Pulling a rabbit out of a hat
As PR professionals, we will usually work on at least one not-for-profit (NFP) client in our careers – whether it’s a pro bono client, part pro-bono, or one who has managed to scrape together a small budget for a campaign that you need to help them maximise.
NFPs are faced with the same organisational and communication challenges as for-profits but usually with far fewer resources. So how can the PR profession assist NFPs to achieve their goals?
Making blanket observations and recommendations for this sector is challenging, as was demonstrated at the PR Directions 2011 panel discussion Pulling a rabbit out of a hat – learning tricks from the not-for-profit sector where the moderator was very quickly put in his place when he asked whether NFPs are fuelled by passion, rather than talent.
The panel, which included representatives from NFPs with missions ranging from providing breast care nurses to providing microfinance to women living in poverty in the Asia Pacific, demonstrated their organisations have both passion and talent in bucket loads. According to Kylea Tink, CEO of the McGrath Foundation, NFPs are “not plagued by passionate, untalented people”. Salaries are competitive and there are extraordinary opportunities for young people starting out in communications or marketing careers.
Also, senior staff with incredible experience are moving into the NFP sector from the corporate or political worlds and bringing their strategic thinking and business nous with them. Think 2011 Australian of the Year Simon McKeon, World Vision’s Tim Costello, Naomi Steer of the UNHCR and Al Gore.
The NFP sector is highly competitive. They’re also operating in a communications landscape which quickly and constantly changes; look at how swiftly organisations like Get Up! and Avaaz have grown, starting online then making a splash in mainstream media.
NFPs need to find the balance between having a corporate approach/attitude and keeping focussed on their overarching purpose.
So how can we help our NFP clients, and how can NFPs ensure success when engaging agencies?
- Strategic thinking and planning – having a well thought out communications strategy, agreed upon by both the agency and the NFP, will contribute to effectiveness in carrying out communications and achieving stated aims.
- Start small then snowball – Consider starting with a small campaign to achieve some quick wins then snowball from there.
- Know your mission – Knowing exactly what you’re trying to achieve or what question you’re trying to answer, is vital to being able to effectively plan and execute your communications plans.
- Creativity and innovation – organisations that ‘think outside the box’ and look for creative solutions to communications challenges are more likely to succeed. Particularly in the NFP sector where there really aren’t many more colours of ribbons or badges left to sell, keeping issues fresh in the minds of the public is a huge challenge.
- Trust – NFPs need to trust their agencies to provide the best advice, and this might sometimes mean the NFP needs to step outside its comfort zone to execute a creative campaign that achieves cut through. On the flip side, agencies need to remember that getting buy-in to ideas from NFPs, particularly ones with risk-averse boards, may require playing to board members’ strengths and passions.
- Effectively communicate your purpose – People are more likely to accept the idea you’re selling, or donate to your organisation, if they easily understand what it is you do and who you’re helping.
- Transparency and accountability – Most in the NFP sector believe the proposed new accountability measures are a good thing, as people are increasingly inquisitive about how NFPs use their funds. Di Bowles of Good Return, a PNS pro bono client, believes transparency is a major reason their new way of giving is proving popular, as you can log onto goodreturn.org and choose the person you are helping. When donors know exactly where their funds are going, they’re more likely to fork out.
- Use your networks – With NFPs it is all about what you know and who you know. The most successful NFPs build alliances with other organisations with similar purposes or goals, (and extensive mailing lists), which can greatly assist in getting messages out to a wider audience. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
Personal social engagement: are we doing things differently, or more of the same, more frequently?
For the first time in our history, businesses have an opportunity to connect individually and directly with everyone who has a social media account. Not only does this provide a cost-effective way to engage first-hand with large and small groups of people, and individuals; it also provides the opportunity to really personalise communication to meet the specific needs of an individual or group of customers, and involve them throughout the product/service life cycle, from development to retirement.
In the past, the only way this could be achieved was through the use of one or all of the following: sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) systems, business intelligence, formal market research and focus groups. The aim of using these strategic marketing tools was to ‘get to know the customer’ so that advertising and marketing messages could be structured and targeted towards a specific audience segment.
However, while this approach has proven effective, it is only able to provide a ‘point-in-time’ view of the purchasing intent and information needs of some customers, from a potentially bigger sample group. Further, traditional market research methods require the availability of potential customers, in order to build a picture of the interests, knowledge and needs of each target audience group.
With social media, it doesn’t matter which social media platform a person uses (blog, micro-blog, ‘friending’ sites and photo/video sharing sites); they are more accessible, and are sharing valuable information about their likes, dislikes; their interests and leisure activities, and they are frequently updating this information.
Properly assessed against an organisation’s product or service offer, this information provides valuable insights into how to tailor the positioning and promotion of a product or service to more closely meet the needs of target groups of potential customers.
