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  • 25 Feb 2016
    Kay Parris is a freelance journalist and editor with substantial experience of the voluntary sector.  Strategic planning can seem like a daunting task, but it is simply a means to setting your charity’s goals and figuring out how to progress them. Just like a strategy for any other area of work, a communications strategy begins with the overall vision and purpose of the organisation. Specific goals about your messages and media channels then spring from that central purpose. Here’s a basic template: 1. Vision and mission There is no point planning any projects that won’t help your charity to achieve its purpose. Before you do anything else, ensure you fully understand what that purpose is. Get hold of your organisation’s vision and mission statements and reproduce them. The vision is how your charity sees the future. Oxfam’s vision, for example, is: “A just world without poverty”. The mission is your core purpose, your reason for existing. Oxfam’s mission is: “To create lasting solutions to poverty, hunger, and social injustice”. Not every charity articulates a vision or a mission statement. Yet these brief statements are extremely valuable in helping an organisation to find its voice, focus clearly on its objectives and measure its own success. If you don’t have a vision or mission already, this could be the right moment to suggest or brainstorm one into being. It goes without saying – get any text agreed by the relevant people. 2. Set goals What are the key things your charity wants to achieve? Oxfam has six key goals arising out of its vision and mission, which include the following: • Champion equal rights for women • Safeguard global food supplies • Increase money for basic services You can agree goals to suit your charity’s context even if you do not have a mission statement. But it is easier to keep the goals focused and clear if you do. 3. Key messages What are the essential messages and values your charity wants to convey, in view of its mission and goals? In other words, what do you want people to know about you and the issues you are dealing with? Once the key messages are enshrined in your strategy document, you will have a reference point for the stories you choose to tell about your charity: do they reinforce your core messages, or could they risk undermining them?   4. Name your audiences The people who encounter, or could encounter, your messages will include internal and external audiences, those you already communicate with, and those you would like or may need to reach, for whatever reason. For example: -          members/supporters of the charity   -          volunteers – both current and former -          staff -          trustees -          press contacts -          funding agencies -          government bodies -          supporters of similar causes -          members of groups you have worked with -          members of the general public 5. Market assessment Present the results of any market research you have done (even if only a straw poll or a bit of googling) to show how your target audiences currently view your charity or its issues. What kind of information are these people likely to favour and in what format? 6. SWOT analysis Explain the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats you are working with from a communications point of view. You need to know about any constraints, and also about any potentially useful situations. The SWOT might reveal that you have a budget too tight for printing, for example, or a supporter base that lives in a dodgy wi-fi area. On the other hand, it might flag an annual event that presents a perfect awareness-raising opportunity. 7. Resources Indicate how much time and money, and how many people, can be allocated to driving your communications plan forward. Resist wishful thinking! 8. Communications tools Based on everything you have analysed so far, set out which communications channels you are planning to use. Newsletter, website, blogs, YouTube, Twitter, press/broadcast coverage, public meetings, leaflets, noticeboards – the options are endless but your resources and goals are not. Indicate the purposes intended for each channel. They could include: awareness-raising, attracting new members, raising funds, briefing volunteers. But how will these things happen? What kind of newsletter will it be? What kind of material will you be posting on YouTube, how often and why?  9. Timescales and targets: Include a list of key targets that you hope to meet through the communications strategy by a given date – often three years into the future. Perhaps you are anticipating an increase in web traffic, or a target number of social media followers, new supporters or members. Be sensible about this. It’s great to be ambitious, but there is nothing like falling short of unrealistic targets to demotivate hardworking staff or volunteers. 10. Review and adapt Return to the strategy periodically (say once a year) to review your tools, activities and messages. Consider how well they are reaching their audiences and serving their purposes. Adapt if necessary.    Found this Blog useful? You may also like:   Don't save you pitch for the elevator by Emma Beeston  The Power of Storytelling: Six Top Tips by Mike Zywina  Lessons for charities from Knee surgery by Richard Sved     
    4372 Posted by Kay Parris
  • 17 Sep 2015
      Effective communication is vital to any charity’s chances of survival. After all, few people support causes they know little or nothing about – and why should they? Charities use all kinds of channels to tell their stories – from websites, social media and email, to newsletters, phone calls and meetings. Yet, despite their best efforts, many small groups find their messages fail to reach far beyond an existing supporter base. Fortunately, this is where formal media – newspapers, magazines, TV, radio and media websites – can help. Community-based charities often sit on news that local, regional, specialist and sometimes even national media would love to run, if they only got to hear about it. The first trick is to spot when you have a potential media story. After that, the ABC of dealing with the media is to tell the right people your news, in the right way, at the right time. So first, check whether your story is really news: News stories must be new. “Teen addiction helpline takes record number of calls” is news. “Teen addiction helpline exists to support vulnerable young people” is not news. The launch of an appeal to keep a toddler group open may be news. An “ongoing” appeal is not. And neither is a launch that happened three weeks ago. News means that something out of the ordinary has happened. “Young offenders grow veg for homeless shelter” is news. “Community gardeners get busy sewing marrow seeds” is not news. A decent picture, if you have one, creates extra interest. Remember that any story you are aiming at the media must resonate with a target group of readers, listeners or viewers beyond your charity. “Sue Brown wins volunteer of the month” won’t qualify. Then go about things properly: A. Tell the right people Get to know your target media so you can aim your story at the right slot and the right journalist. A regional newspaper might split its news into: Business, Health, Education, Community and other areas. An ethical gardening magazine might have a Local Groups page. Approach the relevant section editor with an email, by name. B. In the right way Having familiarised yourself with your target media, tailor your story to the appropriate slot. If you are holding a barn dance in your village hall, a small notice will suffice to help you attract punters – and aiming for anything bigger would be unrealistic. Check the usual notices format, and email a couple of lines, in the correct format, to the notices editor or contact person. Similarly, try to recognise when your story is, say, not so much news as something for a letters’ column or listeners’ comment slot. Again, learn the formats for those slots – lengths, tones and types of piece – and stick to them. For news stories, the best approach is a press release (I will look at this in detail in 'How to make friends with the media - Part 2'). This is straightforward to write, but you need it to be perfect. Don’t follow up your press release with a “just checking you got my email” phone call. You will only irritate a journalist. They will contact you if they are interested. If you really need to follow up, send an email with new material – links to related photos, a reminder to RSVP if press are invited to your event. That way you get to issue a gentle prod, without becoming a pain. C. At the right time If your harvest story misses the September issue deadline for a community magazine, it won’t get saved for the Halloween edition. Too often, a great story gets wasted because a press release arrives too late to fit a production or programming schedule. Bear in mind that copy deadlines for a monthly publication will often arise two months before the publication date. News isn’t news for long. If you are targeting daily or weekly media, report on what has happened within 24 hours if you can. Where you want to invite the media along to an event, give at least two weeks notice. Exercise timing restraint. There is no point firing off press releases every five minutes. You will make it harder for a journalist to notice when a newsworthy item finally lands in their inbox.   Look out for How to make friends with the media- Part 2- coming soon! This will look at how to write an effective Press Release. ----- Kay Parris is a freelance journalist and editor with substantial experience of the voluntary sector.        Found this Blog useful? You may also like:  How to make friend with the media (part 2) by Kay Parris How to write a communications strategy by Kay Parris The Power of Storytelling: Six Top Tips by Mike Zywina    Image copyright of Lewis Clarke    
    3899 Posted by Kay Parris
Tips & guides 2,118 views Sep 17, 2015
How to make friends with the media - Part 2

