The right peg for the right hole

This post was originally penned for the PR and Comms Network blog, published as ‘PR’s better half?’, June 2008

As Third Sector PRO’s do we need to tighten our tools?

Having worked in PR and Comms roles for around five years in not-for-profits, 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.

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 for the innovative ‘Media Connections‘ scheme, run by The Media Trust (formerly funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and in conjunction with the Voluntary Action Media Unit). I’d urge applying in 2010. I entered in 2007, along with about 200-odd eager charity beavers, and I 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 BBC Radio 4’s The Today Programme, and felt a little like I had been permitted into a very select coven – with a 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…

New research

A piece of brand new research, or a survey (of over 1,000 people at least), 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 outlining a solution.

Say something – don’t be bland.

A not-for-profit should be opposing 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 off a broader media story with your twist on it. Not only must we stick our heads above the parapet but we need to understand the game. 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 resonance they will welcome it. Some will be positively grateful!

Colour with case studies

Without the colour / texture or ability to tell a story with a real person, the story is weakened. Journalists and producers 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 p

rocess. 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 and / or telephone number out. Brief them well, and be clear about what you want to get out of it too.

And I haven’t event touched upon employing social media (see posts further down the page for more on this)…


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