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How to tackle some of today’s biggest Charity PR challenges

25 February 2022

Charity communicators face many challenges and in today’s media environment getting the stories that matter out there can be harder than ever. When it comes to charity PR this means dealing with anything from being drawn into culture wars around polarising issues, and rebuilding trust amongst a distrusting society, to finding ways to gain the right attention in the local and national news on a daily basis.

Here are some tips from the CharityComms Charity PR conference to help you rise to these challenges:

Bear in mind a strong story is crucial for media cut through

The media landscape has changed over recent years with the focus shifting from print press to digital and social media platforms. But one thing that remains true is journalists are interested in great stories that are newsworthy, timely and can capture the audience’s attention.

Getting media cut through was a hot topic for the opening panel; British Heart Foundation’s Andrew Webster, The Guardian’s Kim Thomas, nfpResearch’s Tapinder Sidhu and Macmillan Cancer Support’s Laura Walter. How did they suggest we achieve this? Use case studies as journalists love them, add value to stories with quotes and statistics, and don’t forget to build relationships with journalists. Start by looking from the outside when thinking about what themes are coming through the media that can be tapped into.

Try to work smarter

In times where communications teams are increasingly stretched and juggling multiple priorities, working smarter is a way of looking at where resources can be best spent.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Laura Walter explained: “If you know your marketing is reaching certain people with a message, then your PR doesn’t need to be sending the same message.” With press releases keep them short, include strong quotes, or even send a briefing that’s like a deconstructed press release that gives journalists a heads up. Also, consider how content and stories all work together and connect across all channels.

Remember you don’t have to have all the answers

This timely reminder is one we can all benefit from. When discussing the issue of how to build trust in a society where there is increasing apathy and cynicism Forster Communications’ Peter Gilheaney said that it is ok to “acknowledge you probably don’t have all the answers”. At a time when truth has become a contested space, there is so much conflict that it’s hard to think clearly and arrive at informed views it is ok to “allow doubt to be a part of your communications.” We are all human and it doesn’t all have to come down to just one comms person or one organisation to go it alone. Seeking out collaborations and partnerships can strengthen our collective charity messaging.

Tackling negative language and perceptions is challenging but important

In a society where negative narratives affect so many different groups of people it is crucial we feel able to challenge these when needed. In talking us through their recent #FindTheRightWords campaign STAMMA shared how by being proactive on addressing the negative language used to talk about those with stammers they helped raise awareness of the reality many people face on a daily basis. Ensuring the input of those directly affected by consulting with volunteers, staff, trustees, etc ensured authenticity and built trust amongst audiences – a lesson we can all learn from.

Stay true to what your organisation stands for even when drawn into ‘culture wars’

When faced with big societal challenges like the culture wars it’s important to remain true to who you and your organisation are. NCVO’s Alex Farrow pointed out during our ‘culture wars’ panel session that they are by their nature divisive and “are designed to divide us in order to benefit someone else, usually some kind of political benefit and tactic”. But perhaps knowing this is half the battle. Fellow panellist Alba Kapoor, from Runnymede Trust suggests part of counteracting this negative behaviour is recognising it and “not being afraid to talk about the things that need to be talked about” and feeling able to “speak out”. While our third panellist, Girlguiding’s Angela Salt OBE, pointed out sometimes it is also about asking “do we engage?” and if so when and how.

Focus on collaboration when working with celebrities and influencers

Working with celebrities can help when sharing stories that might be a natural fit. But in order to fulfil the potential of this partnership collaboration needs to be at the heart. MND Association’s Richard White and Suzanne Ostler (formerly communications manager at MND) shared that working closely with former rugby player Rob Burrow and putting his wellbeing first allowed them to create new opportunities, collaborate with new stakeholders, and achieve extensive media coverage, including 36 appearances on BBC Breakfast.

Similarly, collaboration is important when working with influencers. Speaker Paul Cullen suggested placing emphasis on content creation, and how to attract and engage with audiences. When embarking on these relationships it’s all about looking for what they are talking about and how they authentically align with a charity’s core values. Have confidence in your organization’s experience and expertise.

Above all though, be brave

One theme that resonated throughout is that charities provide an expert voice on the issues they represent so PR teams are best placed to look at opportunities for how to share that knowledge. This was best expressed by Relate’s Sarah Milsom as she talked us through Let’s Talk The Joy of Later Life Sex campaign. Drawing on her experience of communicating about a taboo subject to tackle the stigma around it she reminded us all to be brave, keep the aim of the campaign in mind, don’t sweat the small stuff, and trust in your expertise.

If you missed out on the PR Conference, or just fancy a rewatch, all the talks will be made available on-demand soon.

Banner Image: Robbie Noble on Unsplash

We have collated all the #CharityPR Twitter action below!

Christine Fleming

Head of digital content, CharityComms

Christine is the head of digital content at CharityComms in charge of the commissioning and editing of all content on the site as well as leading on the project management of the new look best practice guides. A former journalist with a background in online news, she has a masters in Global Media and Transnational Communications and is passionate about comms and helping charity communications thrive.

Adel Hanily

digital content officer, CharityComms

Adel is the digital content officer at CharityComms, managing the social media channels and supporting content planning. She has a background in various sectors including event ticketing, PR, and charity content. She is passionate about communications and helping those with personal or physical barriers to succeed.