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How to talk about a sensitive subject: The secrets of Health PR

How to talk about a sensitive subject: The secrets of Health PR

Regardless of the sector you work in, PR professionals will always need to deal with sensitive subject matters. The subjects in question will vary dramatically depending on the type of client you are representing, however, it is important for all PRs to be fully prepared and understand how to handle challenging topics for discussion.

Looking specifically at the health sector, PRs will often find themselves dealing with niche, sensitive topics which the public do not wish to openly discuss. From tooth decay, to varicose veins, to odorous armpits – these are just some of the common health concerns that it is important to educate people on, but not the most glamorous of topics to cover.

As PRs, we must deal with such topics in a delicate, professional way. However, it is also the job of the PR team to bring these topics to life and take what would usually be perceived as an ‘unsexy’ issue and catapult it to the forefront of public conscious through targeted and creative PR activity.

Below we’ve detailed some of the key PR tactics that can be utilised when handling a sensitive subject:

 Don’t be afraid to ask questions…

As a starting point, it is important to ask ALL the awkward questions that no-one wants to talk about. This will help to establish the key messaging for a campaign and draw out the most press-worthy hooks. Armed with this information, you will then have the basis for PR’able content.

 Make it bite-sized!

Fertility Aware IVI

 The key to promoting a sensitive health topic is to make the issue feel relevant to the masses, and to make sure that the subject is easy to digest and understand. Feature articles focussed around ‘top tips about….’, or ‘myths and facts about…’ can be great ways to engage a mass audience and provide consumers with the must-know info in a bite size form. Also, for a more visual content strand, infographics can be a good way to provide information about a sensitive subject.

Case studies are key

 Case studies can also be hugely beneficial when trying to spread awareness of a sensitive subject and bring a challenging topic to the forefront of the media’s attention. Real stories illustrating a health condition or problem help bring a topic to life by adding a human face, and help educate a consumer audience on warning signs/symptoms they should be looking out for – which can help people to identify if they too are suffering from the condition in question.

All case studies must be handled with the utmost sensitivity. It is important to guide the case study throughout the entire process – making sure they feel totally comfortable with answering sensitive questions and being contacted by journalists. For media articles, all case studies will be required to reveal their full name and be pictured within any resulting articles so it’s also important that case studies are fully briefed on this from the get-go and feel completely happy to have their name and image in the public domain.

Think about your audience!

engaging an audience

When dealing with sensitive health stories, it’s also important to think carefully about who the target audience is and where they want the information to go. What’s the age demographic you are trying to engage with? Is the condition/topic you are dealing with more geared towards men or women? Does the condition require an expensive procedure to treat? These are all questions which you need to ask yourself when planning your PR activity to ensure that you are cutting through the noise and hitting the people who are most likely to want to hear from your client.

In summary, to effectively PR a sensitive subject matter, it is vital that you spend time carefully learning about the topic – drawing out all the required information whilst recognising the sensitivities around the issue. Make sure that your PR messaging reflects the client and subject matter suitably. Finding a delicate balance between the need to spread awareness and any sensitivities around real-life stories /making sure that the topic is featured via the appropriate channels is key to any successful PR campaign focusing on a sensitive subject matter!

If you would like some help on how to address a sensitive subject then please get in touch.

Comms That Make a Difference: managing your reputation and making an impact.

Date: 27th of June

Times: 08:30  to 10.30

Venue: “The Loft” at The Ivy Club

We will be providing breakfast followed by networking and a panel discussion with industry experts discussing the burning issues that charities face as they communicate in an increasingly challenging media landscape.

We will be hearing from our keynote speaker Toby Porter, CEO of Acorns Children’s Hospice, alongside The PHA Group’s Shelley Frosdick, Director of Consumer PR; Neil McLeod, Head of Strategic Communications and Tim Snowball, Head of Public Affairs. The team have delivered highly successful campaigns for the likes of Jeans for Genes, SSAFA and SmileTrain, so it is set to be an interesting and informative morning.

We would be delighted to have you there, if you would like to attend then please RSVP below, along with any dietary requirements.