Ten tips for writing a press release

This week Kay Parris follows up her excellent blog, How to make friends with the media - Part 1, with ten top tips for writing an informative and effective press release.

A press release (also known as a news or media release) should be short, striking and informative.

1. Begin with a compelling headline that tells a journalist the crux of the matter. Don’t be obscure. If the story is: “Ed Sheeran to open new community shop”, then that’s your headline – not “Guess who’s coming to town”.

2. Make sure your opening sentences answer the essential questions about your story: Who? When? What? Where? And Why?

3. Avoid jargon and acronyms – your members might know what you’re talking about, but no one else will bother to find out.

4. Use (and attribute) great quotes where possible, to bring your story to life.

5. Write simply, clearly and accurately. A hard-pressed journalist will often run a good press release more or less verbatim as a story.

6. Keep it short – ideally 300 words max for the main story, 600 only if necessary.

7. Include a named contact person, with their email and phone number.

8. Don’t bog your story down with background details. Add them to the end of the press release under the heading: ‘Notes for editors’. Always include key points here about your charity and its mission.

9. Check your work very carefully for errors.

10. Use email to send out your press release, with the headline or a brief description of the story in the email subject box.

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Kay Parris is a freelance journalist and editor with substantial experience of the voluntary sector. 

Image by NS Newsflash

 

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How to write a communications strategy by Kay Parris

Don't save you pitch for the elevator by Emma Beeston

The Power of Storytelling: Six Top Tips by Mike Zywina