The charity sector in the UK does vital work and campaigns for crucially important causes, but in a crowded news environment, it can be hard to demonstrate the impact of what you do.
You have important messages, but to deliver them you need to change them into stories, making them compelling to journalists and their audiences. How do you find the sweet spot between what your organisation wants to say and what people want to hear? How can you take your work and turn it into news?
With over 20 years of experience, here are some of my insights on how you can break through the news cycle and ensure your story as a non-profit is heard.
Hard or soft news?
There are two types of news stories – hard and soft. Hard news happens and the media has to cover it (a prime minister resigns, another prime minister resigns, another prime minister resigns…).
But soft news is created, and the media and general public can choose whether or not to share it. This is likely the kind of news you are making, so you need to make sure it’s interesting and relevant to their readers or viewers.
So, what are the tactics that help entice the media when you have soft news? Here are some of my tips for success…
Research, polling, trend spotting, future-gazing
Media love insights, trends, and data – current, projected, big, and extrapolated numbers.
What is the potential impact of the work you do? How can you demonstrate that?
Our client Mootral, a British AgriTech company, developed a feed supplement that allows farmers to cut their herds’ methane emissions by up to 30% within 48 hours of being added to cattle feed, making it one of the simplest and fastest ways to cut a major source of greenhouse-gas emissions. We worked closely with their experts to bring the scale of potential impact to life via data and future gazing.
The 1.5 billion cows in the world produce more methane than many large countries including Brazil, Japan, and Germany. Each cow emits the equivalent of 1.5-2.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, roughly half the output of an average American car. We showed that if all 1.5 billion cows ate Mootral for a year, the reduction in methane emissions would equate to taking 100 million cars off the road.
These figures were enough to lure the front page of the New York Times, Bloomberg, The Times, Fast Company, Channel 4, Sky News, and many, many more.
The power of people-led stories
Human interest adds colour to your data and helps bring stories to life. If they’re strong enough, they can be the story lead.
On the eve of COP26, activists staged a day of action across 50 locations around the world, calling on financial institutions to defund climate chaos. Climate icon Greta Thunberg attended one of several actions taking place in London.
Of course, celebrities and influencers still offer a sprinkle of stardust and media appeal to campaigns. But media interest in diverse, authentic voices with real lived experience is growing and now can be comparable to demand for household names.
On the day of action, while the media all requested time with Greta, we worked hard to uncover new faces and stories and arrange interviews with Global South activists. We arranged interviews with Mitzi Jonelle Tan from the Philippines, who spoke powerfully about her fear of drowning in her bedroom at home as sea levels rise around her island.
Despite some opinions, the media still relies on the voices of experts. Access to specialists with punchy opinions is a valuable asset.
Working with European NGO Finance Watch, 89up’s team turned a highly technical concept about capital requirements into a simple rule: One for One. For every dollar invested in fossil fuel projects, banks and insurers should hold a dollar in reserve to cover potential losses.
We collaborated with surprising allies within the banking community and leveraged their expertise as commentators for leading global publications via op-eds and interviews with the likes of Bloomberg, the EU Observer, and the Financial Times.
Stunts, experiential and content
Content doesn’t solely sit in the realm of social, it can be central to a campaign and garner PR coverage in its own right.
Ahead of the COP15, a coalition of nature charities led by the RSPB approached 89up to put pressure on the UK government to show leadership on the biodiversity crisis. In the meantime, the UK Prime Minister changed three times with Liz Truss announcing a range of policies that slashed protection for nature, as part of her “pro-growth” agenda.
Against this backdrop, we created a campaign encouraging an “Urgent Conversation about nature” with ambassador videos, a website, and a petition and report on a decade of decline. But at its centre was a piece of content we wanted to use to make MPs stand up and take note. We decided to do politics differently!
Working with a world-renowned choreographer and a group of young dancers, we created a beautiful human murmuration – mimicking nature and showing what can be done when people unite and mobilise. The murmuration flew on social and in traditional media; the film was shown at COP15 and the UK government used the global stage at COP15 to pledge £30 million to support developing countries in delivering RSPB’s ‘30 by 30’ target.
There are countless other strategies you can use to tell your stories and bring your work to life. Be bold, be creative, and show the world how brilliant you are.
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