A nice bit of newsjacking helps charities tell their stories

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Three charities have recently used “newsjacking” of a Twitter hashtag  to make their case to London commuters according to the Guardian and I for one am impressed by the creativity they have shown and the confidence to “step on the turf” of a union.

“Newsjacking ” is  the art and science of injecting a different agenda into a breaking news story to generate media coverage and social media engagement.    See here for further info.

Macmillan Cancer, Save the Children and Leonard Cheshire have all made use of the #tubestrike to tell their story in different ways. First off the mark were Macmillan Cancer with this clever Tweet;

Macmillan Tweet

Later Save the Children used it to highlight the plight of children in Syria with Leonard Cheshire following with a Tweet highlighting the poor access for people with disabilities on many tube lines.

The tactic has provoked considerable debate with some commentators suggesting the tactic was “disrespectful” but I think they are right to make use of the interest in the strike and to draw attention to what in all honesty are much more worthy causes than a period of industrial action. In many ways the juxtaposition of these life affecting causes against the inconvenience of the tube strike helps show how easy it is to lose perspective on life, and to do it in a way which has wit and thoughtfulness merely adds to my admiration for them.

It is also worth pointing out to those who feel the tactic of “newsjacking” was wrong in this case, that Twitter is not limited to London, and whilst the strikes are undoubtedly a pain for people living and working in the capital, there are many more people across the country who would see these Tweets and  feel much more affinity to the charities piggy backing on the tube chaos.

Finally, one of the first lessons of social media is that brands are no longer in control and any hastag or Twitter newsfeed for that matter risks being used by other users for other purposes. That is the nature of the tool.

Selfies and the value of plenty of PR groundwork

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The social media phenomenon encouraging women to post “selfies” (pictures taken them of themselves using a smart phone) without make-up with an associated donation to Cancer Research UK, has been a massive success, raising  millions for the charity.

Yet whilst this initiative has to be regarded as a “hit” in PR terms – perhaps the interesting question is  “who should take the credit for it?”.

Carolan Davidge, director of communications at Cancer Research UK, is quoted on Sky News saying: “The trend isn’t something Cancer Research UK started so it’s been fantastic to see so many people getting involved and wanting to use their selfie to raise money for our life-saving research.”

So it appears the initiative on Facebook and Twitter is something that appeared spontaneously and grew organically (see BBC story about its origins here). Some speculate it was inspired by the “Necknominate” game craze from early 2014 in which people challenged others via Facebook to undertake some form of alcoholic drinking stunt, but its origins are unclear. Wherever it came from it has truly spread like the best of memes.

The organic nature of its emergence is perhaps best illustrated in the confusion that has arisen over the donation process. With a designed campaign there would have been a very clearly planned and constructed process to turn the goodwill and awareness into cash – yet this recent trend is notable for the problems associated with it (see BBC story here). For instance, some people trying to donate have been connected to a WWF campaign to protect Polar Bears, others have inadvertently given their money to a fund run  by UNICEF and still other posts have no mention of donation at all, or reference to the cause.

Credit for this “PR Hit” therefore cannot be directly attributed to anyone – yet it can in a sense be laid at the door of good PR. What has been a spontaneous online initiative became linked to Cancer Research UK because the charity has invested consistently in its PR, building awareness of the issue and in its reputation over many years. This groundwork on its reputation is why people initiated and more importantly joined the “Selfie” phenomenon.

A final thought then about the value of PR for my Charity clients. It has been said that PR is “What people say about you when you are not in the room” – perhaps we might now say it is “Why people donate when you haven’t even asked for money”.

Comic Relief not smiling over investments

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We’ve seen a big PR hic-cup, for Comic Relief today with the news that Panorama have discovered that it invests money in companies such as arms manufacturers as well as the  alcohol and tobacco industries. It’s an issue which highlights the need for Charities to understand the value of their reputation and that PR thinking has to enter every dimension of an organisation’s operation, not simply saved for its marketing output.

The revelation has attracted considerable media attention (see The Guardian, The Independent, BBC News ) most of which is critical and most of which will damage the reputation of one of the UKs most powerful charity fundraisers. Yet it seems no-one in this giant in the charity world appears to have seen this coming, despite the fact this very issue has been one which the sector has been dealing with for decades.

I personally recall discussions at one Charity I was involved with 20 years ago regarding where it’s funds should be invested and the very clear outcome being that it had to take an ethical approach if its reputation was to remain spotless. The returns might be lower than other open funds, but the risk to the relationship between the organisation and its existing and potential supporters outweighed the financial aspect.

What we understood then and what hasn’t changed today is that Charities trade on their name – how donors feel about them is essential, literally the difference between the hand going into the pocket or not. Surely someone in a charity working with projects in countries torn apart by war, providing support to people with drug and alcohol problems in the UK and schemes to support people with health issues must have seen the negative implications of being  investing in the very industries at the root of some of the issues it deals with?

The response too has been lack lustre – in an interview on the BBC the CEO of Comic Relief tried to place the blame on the Charity Commission’s guidelines on charity funds investment, clearly a prepared line to try and spread responsibility. Unfortunately the previous interviewee, a specialist in charity fund management and investment had already made it quite clear that Charities can invest in ethical schemes with lower returns when it is in line with their operational delivery.

