Long live the PR poppet

Over the years I’ve been referred to as somebody who can make documents ‘look pretty’; somebody who can ‘chat up’ journalists; and my all-time favourite: a ‘PR poppet’.

There’s a fraction of truth in all of these statements of course, although at 43, juggling my consultancy work with family responsibilities, it’s fair to say I’m probably more ‘PR haggard’ than ‘poppet’ (see footnote).  I never enjoyed any boozy lunches with journalists in my 20s and 30s… although I frequently worked late to meet deadlines and ensure all ‘i’s were dotted and ‘t’s crossed.

The sad fact is that misconceptions about PR – the poor cousin of marketing – remain, with some still believing that it is little more than faffing around with press releases and keeping bad news from the door with our witchlike charms.

More frustrating still is that some managers think it’s a skills which anyone can just pick up and so cost cutting exercises often see the PR resource reduced or amalgamated into another role, with the end result that great PR opportunities are missed or copy for websites and newsletters etc. lack consistent messaging or relevancy to readers.

Perhaps PR itself could do with… well, some good PR?

As PR practitioners it’s essential we bang the drum for our profession.

PR should not be an afterthought or a ‘nice to have’, but should be embedded in strategy, policies and staff training. It’s about listening and responding to stakeholders and ensuring that the values we espouse in our communications are embedded in the organisation’s actions and behaviours.

Skilled story-telling continues to be at the heart of the service we offer, but today the proliferation of the media means it’s all about creating great content which can be re-nosed for a variety of channels – be that a company blog, stakeholder newsletter or indeed, a press release.

Great newspaper coverage still goes a long way in helping to build the trust and consent which Henry Ford, one of the first exponents of PR, set out to achieve back in early 1900s America; but opinions about organisations are now formed 24/7 in the vast open talking shop we call ‘social media’.

Social Media campaigns can gather momentum like wildfire and communities are formed to champion a cause, challenge authority, as well as inciting fear and prejudice.

Having a two-way dialogue continues to be the basic premise of PR, but today it’s important we utilise all the communications channels available to truly protect and shape the brand of an organisation.

I now describe myself as being in the business of ‘reputation management’.  I help organisations to create compelling copy that resonates with or motivates their target audiences.

So, call me a ‘PR poppet’ if you will, but I can help you engage new audiences, gain credibility amongst your professional peers, start new conversations with thought-leaders and demonstrate your impact more effectively. Please do get in touch: kate.dawson@wellreadpr.com

 

Footnote: Poppet: ˈpɒpɪt’ , noun

British, informal, an endearingly sweet or pretty child (often used as an affectionate form of address). “‘Here you are, poppet,’ the nurse said”

historical, a small figure of a human being used in sorcery and witchcraft.

 

Image courtesy: pixabay.com

 

A noble concept, but what will charities gain from Giving Tuesday?

So it’s begun, the interminable hours surfing the net for the latest gizmos and tramping up and down the high street to find something… anything… other than the fall-back novelty socks for the impossible-to-buy-for relations. It’s a bit of a cliché, but haven’t we all rather lost the point?

The same notion must have crossed the minds of partners of 92nd Street Y, a Jewish led but multi-faith community centre in New York, who in 2012, together with the United Nations Foundation, created a national day of giving on 2nd December. Giving Tuesday aims to channel the generosity of the festive season to inspire action around charitable giving. The date follows Black Friday (regarded as the start of the Christmas shopping period) and Cyber Monday (one of the biggest online shopping days in the year).

As an antidote to the epic levels of consumerism as Christmas approaches it’s a noble concept, but what will charities actually gain from being part of Giving Tuesday, when surely they will just be shouting to be heard above all the other causes vying for attention? Emotionally bruised and a little lighter of pocket following Children in Need, and having dutifully purchased Band Aid 30, is it possible that the population may be suffering a little from ‘giving fatigue’?

In addition, the prospect of a national day of giving just two days before the Big Give, which enables charities to obtain match funding for their appeals, might also present a timing issue for charities who have chosen to participate in this established fundraising platform – which raised a combined        £11 million for over 380 charities last year.

The bottom line, according to a survey by The Non Profit Times, is that US charities received donations totalling at least 32 million dollars on 3 December 2013. Its success lies in harnessing the power of social media, to spread the message of giving. Last year the launch of the hashtag #Giving Tuesday was endorsed by Bill Gates and Barack Obama, no less.

Given the different culture of giving in America, one might also be forgiven for wondering whether something conceived in America will work so well this side of the Big Pond.

Step forward the Charities Aid Foundation who have taken up the Giving Tuesday UK mantle together with a steering group consisting of the Cabinet Office, Cancer Research UK, Scope, Charity Comms, Hope for Children, Stewardship, and Live Creative. The venture has been professionally co-ordinated and given a British make-over, with a slick Giving Tuesday UK website providing a plethora of ideas about how organisations can engage with the day, including some fundraising tactics which will come in handy any time of the year.

And the marketing seems to have worked with some 600-plus charities planning to use the day in a variety of ways: to promote existing Christmas appeals, signal new partnerships with corporates, or simply raise some awareness of a little known cause.

