19 December, 2011
I spoke at a CharityComms seminar last week about making the business case for communications. My slot there was off the back of ‘Get Heard’, a piece of research Amazon PR conducted with the CIPR in the spring, to explore the extent to which communications is valued within charities. It was a fascinating project, which threw up many issues – which is why we’re still talking about it now.
One of the big themes from the research, and which formed a focus for discussions at the seminar, was the need for communications professionals to prove their worth by becoming better at sharing their successes internally. This might sound simple – and to some degree it is, for big charities with big budgets and big teams, able to generate major campaigns and to spend time entering awards that will win them recognition. But for smaller organisations, the need to tell other departments what you’ve been doing and the value your work is adding to the organisation is often overlooked.
It can seem even more difficult to shout about successes that are built over a long period, through a steady flow of activity, as opposed to huge campaigns and news splashes. But as we all know, sustained communications at a lower level can be just as effective, and sometimes even more so.
So how can charity communications professionals do more to make sure the value of their work is seen by others?
Well, to a large extent this boils down to a need to do more communications, but with a different focus. Naturally, your time and energy is centred on communicating with your primary audiences – usually those outside the organisation, including current and potential service users, stakeholders and influencers. But internal audiences are also crucial, and deserve just as much consideration in terms of when and where you approach them, and what you say. As my fellow speaker Kevin Baughen explained, you can’t expect to talk to the senior management team in the same way you’d talk to someone within the communications team, and you can’t assume everyone in the policy department has an in-depth understanding of what PR and communications involves, and how it can best contribute to their own objectives.
There’s no substitute for getting out there and speaking to people. Don’t rely on them reading coverage round-ups on email and understanding how hard you worked to achieve those pieces, or the value they add to the profile of the charity. Get away from your desk and go and have a real conversation. Zoe Amar talked at the seminar about how impactful this was for her. Find out what priorities different teams have, and take time to talk to them about how communications can help (and how it can’t!). Try to get time allocated to communications presentations in senior management team meetings, and make sure you speak their language – not the language of comms.
It’s also important to find the right way to share successes resulting from a joint effort. If you have worked closely with the fundraising team on a project that has delivered real benefits, avoid falling into the trap of over-claiming for your own role. It can be easy to do when you’re trying to make the case for your share of the budgets, but joint successes must be shared in a true spirit of collaboration. By doing so, you can help other departments understand that communications is intrinsically linked to every aspect of the organisation.
There are more tips, both for senior management teams and for communications professionals, in the ‘Get Heard’ report. It’s free to download at www.amazonpr.co.uk/resources
Louise Morriss, Managing Director
This article appeared on the askCHARITY blog on 16 December 2011. View it here.