How PR can help charities

Companies may spend thousands of pounds on big PR stunts but these are generally short-lived. In contrast, charities that employ carefully planned and thought-through PR strategies can benefit from campaign longevity.

11 June 2024 | 5 min read | PR
James Gwinnett
James Gwinnett

Charity PR can be perceived as a world away from the media activity undertaken by the big, bad, corporate world. From driving tanks through London to helicoptering cars over it, charities may not be able to deliver some of the eye-catching stunts that the likes of Brewdog and Jaguar Land Rover do. But that’s not to say that charities can’t benefit from PR support; they absolutely can.

Aside from the budgets, the major difference between charity PR and that of other organisations is that people buying a business’ services or products are most likely doing so for themselves. But, when they are spending money with a charity, it’s generally for someone else’s benefit. Otherwise, the bottom line is invariably the same; charities, like all other businesses, want to connect with their target audience, build awareness of their brand, and educate people as to the importance of their product and why it’s needed. Even if it’s needed for someone else.

That’s where PR for charities can help.

By way of example, in June 2023, a fledgling charity, comprised of only a small internal team of dedicated volunteers, embarked on a mission that would far exceed any of their expectations. The Baton of Hope had received Charity Commission status just a month prior and faced the prospect of sparking a much-needed conversation about a very difficult subject that, despite taking the lives of more than 6,000 people annually in the UK, had previously received practically no media attention – suicide.

Yet, 12 days later, Brand24, a social listening and analytics platform, ranked the Baton of Hope as having a ‘Presence Score’ higher than 70% of other brands, and the charity had achieved a Twitter reach of over 3 million people. A tour of 12 UK cities had showcased the Baton, the charity’s physical symbol of hope to those who had been affected by suicide, to 1,000s of people up and down the country, while Clearly, acting as the Baton of Hope’s PR agency, had secured media coverage that had broadened this audience into the millions.

The Baton of Hope was also commended by the Minister for Mental Health, who welcomed the Baton and the tour’s Organising Committee at 10 Downing St, while the Prime Minister recorded a video hailing the charity as ‘the biggest suicide prevention initiative we’ve ever seen.

So, a major shift from the aforementioned lack of media coverage on the subject, bringing the Baton of Hope’s vision of a zero-suicide society firmly into the spotlight. The charity’s mission to ‘start the conversation’ had been well and truly achieved and a second tour is planned for 2025.

I want to say a huge thank you to everyone who has made this the biggest suicide prevention initiative we’ve ever seen

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak

You might argue that a tour is a PR stunt, but I’d counter that it was far more than that. It required a carefully planned and sensitively thought-through PR strategy that sought to tell the powerful stories of those affected by suicide. In the build-up to the tour, Clearly had systematically spoken to each of the cities’ project leads and countless people due to carry the Baton to learn of their stories of losing loved ones, suicide survival and their own experiences of mental ill health. Without this, the media coverage wouldn’t have been possible.

Developing a PR strategy in this way requires far more than a scattergun approach of simply throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall and hoping some of it will stick. It must be geared towards the charity’s short-, medium- and long-term objectives, and based on an audience receiving the messages you want them to. In the case of the Baton of Hope, this message was simple; that something had to be done about the fact that so many lives are lost to suicide.

And, while a one-hit-wonder PR stunt might get you some column inches, it is unlikely to demonstrate a sincerity about a social issue or similar that you’re trying to address. Strategically releasing press releases that are timely and relevant to the wider media agenda is far more likely to gain you traction for an important cause. Doing so over a sustained period of time and telling a charity’s story through different campaigns will give you greater longevity.

Suicide may still be a difficult conversation but at least it’s now a conversation; that’s the longevity of the Baton of Hope. A PR strategy didn’t cost the charity a fortune – and it certainly didn’t involve hiring a tank or a helicopter – but the impact it had was priceless.

For more on the Baton of Hope, please visit: https://www.clearlypr.co.uk/our-work/baton-of-hope/.

And if your charity would like to discuss how a PR strategy could similarly work for you, please contact me on james@clearlypr.co.uk.