Knowing your audience

Charities share lessons about their successful communications campaigns

By 24 April 2017

The recent 2017 BOND Conference explored the future of development funding and policy, and how the ever-changing geopolitical system might disrupt and iterate how the sector functions.

Research to Action provided social media coverage of the ‘Impact’ strand of the conference, which explored topics including strategic communications, social media, and digital innovation amongst others. A Storify summary collects pictures and soundbites from the impact-related events if you missed any of the action.

A lively session called ‘Supercharge your communications’ was chaired by Mayur Paul, Head of Communications at CARE International UK, and panelists included Jack Lundie, Director of Communications at Oxfam GB, Zoe Abrams, Executive Director of Communications and Engagement at the British Red Cross, and Janet Convery, Director of Public Engagement at ActionAid. The session gathered case studies from across the development sector and questioned what worked well within different partnerships to enable the most effective and innovative communications with target audiences.

Mayur Paul began by speaking about the partnership that CARE developed with the Times newspaper to launch a Christmas fundraising appeal. His words of wisdom about building successful media partnerships revolved around three key points: 1) partnerships need to be relationships; 2) relationships are fundamentally about people; and 3) a successful partnership should be based on the question ‘what can I do for my partner?’ to make it a reciprocal interaction.

Next, Zoe Abrams presented the work that the British Red Cross delivered in partnership with the Cooperative about loneliness in the UK. The campaign’s strategic focus was to take an evidence-based approach to combat loneliness. Zoe outlined a number of different principles that allowed the campaign and partnership to exceed its fundraising target. These included: ensuring that the partners had shared values; working around common causes; innovating instead of replicating; being open about the research and its findings; being open to collaboration; and, finally, inspiring and empowering the individuals that made up the larger partnership.

Janet Convery from ActionAid spoke about the utility of pro-bono partnerships for charities, and particularly their effectiveness for smaller organisations. ActionAid’s campaign about ending FGM was presented as an example of an effective partnership with a private creative consultancy. The #brutalcut video trailer was used to disrupt adverts, films, and online media in a way that was very abrupt and garnered a tremendous amount of audience reaction. Janet’s tips for small organisations were to: 1) make the best use of limited resources, 2) look to add value to the relationship, and 3) make use of every opportunity. Her parting piece of advice was to remember that pro-bono relationships are never really free, and that it takes time to invest in the relationships.

Finally, Jack Lundie from Oxfam spoke about the charity’s long-standing relationship with Glastonbury and the ‘Stand as One’ campaign. The campaign involved producing an album, a new communications tactic for Oxfam, to try and tap into the global resonance and universality of music. Jack’s advice for developing a strategic communications campaign began with creating a campaign objective that covered the reach, engagement, and audience. Campaign objectives can be turned into key performance indicators (KPIs) which can in turn be monitored across the life cycle of the campaign. Jack reflected on the Oxfam campaign and noted that social media sentiment was generally positive in response to the campaign, but dropped towards the negative side of the spectrum when the language became more overtly political.

When asked by the audience for top tips to help smaller charities or organisations with bold new communication campaign ideas and advice on overcoming internal obstacles, Jack answered that the best thing to do is always to take it back to the core mission. Zoe added that it is important to go back to the evidence base, whilst Mayur emphasised the importance of the initial change objective.

Another interesting question from the audience explored the issue of commissioning social research as part of a wider project or communications campaign. Zoe answered that it was important not to reinvent the wheel. For example, the British Red Cross conducted a literature review first and then took time to develop the specification for the research to ensure that the language was right. She acknowledged that the most challenging part of the process was integrating the resulting learning into the communications strategy.