Connect Reading is one of the charities using Giving Tuesday to drive support from local business for its community focussed work.

“As a small local charity any opportunity to raise the profile of our mission is gratefully received.  Giving Tuesday will enable us to have increased awareness of our purpose to help the local community through the support of locally based businesses.  We are on our way to reaching        £1.5 million in-kind support since our launch in 2003 and with the increased awareness and participation from businesses and their employees we hope that Giving Tuesday will take us past this monumental milestone before Christmas,” said Clare Wright, Managing Director.

 

Music Heritage UK, a relatively new organisation which works to protect music venues, celebrate music history and engage new audiences with our musical heritage, is using the day to help raise its profile generally. The charity is hosting the unofficial closing party for Giving Tuesday featuring the Ringo: Music Bingo music quiz, hosted by Irish comedian Ronan Leonard.

“It’s not just about fundraising for us. We hope that by taking part we will become better known as a serious organisation committed to our charitable objectives, as well as attracting new visitors to our website, and increasing our following on social media,” said James Ketchell, chief executive.

Other participating organisations are simply using the initiative as a vehicle to remind their existing donors of their preferred charity on the day, and hopefully make more people aware of their cause by tweeting using the #Giving Tuesday hashtag throughout the day.

The impact of Giving Tuesday UK is yet to be revealed, but clearly charities do see the merit in participating with a view to boosting their coffers, as well as attracting new supporters which may last far beyond the season of goodwill.

…and if you’re really are bent on buying those novelty socks, look no further than the Sock Shop who have teamed up with a number of charities, so at least your purchase will help a worthwhile cause.

If you’re taking part in Giving Tuesday next week, we’d love to hear what you’ve got planned and how it worked for you.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Related links:

Giving Tuesday: More orgs, more money, more questions about donors, The Non Profit Times

Holly Mitchell at Charities Aid Foundation answering some key questions about Giving Tuesday

Charities Should Give, Not beg, On Giving Tuesday, The Chronicle of Philanthropy

Learning from Samaritans’ RADAR

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Recently we have witnessed the untimely passing of a number of young celebrities who felt unable to continue with their lives. People who to all intents and purposes seemed to have the world at their feet. Their deaths undoubtedly caused much distress and sadness to their loved ones, and left us all wondering: how could they, of all people, possibly feel such insurmountable despair? And why couldn’t anybody do something to help?

The answers to these questions are not simple, but organisations such as Grassroots Suicide Prevention and of course, the Samaritans, have much expertise in this area – but to extend their reach they need to educate more people about how to recognise the signs and provide the appropriate intervention.

The need for these charities is all the more pertinent given recent figures released by CALM (the Campaign Against Living Miserably) which reveal that the highest cause of death in men under 45 years in the UK is suicide. Quite clearly, something needs to be done to reach out to those who feel that their life isn’t worth living.

In October the Samaritans launched a new Twitter App, created by digital agency Jam, to try and identify young people using Twitter who may be feeling suicidal. The opt-in RADAR app worked by analysing people’s tweets for signs that they might be feeling at a low ebb, and then notified their followers that someone they know may be distressed, providing them with advice on how they might be able to help.

The App, although undoubtedly well-intentioned, came rapidly under fire for being invasive and potentially having the opposite of the desired effect, by making people less likely to share their feelings using social media. It was also suggested that it could be used to target those who may be vulnerable.

RADAR has now been suspended pending further consideration, not least the extent to which it potentially infringes Twitter users’ privacy. The Samaritans have acted swiftly and used the brouhaha to reassert their core mission: to reach out and support those who may be feeling depressed and unable to cope.

It’s important to note that the initiative aimed to target a younger demographic who may feel more inclined than others to share their private thoughts and feelings online. Understanding how different groups are communicating via social media and tapping into these channels to signpost potentially life-saving services, should not be condemned. However, where it may be open to abuse or even potentially make the very people it aims to help withdraw from participating in their social networks, serious questions need to be asked.

On the other hand, social media is here to stay, evolving rapidly and any charity worth its salt should be exploring how they can utilise the various tools and data analyses available, to engage new audiences with their work.

My point is that we shouldn’t let this one media storm in a tea-cup put charities off exploring the potential for utilising social media to engage people with their services or a particular campaign. What we must learn from this, is that before launching any such social media ‘tool’, it needs to be adequately tested not only for its functionality, but also its legal compliance, and crucially, the potential reaction of the target group and related professionals; this is where the Samaritans clearly fell short.

Despite the furore around Samaritans’ bungled App, they should be applauded for continuing to develop innovative services to support people when they are in a fragile state of mind. On this occasion they didn’t quite get it right, but in this brave new world of online chatter, we shouldn’t chastise them for attempting a new way of enrolling young people as the eyes and ears of their organisation.

Related links:

BBC News, Technology

The Guardian, Voluntary Sector Network Blog

Paul Bernal’s Blog, Privacy, Human Rights, The Internet, Politics and more

Image credit: http://www.freeimages.com uploaded by SSPIVAK, New Zealand