More information on the speakers below:

Tim Snowball, a former Director of Communications for the Liberal Democrats and political adviser to Nick Clegg when Deputy Prime Minister, now works with a wide range of charities, CAR initiatives and causes to help them become more effective when engaging political stakeholders. Tim’s work for pressure group Living and Dying Well won “campaign of the year” at the 2015 public affairs industry awards.

Tim Snowball

Neil McLeod, Head of Strategic Communications. Neil is a former journalist who has advised charities in crisis comms as well as corporations and high profile individuals.


Shelley Frosdick is Director of PR at multi-award winning agency The PHA Group where she heads up the Consumer division which has a specialist interest in third sector PR. Joining the agency eleven years ago, Shelley has managed campaigns for a range of high profile clients including charities such as SSAFA The Armed Forces Charity, Women’s Aid, Jeans for Genes, Crohns & Colitis UK, Smile Train and Breakthrough Breast Cancer.


Toby Porter is the Chief Executive of Acorns Children’s Hospice Trust, one of Birmingham’s best-loved charities. Toby joined Acorns in September 2016, following three years leading HelpAge International, a global network of organisations working to help older women and men claim their rights, challenge discrimination and overcome poverty in older age.

Toby has dedicated his entire career to humanitarian and development assistance, working for 10 years with Save the Children, and five years before that with Oxfam. As Global Emergencies Director, he led Save the Children’s response to the Asian Tsunami in 2004, the Pakistan earthquake in 2005, before moving to New Delhi seconded to Save the Children India from 2008 to 2011. Earlier in his career, Toby worked in the Rwanda refugee camps in 1994 and 1995, and led Oxfam’s response to the Kosovo crisis in 1999.

Toby attended the Annual Meeting in Davos of the World Economic Forum in 2014, 2015 and 2016, as one of the global civil society representatives.  He also served on the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Population Ageing for 2014-16.

How can charities change policy on a shoestring?

Politics can be confusing for charities, especially when you’re operating on a small budget that is being stretched multiple ways.

But for many charities, it will be important to engage in politics at some point – perhaps because they have a funding issue, they want to campaign for a policy change, or they want recognition for the work that they are doing. Often, it can be a combination of all three – political recognition can open new doors and attract new donors, and having political champions is essential if a charity aims to change policy.

Well-established charities can often afford to hire full time communication specialists in-house, but for many of the 160,000-plus charities in the UK, this simply isn’t an option. So how can charities go about getting involved in politics on a shoestring?

Be clear about what you want

The mistake that many charities make is by being unfocused in what they are asking for. Charities often have a deep understanding of their policy area, and can see what is and isn’t working on the ground. This can mean that charities have lots of feedback and changes that they would like to communicate–but this means that the message can easily get confused!

To give yourself the best chance of success, it is important to have clear and realistic goals as soon as you start the process of engaging politicians.

Use your resources wisely

As a charity with a limited budget, make the most of the resources you already have. If you aren’t able to host a reception in Westminster, why not invite the MP’s in the areas you operate in to come and look around your charity? Or instead of glossy brochures and a fancy campaign website which takes hours to maintain, ask your volunteers and your supporters to write or tweet to their local MP on your behalf. MPs care most about what their constituents think about them, so it is likely that receiving a mailbag full of personalised letters will make your MP sit up and listen. You can then engage with the MP and turn him into a champion of your charity.

Be targeted

Similarly, don’t waste time reaching out to every parliamentarian. If possible, undertake some stakeholder mapping and identify your key targets. With a smaller pool of policymakers, you can reach out and make personalised, individual approaches. These are much more likely to be successful than the hundreds of templates letters which MPs receive every day – which 90% of the time, end up in the bin.

Look for opportunities

Parliamentary business moves quickly – blink, and you’ll miss it. But it is vital that you monitor what is going on in Parliament every day, and not just in the main chamber of the Commons. There are often select committee inquiries, questions for short debate in the Lords, new legislation and Westminster Hall debates that you can get involved with, either directly or through your political champions. These are a great opportunity to get your voice heard by the people who matter most.

