Sarah Pinch: Public Relations

Sarah Pinch: Public Relations

In the first of a series of three articles on public relations, Sarah Pinch tells Queen’s Young Leaders how to create a successful PR campaign

Public relations, or PR, is the relationship between an organisation and its public. It is a vital part of building a campaign, social enterprise or business. But Queen’s Young Leaders – and others managing voluntary and community projects – don’t usually have access to much funding or many resources.

So how can they create a PR strategy to persuade the public, stakeholders, government and others, to support their projects?

Skilled volunteers

President of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, Sarah Pinch, has held many senior communications roles in both the private and not-for-profit sector. She says it’s important to recruit volunteers who can help, not just with the execution of the project, but who have other skills as well.

“Think about photography, graphic design, organising events, press and media relations, writing copy for the website and leaflets, social media, conducting focus groups. All of these things could contribute to a PR campaign. And there will most definitely be people who want to help you with these things and have the skills and knowledge to do so.”

Clear thinking

Knowing what you want to achieve with your public relations – your outcomes – is the next step.

“Be clear about your expectations from the beginning – and make it fun!” says Sarah.

Key questions are:

  • What are the overall objectives for the campaign?
  • How do those objectives inform my PR strategy? And how do I tie my objectives and desired PR outcomes together?
  • Who are the different audiences, customers and stakeholders, that I want to reach?
  • How do I adapt my key messages to appeal to the different audiences?
  • How can I review and measure my PR strategy on an ongoing basis – and alter my tactics as necessary?

One of the many PR campaigns that illustrates these points is the Chokeables campaign by St John’s Ambulance – a large voluntary organisation in the UK, that teaches first aid.

Objectives and outcomes

“Children under-five choking was a major solvable problem,” Sarah explains, “so St John’s Ambulance created a campaign targeted at training parents to save their baby from choking.”

The overall objective was to raise awareness about what to do when a baby is choking. The outcome of this objective was to save lives.

St John’s Ambulance needed to get their message primarily to those looking after babies – parents and carers – but also to the wider public.

They knew that 58% of UK parents were frightened that their baby might choke and that 76% wanted to learn first aid. This told them who their main target audience was.

While Queen’s Young Leaders are less likely to have access to such detailed research, they do have access to Facebook.

The SJA team looked at the reach of their Facebook posts and were able to assess issues that were important to their followers. One of their most successful posts had detailed how to help a choking baby.

So the SJA made a video to teach just that.

Sarah describes it as “a short online video with a simple educational message to demonstrate the lifesaving technique – and a strong call to action to share with others”.

Different audiences

St John’s Ambulance also identified other audiences – those with similar aims and interests – who might help spread the message.

These included the parenting website Netmums as well as healthcare organisations, schools and nurseries, chain stores and retail outlets that sell baby products, and CBeebies – the BBC children’s television channel aimed at toddlers.

“Ensuring your key messages are targeted to the correct audience is vital,” says Sarah. “Do some market research. And research on the individual funder, or organisation.”

Adapting

She says that understanding who you are talking and listening to, will help you get the method of communication right and that will help ensure the message works.

“If your target market is a wealthy individual funder who gives to organisations that have a personal attachment for them, sending them direct mail is not going to have much success.”

Sarah suggests finding someone who knows the potential funder – perhaps someone who can “talk from the heart about the benefits of the Queen’s Young Leaders programme” – to get an introduction.

And while she acknowledges that social media is a brilliant tool for starting conversations, she adds, “Do not underestimate other ways of talking and listening to your key audiences. Attending an event, and speaking face to face with 50 people might be more valuable, than spending a day building followers on social media.”

Spreading the word

St John’s Ambulance briefed their staff and volunteers to publicise the video and become “ambassadors” or “advocates”. They also sent emails directly to their existing supporters.

Sarah says that as you get closer to “going public” with a specific PR campaign, you can build on the work you’ve done so far. Once you have reached a section of your target audience, engaged them and inspired them to get involved, they will become your advocates.

“You will already have a committed section of your target audience willing to help spread the word.”