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The role of PR in brand-building

15 February 2019

When putting together a brand building campaign, PR can be a key part of the process especially when helping to raise brand awareness.

What do we mean by building brand awareness? For charities it often means ‘owning’ an issue or niche. For example, Macmillan is not the only cancer charity, but it is widely known as the charity providing cancer support. At the same time, nearly half of donors forget the last charity they supported.

So how do you make an issue your own? And how can an effective PR strategy help build your charity’s brand? Well, broadly, there are five key principles that should underpin your thinking.

1. Find your space and own it.

One organisation who have done this well is the Campaign Against Living Miserably which works to end male suicide. In 2018 it launched an art installation called Project 84 in partnership with ITV, creating 84 statues of men to highlight the fact that on average 84 men commit suicide every week. By focusing on a single issue and ensuring positioning and key messages are consistent over the long-term, the charity built huge brand awareness. Campaign Against Living Miserably also ran a petition alongside this, calling for government action on suicide. As a result of the success of building awareness of the campaign, in less than a week, 140,000 people signed the petition. Not every organisation will have the resources for a stunt like this, but there are lessons in it for us all.

Essentially it is all about doing your research to find your niche. You may not be the only charity working on your issue, but perhaps your approach is different or you are unique in supporting a specific group of people. Consider your history and track-record. Dig deep to find what sets your organisation apart and to understand your impact and use it to guide your PR strategy.

We always ask clients to think what are their strengths? Is it volunteers and supporters, or the experts and innovators within their team? Then we advise taking a step back and looking at your organisation as an outsider would in order to gain objectivity. Analyse previous awareness-raising activity to see what has worked and what hasn’t.

The key is to be strategic and clear about what you want your charity to be known for. Making sure it remains your focus is a huge part of that.

2. Focus, and be patient

Take for example Mencap’s fabulous ‘Here I am’ campaign which was ruthless in its objective: to improve understanding around learning disability. There was no immediate ask for donations, no call to action other than to watch, read and share content but this worked from a PR perspective because it put people with a learning disability everywhere; on billboards, TV, cinema screens. It made it impossible for the public to ignore people with a learning disability.

It’s easy to come up with big ideas but it is just as easy to get bored and be tempted to move onto the next thing. It’s harder to resist this temptation and get your strategy off the page and achieving results.

Mencap’s experience showed that you don’t need to try to do everything at once. Hoping to raise donations or achieve a specific campaigning objective as well as building brand awareness and understanding is too much for one campaign. Building a brand through good public relations takes time – so be patient and don’t expect immediate results. If you want your message to get across you’ll need to say it more than once.

Repeat your key messages again and again, only once you’re bored of saying it will you see them start to break through to your audiences.

3. Target key audiences

Our work with constipation brand Dulcolax is a good example of this point. We established a two-year partnership with Beating Bowel Cancer (now Bowel Cancer UK) using the pharma brand’s robust consumer research to tailor campaigns to very specific groups. Men in their 30s were identified as a particular priority and hard to reach, and we ran and filmed a toilet-themed stand-up event, which saw the films watched over 245K times and the campaign win an OTC marketing award in 2017.

Our aim was to build relationships with consumers and grow the personality of the brand. The reason this targeted approach was so successful was that it allowed us to use a creative approach to get the message through to a very specific audience.

Ultimately it showed that thinking hard about the audiences you want to target and the channels to reach them and using research to identify your strongest audiences and decide whether you want to solidify awareness among them or take your brand to a different or wider group of people can have a big impact.

Know your audience and be tenacious in targeting them.

4. Bring in partners who can help you

Consider working with an agency to bring fresh thinking. A few new faces in the room can liven up campaign planning, with people offering a different take on previous activity and suggesting fresh ideas.

Partnering with other brands or celebrities can also help you connect with more people, including harder to reach audiences.

For the past two years, Kidscape has asked us to help raise awareness of their Friendship Friday campaign, which celebrates the importance of friends and asks everyone to extend the hand of friendship to new people, while raising funds for the charity’s work.

The theme of 2018’s campaign was Food for Friendship. We helped Kidscape promote the day on social media, engaging the support of Chef Ken Hom and Saturday Kitchen presenter Matt Tebbutt, who shared behind the scenes content live from the show. Their involvement was key to the campaign’s success but getting the right celeb partners on board can be a challenge.

Develop a clear offer that sets out proposed activity, what you want them to do and what you can deliver for them. Then work with celebrities and influencers with a genuine interest in and connection with your cause, and whose fanbase correlates to your audience.

5. Use multiple channels

Finally, use a range of channels to ensure your audience hears you and reacts in the way you want them to.

Don’t rely on traditional media only. Build social into every campaign to amplify the message, and develop a clear strategy and content plan for each channel you use.

Be consistent with messaging but tailor it to your channels and the audiences that use them.

Consider outdoor and cinema advertising as well – if you don’t have the budget, think creatively about how you could get free space.

All this should help you develop a campaign that builds brand awareness and understanding, and keeps your comms fresh. Get in touch and let us know what has worked for you.

Image: Igor Starkov on Pexels

Kate Beard

account director, Amazon PR

Kate is an account director at Amazon PR, an agency specialising in work for charities and public sector bodies. She enjoys packaging complex issues to gain widespread media attention and has provided consultation to in-house teams to deliver results for clients including Holocaust Memorial Day, The Nationwide Foundation and homelessness charity Evolve Housing + Support. Before Amazon she was an editor and  journalist and worked in-house at various charities.