Charity fundraising, acquiring new volunteers and the best talent is all about communication and getting your unique message across. Getting positive publicity in media creates shareable, credible content for a charity that can be used for a long period of time. Many times public appearance in media is considered as ‘due diligence done’ and is always something worthwhile noting.

At whatCharity, we wish to bring charities together with experts within the field of communication. Our own efforts to increase the trust in the sector, get public attention to all size and types of charities have been rewarded with media exposure beneficial for the industry as a whole. One of our communication partners, Buzzlead Media shares their insight on how and why charities should ‘do PR’.

Check out our PR results, which probably has helped your charity to find out about us, attracted new site users and put us in touch with various corporate partners we have worked with in the past and whom with we are planning new collaboration campaigns with:

whatCharity interviewed Siobhan Lipnicki from Buzzlead Media on how charities can make the most of PR…

What does public relations (PR) mean and why do organisations do it?

Very simply it is sharing information from an individual or an organisation with the public. This tends to be via journalists in national, local and specialist broadcast, print, and digital media, but can also take the form of events and expert panels.

It is a powerful tool to spread brand awareness and core messages about your organisation, its ethos, culture, and projects.

PR can also work wonders when it comes to recruitment as more potential candidates can easily get a better sense of the work you do. PR content has many forms including press releases about your organisation and its work, stories that you contribute to, research papers and surveys that provide interesting new data and news lines and press kits including quotes and video footage that journalists can request to use.

How can a charity benefit from PR?

Exposure and awareness are key for charities and PR is a pivotal channel to achieve this. There is also a kudos attached to individuals who regularly provide expert comment in the media and that is far more achievable than many people think. You don’t have to be a household name to become a regular media commentator – you just have to get into the right contact books and, for some, a little bit of media training.

The wonderful thing about PR today is that it is no longer a one hit wonder. Even radio stations often write up their stories online or post a “listen again” link. Good social sharing can mean you reach a far wider audience over a longer period of time than just the interview slot on its own.

There are, of course, SEO (search engine optimisation) advantages too, as a link from a national newspaper or magazine is really gold standard when it comes to search.

The main benefit is, of course, reach – spreading your message to a much wider audience. Good PR hones your message and then amplifies it to a relevant and well-established audience.

What are ‘PR worthy’ topics?

This very much depends on the publication and the key to finding a worthy topic is to really understand the audience. After all – that is what guides their editorial teams. News also has to be new. The annual village fundraiser might not be newsworthy, but if they make the Guinness World Book of Records for the biggest candyfloss or most cupcakes in a row – then we’re onto something.

Human stories that people can really relate to can also be powerful – case studies, for instance, who are willing to talk to media is something that all charities should aim to have in the bank. When a relevant story comes up and journalists are making requests, you will need to act quickly. Keep on top of the news and ask yourself if there is a local or specific angle related to your charity work that you could offer to journalists.

What media should charities be approaching?

There is a huge range. Trade press is a great place to share your expertise and announcements. I have lost count of the number of times we have regularly placed stories with a cub reporter in trade press who has then moved up through the ranks and quickly lands a job in a national. If you get into their contacts books in the beginning, you stay with them as they move.

Local media is obviously very important for stories pertinent to the area you are working in. Keep in touch with local reporters relevant to your patch. Depending on your field of work there are likely to be prominent bloggers and vloggers with very engaged audiences. You should be in touch with them to see if there are content opportunities. They may be interested in guest blogging for you or inviting you for an interview for their blog.

Podcasts can also have extremely loyal and engaged audiences – check to see if there are guest slots available or even a sponsorship opportunity if the budget is right.

Make sure you know of any specialist press related to your field – you really ought to be pitching thought leadership pieces regularly.

When it comes to national press and broadcast, you need to be thinking of angles or case studies that you can offer to help illustrate a wider story.

Don’t make the mistake of blanket pitching your press release to every title or any contact you can find regardless of their audience and relevance. It is always surprising how many organisations and even PR agencies do this. It undermines your credibility.

What are the steps to get PR going?

Make sure you are active on social media (particularly Twitter and LinkedIn and increasingly Instagram). You can easily find contact details for journalists and keep abreast of the types of stories they are publishing. Crucially, many journalists seek expert comment for their articles and programmes on Twitter because of the speed of responses. (Journalists rarely have the luxury of anything other than a punishingly close deadline).

Try to have a bank of dates in the diary when you think you could be useful to a journalist – national days, awareness weeks, big government reports being published on a subject related to what you do.

Shop around for a PR agency or freelance professional in your budget. There is a myth that PR is just for large companies and charities – it isn’t true. A small and lean company that caters for SMEs and smaller organisations should be able to come up with a package to suit you. Similarly, there are many freelancers who have left big agencies to work alone and they simply do not have the same overheads.

What are the challenges of PR?

PR is time-consuming to do yourself and there are cost implications for hiring in or outsourcing the work which can be off-putting.

When cash-flow is an issue it tends to be the thing that gets cut and it can take a while to build up momentum again when the balance is back in the black.

Unfortunately, as with most businesses, there are some poor quality PR operators out there. Do ask about their track record and check out references and reviews. Be clear about the work included and what the fee covers. There is no guarantee in terms of getting published, but the PR should have a very clear strategy, concrete pitch ideas to appropriate publications, relevant contacts, proof of previous successes and realistic goals.

Make sure your PR truly understands your business. If they are not asking pertinent questions or if they are simply telling you what you want to hear, be very cautious. A good PR will not only outline some of the potential hurdles but troubleshoot strategic ways to get over them.

Is PR free?

There’s no such thing as free PR. It will either suck up your time (which let’s face it is money) or it will take some budget. Even if you do not outsource a PR contract, you may need to subscribe to a news diary or contacts database to be able to fuel a PR strategy in house.

PR can be affordable though and also provides value for money.

Some options to keep the costs down:

  • Go for a small agency or freelancer – all the expertise but lower overheads, saving you money.
  • Use your social media channels to spot opportunities.
  • Opt for a training day from a PR professional to help hone the PR skills of your in house staff. If you cannot afford a contract, a one off cost for training could be the answer.
  • Look into an internship or skilled volunteer.
  • Pay on a campaign by campaign basis and then keep up the momentum yourself in between.

What is the one action charities of all sizes and types can take towards media visibility?

Social media. It is intrinsically linked to great PR and you can build great contacts with journalists. You can also have a story spotted on social when you share your expertise and case studies in your own blogs. Remember that journalists value clicks and shares of the articles just as much as you do – it is all about engagement. If a journalist has the choice between an expert with no/low social engagement and another who is likely to boost their audience by sharing a piece they are quoted in, who are they going to choose? Make sure it is you, by having good, active social media accounts.

PR for charities Siobhan Lipnicki is the director of – a PR agency based in Teddington, Greater London. Along with her business partner Nick Purnell and their team, they have decades of experience as national print and broadcast journalists and PR professionals. They have won awards for journalism at Sky News including RTS, BAFTA and BJTC. They set up Buzz Lead Media in 2017 to cater for SMEs and organisations in need of affordable PR, content and social media support. They have worked on successful media campaigns with charities, financial services companies, and start-ups.