep the elements of the story clear and simple – you don’t want it to be a bedtime story and send audiences to sleep!

What made this event so interesting was the range of speakers.  It closed with a presentation from Canon EMEA’s marketing communications director, Nigel Taylor.  We might think the corporate sector doesn’t have much to share with charities that they can make use of, but Nigel proved that isn’t the case.  Canon’s recent campaigns told stories not about products but about events that needed a quality camera to capture them.  Advertising (you’ll have seen the one with the deer wandering the streets at dusk?) draws audiences to Canon’s website and social media channels where the stories are developed and expanded.  And all the while, these stories, as Kirsty pointed out in her opening speech, work as part of the organisation’s overall narrative.

We all tell stories every day and we’re very good at it.  But sometimes it’s a bit more difficult to work out how to tell them for your organisation.  This was a fantastic event for sharing ideas and getting charities to think about how it can work for them.  Of course, if you’d like some help with your storytelling, we’d love to hear from you.  Now, have you heard the one about…

Download free Introduction to effective storytelling.



Visit our website and you’ll find the latest in our new series of intros, this time focusing on evaluation.

Evaluation is a really important part of a campaign because you need to know whether it was successful and whether it achieved its aims. It’s not just so you can justify your salary to your director or chief executive. If you’re in a third sector organisation you need to demonstrate the value of what you do to trustees, donors, volunteers, stakeholders and more. You also need to determine the success of your campaign for your future strategy. PR doesn’t stand alone but feeds into every part of your organisation.

Like so many aspects of public relations, evaluation has changed and there are new methods to demonstrate a campaign’s success. It used to be the size of your cuttings book that mattered. A weighty tome with hundreds of pages was, and still is, an impressive document to drop on to the Board’s desk, especially when your cover page boasted an advertising equivalent that was six times what the campaign cost to run.

But now the industry has recognised the need to analyse the content of that coverage – its tone of voice, if it contains key messages, a logo or a web link. ‘Opportunities to see’ is a key calculation as it assesses the number of times someone might come across your message. It can mean a feature in a local weekly paper has as much value as a NIB on page 12 of the Daily Express.

Digital and social media have also added new dimensions to campaign evaluation. It’s tempting to be dazzled by figures and celebrate 1,000 ‘likes’ or 400 new Twitter followers, but as our intro will show you, the real value is in impact and outcomes. Did you set out to get 400 new followers? Or did you want 400 new callers to your helpline?

These are questions you should be asking yourself at the beginning of a campaign. In order to know where you’ve ended up you need to know where you started from. And if you’ve kept an eye on things on the ‘journey’ (sorry, went a bit reality TV show there for a minute) then you’ve made changes where you’ve needed to, and achieved your goals.

We’re always interested to hear from you. If there is an intro you’d like from us then let us know.


Following our new intro about how to write a press release, our next guide looks at how to get coverage in your local media.

Local coverage intro

The value of your local newspapers or radio stations depends on your organisation. Local communities might be key audiences in terms of service users, donors or customers. They could be the people you need to communicate with in terms of your image and reputation; how you’re viewed by the people who live and work where you do.

Even if you’re a national organisation, communicating with people on a local level can help them to identify with you more closely. And in some areas, a weekly paper has a greater readership than a national daily, so be careful before you write them off as not worth the bother.

Check your area

It’s really important to understand the media you’re targeting. The first thing is to know what area they cover, which can vary from two villages to a whole county – or the north of one county and the south of another. Technology means you can listen to radio stations online and read newspaper content so it’s easy to do your research.

The right content

The local media landscape is changing. Newsrooms are much smaller than 15 years ago and staffing is tight. Opportunities for coverage are also shrinking as some local papers close or merge, and many independent local radio stations share content once their breakfast shows are over. You have to present your story in the best possible way, and make it easy for journalists to use your content. Our guide will help you to achieve that.

Social media

It’s also worth bearing in mind that local media all tend to have Facebook pages and Twitter feeds so images, captions and Tweets are important for whoever you’re speaking to, be it print or broadcast. Video or audio taken on your smartphone is good enough quality these days so why not use it?!

Local knowledge

Just make sure you check your pronunciation and your spelling of people and local place names. There’s no better way to flag yourself as an outsider if you get one wrong! Here are a few to ponder… Beauchamp, Sideway, Alnwick, Heysham, Berkeley, Beaulieu, Olantigh Park, Ainderby Quernhow.

Visit the Resources section of our website for this and many more guides.