Category Archives: Public Relations

Recognising the principles of inspiring PR professionals

PR has long struggled with its reputation.  Far from being a vehicle to ‘establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its publics’, those publics can see it as ‘spin’ that is there to excuse poor behaviour or to steer attention away from an uncomfortable truth.

However, the day to day reality of PR is, largely, very different and there are those individuals who achieve and inspire, and are outstanding for all the right reasons.

Nominations are now open for industry awards that recognise individuals of exceptional character, principle and determination and not just professional achievement.

The Suzy Ferguson Spirit Awards were created to honour the memory of Suzy Ferguson, a PR professional who died of bowel cancer aged 31.  Her work impacted clients and fellow professionals and she was a positive force in her community outside of work.

The awards are now in their fourth year. The number of inspirational entries has grown to such an extent that 2017 will be the first time there will be two awards to recognise both a ‘rising star’ and an ‘experienced PR professional who sets a shining example through mentoring and championing others’.

These awards are a clear demonstration that there is a lot in the world of PR to be proud of.  In an industry where strategies are applauded and results celebrated, these are a refreshing look at professionals with passion and compassion, who are achieving because of their attitude to their career and those around them.

Sound like anyone you know?

Nominations are open until Friday 23rd December.

 

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.

DOES YOUR CHARITY NEED MORE FACES?

Camila Batmanghelidjh’s primacy in Kids Company’s work and its relationships with funders has seized much of the spotlight around the charity’s tragic demise. Her organisation was, as one commentator put it, ‘synonymous with her image’.

Having a founder at the helm for a long time can be problematic in many ways, most of them far from the extremes reached by Kids Company, but there are nonetheless lessons to be learnt from this high-profile example.

Founders or long-standing chief executives naturally have a strong sense of ownership over a charity’s vision, direction, and the means of achieving it. They are often intimidating forces – that’s why they’ve been in post for so long of course – and the organisation will naturally be grateful to them for getting it to where it is today. They will most likely hold a lot of the strings, and a lot of the relationships that are intrinsic to operations, be they with funders, partners, or influencers (including journalists and politicians). All this can and does deliver huge benefits for a charity, but a tipping point can be reached when those benefits are counter-balanced by the limitations they place on things, and the risks they pose for the future. Even if your founder or chief executive is doing an amazing job, and you just want it to carry on forever, it won’t, and there’ll come a day when you need to be able to rely on other faces for your organisation.

Clearly responsibility for addressing these issues sits primarily with trustees and senior management, but responsibility for managing the face of your organisation sits with communications. If your leader is in danger of swamping your charity’s brand, if your organisation’s name has become inseparable from the individual, communications has a fundamental role to play in mitigating the associated risks and creating a better balance.

There are lots of things you can do to add more faces to the charity, starting with identifying those from across the organisation who might be well-placed to hold strong associations with the brand. Commonly, these will include members of the senior management team or department heads who have strong specialist expertise or interesting personal connections, trustees with particularly strong profiles, senior staff, and even service users and volunteers to some degree.

Here are a few of the things that work particularly well, all of which offer broad value for your organisation while also helping you address the implications of your leadership issue.

  • As a minimum, make sure a range of senior staff and trustees have their own professionally-focused social media platforms, and are using them to the best value for the organisation. They should be as well connected (or almost) as your chief executive.There’s some great advice on engaging trustees available on CharityComms.
  • Make sure you have a range of ‘expert commentators’ or spokespeople profiled in a media centre on your website, so journalists and producers can be more easily convinced to talk to someone who isn’t your chief exec or founder.
  • Invest in training for those spokespeople, so you and they feel confident taking up interview opportunities when they arise.
  • Place staff profiles in professional and special-interest media (also a great way to boost recruitment and staff morale!).
  • Embark on a concerted thought leadership programme to put senior experts from across your staff team into the spotlight with speaking opportunities, by-lined opinion pieces in relevant media, webcasts and blog posts on your website, Q&A sessions on Facebook and so on.
  • Build a strong case study library to allow you to push the stories of individuals and families (not just beneficiaries, but volunteers, fundraisers, partners and staff members) to sit alongside comment from your go-to spokesperson, helping to widen the sense of what you do.
  • Establish and promote a service user council. This can act as a great vehicle for telling the stories of engaging and engaged individuals on the other end of your work, who are playing an active role in governance.

All this has value not just in the extremes of dominant leadership, of course, but also as good practice for succession planning. Wherever you are along that path, don’t leave it too late, and don’t underestimate your job within it all as a communications professional.

KEEP CALM AND ENGAGE!

Every cloud has a silver lining, right? But those linings are a bit trickier to find since the election result in May left a lot of charity’s plans and projects looking shaky, if not completely shelved.

When budgets are being cut, service pressures growing, and grants and contracts threatened, it’s only natural to want to bunker down and focus on fighting your own corner, protecting your patch, and getting the job done. But this response, while seemingly pragmatic and efficient, holds significant risks in breaking down the strength that lies in partnership working, engagement and collaboration that exists across the sector.

It can be easy to dismiss those talks you were having with another charity working with the same client group as a luxury you don’t have time for now. It’s understandable if the idea you had for a joint campaign with a like-minded organisation seems too much to handle at the moment. But these are the things that build strength, resilience and influence in the not-for-profit sector, which help amplify voices and spread best practice. Communications is both a vehicle and a driver in many of these situations, so we’d urge comms professionals to work hard to make the case for stakeholder engagement, in all guises, as strongly as possible in these difficult times.

At Amazon we know that inspiration, motivation and energy are just a few of the essential ingredients the voluntary sector is so good at supplying, and we don’t want to see them diluted by a bunker mentality. Remember, strength in numbers!

NEW INTRO TO HELP YOU RUN AN EFFECTIVE POLICY CAMPAIGN

The latest intro has just been added to our website. This time we’ve focused on campaigning.

It’s tempting for organisations that feel passionately about their subject and their beneficiaries to dive into an issue, but preparation and careful research are essential. For a start, charities rarely operate in isolation; the sector they work in usually has at least one other, and often many more, doing similar work. It’s important not to re-create a campaign that’s already running but you might want to consider joining forces to make your voices stronger and to add weight to the pressure for change.

Campaigns should always be run in line with your organisation’s mission and values and that includes social media. You might have an amazing, all singing-all dancing idea, but if it doesn’t fit in with who you are and what you do, then re-consider. Be clear on what success will look like for your organisation, your service users or members.

Our guide will help you think about these steps and more, to help you plan your route, find other sources of support and decide who you need to lobby to effect the change you want to see.

And of course, if you’d like help with your strategy or its execution, we’d love to hear from you.

COALITIONS – WHAT SMALLER CHARITIES SHOULD CONSIDER

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.