Good communication depends on knowing your audience, and this includes knowing where they live. Audiences in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland or Wales are all different. Taking basic steps to embrace this diversity in your charity’s comms will help avoid problems and improve impact.
Devolution has given more power to Belfast, Cardiff, and Edinburgh, in addition to London, to make decisions about things that affect our daily lives, such as bus fares and school curriculum. Across the UK, national and regional identities are linked to cultural attitudes, sports, and historical references.
In charity communications, this often leads to problems instead of creating opportunities. So how can we make things better?
The ‘England’ comms issue
England dominates. It’s the biggest country in the UK in terms of size and population. It’s where most UK charities are based and where most staff live and work. UK Government also has a ‘dual role’ as the English Government.
In charities, ‘UK’ comms teams are often also ‘England’ comms teams. This mixing of roles sometimes leads to ‘UK’ and ‘England’ being treated as the same thing by default.
But of the UK population of 67 million, over 10 million live outside England, so this approach means many people are excluded. So how can we avoid annoying and confusing our audiences, damaging our brands or weakening our campaigns?
How to make comms work across the UK
Here are some basic steps you can take to make your communications work well across the nations and regions.
1. ‘Think devolved’ in your planning, strategy and policies
Do you get frustrated when comms is treated as an ‘add-on’? You know the scenario – a colleague asks for a last-minute press release when they should have included you during the planning stage.
The same thing applies here: ‘think devolved’ from the very beginning.
Ask questions. How will this campaign apply in each UK nation or region? Do we need to collect data on which UK nation our supporters live in, and build separate email journeys? How do we ensure our content is relevant in Aberdeen as well as Aldershot?
Getting this right from the start can make campaigns more effective and avoid pain later!
This thinking applies across the board: strategy development, brand guidelines, and commissioning agencies or opinion polls. If testing messages, think about where focus groups are held.
This is all part of diversity and inclusion. What happens in the devolved nations contributes to what your charity achieves at a UK level.
Great UK comms staff ensure that a charity’s communications work seamlessly throughout the entire UK. To help make this happen, make sure you and your colleagues understand the diversity of different parts of the UK.
2. Countries and governments – be clear what you mean
Remember that the UK is a state containing more than one country and multiple governments. The UK Government sometimes makes decisions that affect the whole of the UK, but often they only apply to part of it.
To counteract this, avoid simply saying ‘the country’ or ‘the government’ in your comms. Instead, check the facts and be specific, for example ‘across the UK’, ‘in England’, ‘in Northern Ireland’ or ‘UK governments’ (plural) as in this example.
3. Consider tailored comms for each nation
It’s often better, if possible, to produce targeted content or dedicated channels for each part of the UK.
Think about how much your messages differ between nations, for instance, if you’re campaigning on devolved issues like the environment, health or housing.
It’s common practice for charities to develop specific campaign asks, email journeys and social media accounts for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but perhaps less so for England.
An example of this in practice is how RSPB runs national Twitter accounts (including one for England), tailored to each audience.
4. UK-wide comms: be diverse and inclusive
Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to tailor comms for each part of the UK individually. Perhaps your message is genuinely UK-wide, or perhaps you don’t have the ability or resources to produce separate communications, such as a news piece for the UK-wide media.
In this instance, be inclusive. Make sure your content works for audiences across the UK as much as possible.
That might mean setting out how a campaign applies differently in different places or choosing case studies or language that will work across the board. For example, you might have a newsletter with different sections for each part of the UK.
5. Embrace Welsh and other minority languages
In Wales, over half a million people speak Welsh, and other parts of the UK have their own languages too. Consider not only the rights of people to use these languages but also the advantages of engaging people in their preferred tongue.
Research shows that 75% of Welsh speakers believe that charities should operate bilingually in Wales and 86% of people in Wales feel that the Welsh language is something to be proud of.
My advice is to avoid framing discussions around ‘added cost’ and ‘what we have to translate’. Start by thinking about being inclusive, engaging and accessible.
If you don’t use much or any Welsh yet, don’t worry! You can start by taking small steps and developing a language plan. The Welsh Language Commissioner can help you with this – read about how one charity, Mind Cymru, has worked with the Commissioner.
By recognising and embracing the diversity across the nations and regions of the UK in our charity communications, we can not only avoid problems but also improve our impact. Learning from each other and taking steps to tailor our messages will help us engage and connect with our audiences on a deeper level and help to achieve our charitable goals.
I hope this serves as a starting point for thinking about how to make your communications more effective across the UK.
If you enjoyed this you may also like: Writing for diverse audiences: how to be authentic and inclusive.
Our next PR Network event explores: Maximising your local and regional press opportunities
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