Not only does social media engagement provide the opportunity to engage individuals and groups directly, and tailor your offer to meet their specific needs and interests; it also provides an unparalleled opportunity to start building a relationship with these potential customers from the very early stages of the development of your offer, through enhancements to the ultimate retirement or replacement of your offer.
Author Alvin Toffler referred to this as the age of the ‘prosumer’ as early as the 1990s, in his book, “Power Shift” in which he talks about the new fusion of producer and consumer, where consumers are involved in producing new products and services, at the point of development. Toffler attributes this ability to involve the consumer in the product they are going to purchase to the de-massification of the media and flexible manufacturing, amongst other trends. Social media provides the ideal tipping point to make personalised engagement and personalised product and service delivery a reality.
Some manufacturers took up this challenge in the 1990s with the rise of electronic commerce by offering consumers the ability to personalise their new car purchase (Ford), or be presented with possible book purchases based on what they had previously purchased, and based on personal recommendations from other consumers (Amazon).
Much of this personalised marketing was done before the advance in cookies, click stream filtering and web mining that we have now; and certainly before the rise of social media use. Previous personalisation efforts have lacked the ability to engage in real-time, and have lacked the ability to engage on a more meaningful level, which has been made possible with social media because of the amount and frequency of information that consumers share about themselves.
However, I wonder if, despite all the advances with social media and its use in business and personal life whether we are taking full advantage of the amount of information and instantaneous feedback it provides. Are we stuck in a mass marketing rut where we are simply using social media to broadcast a largely ‘one-size-fits-all’ message to both a broader and narrower group of people?
Is the only difference the fact that we are communicating more frequently and doing it online, or are we truly engaging with our customers and tailoring our products and services to more closely meet their needs? To what degree to we truly understand their needs?
Using social media in concert with other meaningful communication channels provides an efficient way to bring brands and institutions closer to their customers. This can be as simple as adding and promoting an active feedback channel to your website and responding regularly to the requests you receive; researching and providing comments to existing discussion forums online; or creating a blog, Facebook fan page or Twitter feed (and promoting this through other communication channels) as the basis for further discussions about a particular topic or innovation.
An understanding of human behaviour is also useful to understanding how to present and share information about your online discussion so that it captures the interest of the individuals with whom your want to engage. This combined with social media insights and your traditional marketing intelligence data provides a potent combination in forming a picture of what your customers really want to hear and what suggestions they can offer for improvements to your product or service to make it more desirable and more competitive.
Yesterday, 13 October 2011, was a big day in Canberra.
It was the day hundreds of people from around Australia joined up to Fight Dementia.
Led by Alzheimer’s Australia, this is an ambitious national push that we’re very proud to be part of, providing campaign leadership and continuing support through an innovative pro-bono consultancy model.
Fight Dementia began with a good-ol’ fashioned rally at Parliament House led by Alzheimer’s Australia president, Ita Buttrose – who acknowledged yesterday that until that time she had never participated in a protest march (her exact words: “I was a protest march virgin”).
Fight Dementia asks the Commonwealth to re-invest $500 million over five years in information, research and infrastructure to support what is described as “the 21st century epidemic”.
Dementia activists heard from Ita Buttrose; Alzheimer’s Australia CEO, Glenn Rees; Federal Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, Mark Butler; Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells and Sharon Grierson – the Co-Convenor of Parliamentary Friends of Dementia – who spoke to a crowd of carers, health professionals, MPs and their staff.
This was my first-ever march, it was also my first Ita Buttrose encounter; a great moment.
I love working for causes; it’s what I get most passionate about, and this one took the cake. The best for me and other Porter Noveli Melbourne colleagues was being part of a team of people empowered to create social change.
As marchers shouted slogans and carers and sufferers told their stories camera crews circled, photographers snapped, and when the interviews stopped, journos got out their phones to capture their individual moments with Ita.
I was proud it was us, the joint Alzheimer’s Australia-Porter Novelli team that got those journos and network crews there; that it was us coordinating the messaging and the talent; managing the interviews; hassling the pollies – and leading a social media content feed that spurred #fightdementia to trend Australia-wide.
With our heads down and concentrating on the job, it was only at day’s end that we realised what had been achieved, and how while other marketing services suppliers make big news of the work they do for clients, one down side of PR is that we’re never the heroes – that status belongs to our clients.
This post is to say a simple thank you to the event team and all participants, congratulations to Alzheimer’s Australia, and to urge any reader to join us in Fight Dementia’s next phase by joining the fight at: http://www.facebook.com/fightdementia
The numbers: 136 media clips Australia-wide and a TweetReach of almost 30,000.
This is Porter Novelli Melbourne at work, with support from Clemenger Group Limited.