Every so often you get a reminder of just what a challenging task many charities have in ensuring their voices are heard.
I was recently honoured to speak (on behalf of Forster) at The Sheila McKechnie Foundation Influencing Change course on the subject of effective media engagement, to an audience of around 20 small London-based charities.
As a little background, SMK is a charity itself and is dedicated to helping campaigners create positive and lasting change by becoming more effective operators. My talk was part of a series of workshops it runs with people who have little campaigning experience, but - needless to say - plenty of passion and vision.
We discussed the fundamentals of an effective media campaign: creating a strategic platform on which to hang your approach, mapping out audiences and advocates, seeking out which channels will reach them, building personal relationships with communicators, crafting compelling messaging that will inspire action and the overriding requirement of bringing structure and ambition into every aspect of a campaigner's work.
We then looked at how they would flesh out the skeleton theory of an approach to meet their objectives. And whilst we weren't able to come up with the definitive approach for each charity in the time we had, we were able to see that the objective for each could be met with a little planning and by asking the right questions. They could see media relations were not only fundamental to their success but were also achievable. By phasing approaches and by best-utilising resources - whether that's an annual report or a passionate member base - any organisation can create an effective campaign.
And whilst the results will vary according to the resources you can put into it, the basic structure of using the media for effective campaigning remains the same. It is the same principles that Forster used to get 3,000 children to commit to growing their own veg for the National Trust, to get 450,000 people to attend Bike Week events and to get over three million thumbprint 'signatures' for Amnesty International.
As we all know, it is a challenging time for charities - there are more campaigns, more messages and more competition. And the old ways of communicating are simply not good enough anymore. There has been a fundamental shift in favour of dialogue - from consumer choice to consumer power and from the need to build awareness to the need to build relationships. You can no longer just speak and hope people will listen.
Furthermore, the media landscape itself is in a tectonic shift - 43% of the population do not read a national newspaper anymore, and 61% of people aged 24 to 44 would trust their peers for information over the media. And I'll probably have to put some money in the swear jar if I mention the obvious - social media - along with the obvious success of online news portals and blogs (this article as a case in point). Essentially, whilst the audience is the same, the way you reach them is certainly not and 'media relations' is no longer just about 'media'.
The charity landscape in the UK is also moving fast. It is crucial to ensure your voice is heard by being creative and loud. Recently, for example, Scope announced the launch of charitable bonds - the first time a British charity has tapped the capital markets to improve their funding. It will be interesting to see how this redefines the game once again.
SMK was set up in memory of Dame Sheila McKechnie - a renowned campaigner in her own right. The trustees who started SMK believed that the insight and experience Sheila displayed in her own lifetime as a campaigner should be passed on to a new generation of campaigners fighting for social justice.
For this new generation, it is a constantly changing but very interesting fight that confronts them.
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