The Why and How of PR for chief executives and busy professionals

By Boni Sones

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Page 2. Who is your audience?

  • The public as a stakeholder

To communicate externally you need to focus on your target audience. Professional marketing and opinion former research companies can help you to devise strategies to find out who they are and what needs to be said to them.

If you provide a service to a community you should think beyond those you immediately help to engage a wide cross section of the public in your work. During different life stages we all take interest and have need of different sources of help and information.

You should view the wider general public as a stakeholder but as a target audience the term is too general. Break down who you are trying to reach by age, sex, social class, interests and lifestyles and focus on the most important groups.

Remember even individuals who are not directly involved in your work can help others to form opinions of what you do. Grandparents often tell their children of events or information they have obtained that can be beneficial to their grandchildren. A busy parent may not have the time to glean this information for themselves or to read or listen to the media enough to pick up on it. Similarly if you are ill, it is often friends, relatives and colleagues who expand your knowledge.

You may be cautious about raising demand or public expectations of your work but you ignore the public at your peril. It is your job as chief executive to take the time to give them accurate information if not they may well pick up on misinformation.

Reaching a targeted general public will help you to reach those you need.

Action: Think what information you can give to the general public that will genuinely help to enable your service users. Do not take for granted that they will know it already.

  • Your members/clients/users

You exist to benefit your service users. Their needs are paramount in planning what services you will offer to who and when. To talk to people who are in need, who may be ill, or may be angry with how they have been treated by others requires tact and sensitivity. When talking to your members, clients and service users take care to use the right language.

A good way of doing this is to imagine that you are sitting where they are. What could someone say that would reassure you and give you confidence that the service offered to you will improve? What words would make you angry and what words would comfort you?

Think of what you can do now for people, what information you can send them. Tell them what can be done in the future rather than telling them “there isn’t enough provision”, “we’ll put you on the waiting list”, or “you are not a priority”.

Your members, clients and service users maybe young, elderly or people with a disability. They may speak another language, need sign language or braille to communicate, or have needs that are different from others. Take care to think of who they are and to talk to them in a way that they will understand.

Think of what they read and what they are likely to be listening to. Weekly papers are sometimes the only source of information people have and they do get put through the door of all those who live locally.

Action: Be inclusive think through what need others have and devise a strategy as to how you are going to communicate with them in a way they will understand.

  • The media – print, radio, TV national and local

As chief executive it is important that you get to know and are on first name terms with trusted local journalists in print, radio and TV both independent and the BBC.

To form good contacts you need to be available to answer calls when the journalist phones you. Come out of your meeting to deal with them. Inform those around you that you want to take these calls and that you want to encourage a positive policy towards the local media.

Not all journalists are reliable or trustworthy but be guided by your own instincts on this. Be careful not to let you guard slip and don’t answer questions on the hoof, ensure that you give journalists reliable accurate information. Phone them back if you don’t know the answer immediately. Carry through your actions and do what you said you would do.

If you are available for “reactive” press calls journalists are more likely to help you with your “proactive” messages. They may help you come up with ideas for a feature article or slot. Their “leading questions” will help your to shape and form your campaigns. Don’t say “yes” if you don’t agree with them, but “are you going to?” is often a question the journalist uses to help you decide on what is the next course of action.

The media will help you to tell others about your work. Use it to good effect. When you ring a journalist “proactively” ask if this is a convenient time to speak and when you can ring back.

Action: Read your local papers, paid for and free sheets. Listen to local radio, watch local TV, get a feel for the media around you and what type of information it puts across to its audience when.

  • Opinion formers, MPs and Lords.

As a chief executive you need to win approval for your ideas with others to ensure that you have the support of key people in your local community for your work.

You already know who your internal opinion formers are, but you also need to engage the external community. Ensure that you know who all the local MPs are, what party they represent and what constituency. Do the same for your European MEPs they may well be interested in your work too.

Members of the Lords are often active on behalf of voluntary groups and charities. Research who in the Lords is interested in your field of work and decide if it is an appropriate request to involve them. They may represent a particular political party and viewpoint but a number of them are “cross bench” so have no set party line to take.

List who you should be talking to and why they can help. What is it you require of them? MPs and Ministers read the national and local press too and may know about your work. However Charity Commission guidelines mean that registered charities can’t be political bodies. You might need to refer to the guidelines before you ask for help.

Don’t forget MPs are in their constituencies on Friday and would be happy to have a face-to-face meeting with you. The information you have will be important to them as they benefit from knowing what is going on in their communities. When needed they can also help you to raise issues nationally particularly if they sit on a relevant “All Party Parliamentary Group” or Select Committees.

MEPs also have set days on which they meet people. Find out when this is.

Action: Get to know your local MPs, find out what events they are likely to be going to and try to meet them.

  • Local government/health service/other public agencies

Who are the chief executives of your local authorities? Who runs the health service? What about the county council and district councils? They may not be directly involved in your work but setting up an email group and informing them of what you do two or three times a year will improve others perception of you.

Even if they don’t read it, when challenged you can always say that you told them of recent developments. If you want to take more time and have more resources you might want to produce a newsletter or leaflet for them. It helps to write things down and you will be surprised of what achievements you can flag up to others.

Think carefully about how others may interpret what you are saying. These relationships may need careful handling but it is still the best policy to be open and transparent as an organisation. If there are differences of opinion people will respect you for saying what these are.

Action: Local partnerships are vital to your work, send an email, write a newsletter to tell others what you are doing.

  • Other funders

Charities and voluntary organisations rely on a number of different funding relationships. Different funders may have different expectations of you as an organisation. If you achieve positive publicity this is beneficial to them and helps them to raise their profile too.

Find out how you can work together with your funders to achieve this. When you are writing a press release or speaking on a public platform or talking on local radio remember to say that this work wouldn’t have been possible without the backing of your funders and then name them if you get time.

Good publicity will help you to secure long term sustainable funding for your charity or group. Don’t forget that trade journals often have news about trusts and foundations, government agencies, and the work of charities and the voluntary sector. Make these part of your communication network so that your funders achieve recognition for their work too.

As chief executive you can teach this value to others too. Ensure funders are acknowledged on your web site.

Action: Ensure that internally and externally you acknowledge the work of your funders. Good media headlines will impress them. Find out how you can work with them to achieve this. What are their expectations of you?

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