Comic Relief are in a hole now and just about the only thing in their favour is that they have almost a year to dig themselves out before they once again ask the British public to put their hands in their pockets. By then they could have sorted out an ethical investment portfolio and/or they can hope that the public will have forgotten.

My advice would be to start shifting the money now and to do it in a very humble and public manner.

Volunteer Britian?

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Well done Lord Coe for highlighting the importance of volunteers and for calling on the nation to step up its efforts to encourage more people to give their time.

After the boom in enthusiasm for volunteering focused on the Olympics last year it appears the 70,000 “games makers” is not translating into a sea change in volunteer involvement in the UK ( Sunday Telegraph). But one of the key PR messages to come out of the Olympics has perhaps been missed.

The secret to encouraging people to give the time to good causes is not their recruitment – important and challenging though this is – but in ensuring that the people who do volunteer are appreciated and valued for their input and rewarded when they perform well. For too long volunteering has been seen by the Third sector as “free labour”, and the culture has been one of organisations taking rather than giving. This, in my opinion, is partly why volunteering in the UK never takes off in the way it could.

Traditionally there has been too much focus on the role of volunteers and too little on what the volunteers themselves get out of the experience. Certainly the Olympics couldn’t have happened without the volunteers – and whilst altruistic desire to see the games succeed will have been part of what made individuals come forward, the real drivers were much more personal factors, such as challenge, personal development, developing business opportunities, learning new skills and let’s not underplay it – sheer fun.

People working in the Third Sector responsible for persuading people to volunteer and for managing them when they do come forward need to switch their messaging focus from what’s in it for the charity or cause to what’s in it for the individual.

In 1961 JFK said “… ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Perhaps managers and communicators in the Third Sector could re-phrase this and say “Ask not what your volunteers can do for you – ask what you can do for them.

Budget no barrier to communication

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Working with a small budget and volunteers is no barrier to PR success, and two examples of this close to my heart show this .

Now, it might seem like a bit of self promotion, but I can assure you I’m awarding a hit this week not for my role in the training, but for the attitude and approach of my colleagues in the Army Cadet Force, who, as volunteers with no previous PR experience are adapting and adopting techniques which just a few years ago would have been way beyond the budget of not for profit organisations.

First I’d like to highlight the work of a delegate on a recent training weekend who started with no video experience at all. A day and a half later this short film, now up on You tube is what she was able to create. It goes to show what can be achieved in a very short space of time with a little guidance (credit to my ACF PR Training team colleague Tony Lloyd) and a willingness to learn.

Where this then heads is my next PR Hit – Cleveland ACF. Their PR Officer, who recently attended our Social Media training weekend, has just placed a video of the cadets from his county achieving success at  athletics on Facebook . In just 24 hours the video had got more than 1000 views.

Together these successes show how easy it is now for volunteers to gain the basic skills and how significant free tools can be in giving not for profit organisations the reach traditionally associated with commercial concerns with big budgets.

 

 

Horses for Courses

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Well done the Creation Trust based in Aylesbury for their clever use of text messaging ( See Guardian article here ).

One of the big temptations in the communications business is to be drawn to the latest, most shiny toys to get your message across. Yet often the old ways are the best.

In this case the Creation Trust used text messaging to promote their work with great success, a positive result they would not have obtained had they used other channels like Twitter or Pinterest perhaps.

Communication is all about understanding who you are trying to reach. Understanding your publics is not however just about shaping the messages, it’s also about identifying how to reach them. Often the old ways are the best and we can even extend this back to the tools we used before the digital wave broke over the industry. Events, face to face contact, leaflets and media work all still have a role to play. Certainly they may be used alongside digital tools, but it is the focus on the audience driving the mix of channels that is important.

Some of my chums in PR think I’m a dinosaur when I question their automatic focus on digital tools when formulating a communications strategy. It’s not that I am against the new tools we have at our disposal, but that I question whether they are always suitable for the target publics. We have choices and our choices should be based on who we are trying to reach, not what we enjoy or are excited by.

Horses for courses.

A triumph for short term creativity over organisational narrative

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Driving along yesterday I was amazed to hear the latest radio advertisement for the Royal Society for the Protection Of Birds (RSPB), inviting people to join the Spring Garden Bird watch.

It started off with the sound of a cat meowing, and then the words “do you like watching garden birds”, with more meowing.

Sadly, I couldn’t find it online to link to, but I did find plenty of negative comments about it.

Now, whilst I can appreciate the humour in a black sort of way, whoever approved this at the RSPB has really failed to grasp that creativity doesn’t always mean effective messaging.

To use the noise of a cat in relation to watching garden birds flys in the face of the RSPBs organisational narrative, as even the Society itself campaigns to highlight the damage done to wild birds from domestic cats (see here the RSPB web pages).

As they point out cats and birds just don’t mix – the RSPB quote figures on their web site of 55 million birds estimated to be taken as prey by cats every year in the UK. So what are they doing in an advert about bird watching?

Either the RSPB is employing people with a limited grasp of the organisational narrative , or there is a disconnect between the marketing department and policy staff, or whoever was in charge of this campaign allowed professional copywriters and advertising agency professionals with no grasp of what the organisation is about to sway their better judgement.

However it came into being, an advert for the RSPB featuring a meowing cat just doesn’t sit right and their reputation is diminished as a result.

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