Be impartial

Although charities are required to be politically neutral, there have been many incidences where politicians have felt that a charity is biased against them. No matter how strongly you feel about an issue, it is important to remember that giving any impression that you are not impartial (even personally!) is likely to alienate politicians who could otherwise have listen to you and helped your cause.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t criticise a political party’s policy – but it does mean that criticism should be proportionate and you should remember that a policy is always formulated with good intentions – even if in reality it doesn’t work on the ground. Stick to your message, and work to educate policymakers, and you’ll find it much easier to influence policy.



Animal charities occupy a great deal of space in the third sector and have created some of the most successful campaigns that we’ve seen in recent years. There is a risk, however, for animal charities to fall into the trap of guilt-inducing videos. These can cause viewers to cringe away before they engage with the issue. It seems shocks tactics are on the way out, and in their place, we are seeing a series of imaginative and varied campaigns that really work to capture and maintain people’s attention. Here are our top 5 creative animal charity campaigns:

This shocking but brilliant campaign from PETA Asia highlights the cruelty practised every day in the exotic-skins and leather goods industry. As consumers, the reality of what we wear is hidden from our consciousness by glossy shop fronts, designer labels and personal ignorance. This project demonstrated to shoppers what their fashion choices mean for animals the world over, forcing them to take ownership for the harm that this necessitates. PETAs bold statement sent shockwaves through social media, with the original video hitting nearly 4million views. PETA drove home the message that these skins belong on the backs of animals, not hanging in our wardrobes.

Working with IKEA in Singapore, Home for Hope came up with an innovative campaign to encourage families to adopt dogs by making them look like part of the furniture. Home for Hope placed a number of individual life-sized cardboard cut outs of each dog around the IKEA showrooms, with a personalised QR code attached. Once shoppers saw how the homeless dog could fit in with their home all they had to do was scan the code to start the adoption process. Teaming up with IKEA was a particularly clever move in a bid to target people who may be moving house, perhaps to somewhere with space for a new canine companion. This campaign delivered a really effective and creative strategy on a tight budget, and we think that deserves some recognition.

The WWF have a history of clever campaigns that inspire people to donate to or ‘adopt’ the world’s most vulnerable animals. Some of their most impressive work over the years has been focused on the tiger, possibly the most iconic animal of all time. Yet the tiger still faces constant threat to its habitat and wellbeing. WWFs ongoing campaign aims to double wild tiger numbers by 2022; this relies on donations to fund everything from the rangers in the field, to care programs and efforts to stop poachers. This campaign encompasses the video above as well an immersive Tiger Experience, set up in White City Westfield. Using VR, WWF engaged more than 5,000 potential donors and took 12,000 participant photographs. This overwhelming response saw The Tiger Experience generate 21% more sign-ups than originally targeted. This is a great example of how new technologies can be used to rejuvenate well-documented campaigns and issues.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have plenty of emotive content to work with, and an easy hook for a nation obsessed with their pets. They have utilised this approach well for many years, but this campaign takes a different tactic to encouraging adoption. The #LookingForYou campaign took a simple leafleting approach and transformed it into an interactive and immersive experience within your own shopping trip. The dog in the video followed potential donors around the shopping centre, appearing at every corner they turned, just like a real stray would. This charming and gentle approach shows that not every animal charity campaign needs to reduce you to tears to be effective, although we have to be honest, this one had us pretty close.

WWF Panda Tuna Campaign

The last on our list is a hugely important PSA from WWF about the endangered status of the Tuna and the apparent lack of care expressed by the public. This series of image based adverts challenges this conception and urges us to think about this hugely important species, even if it isn’t cute and fluffy. This is an ongoing problem for campaigners within ocean rights and sustainability; WWF has played on this by changing the face of Tuna as we know it. The genius of this campaign is in its forcing us to consider our flaws and prejudices, to acknowledge all life as equal and worthy of help, not just those with fluffy ears and a tail.

Development Days

How your business can support your staff’s charitable endeavours

Modern employees place company values at the top of their list when it comes to choosing an employer. The importance of being an ethical employer, coupled with the challenge of retaining talent within an increasingly mobile workforce, means employers are having to listen to the requests of their employees more than ever to provide teams with opportunities to engage in purposeful activities.

Millennials need a sense of purpose when it comes to their working lives. They see their personal and professional activities as more intertwined than older generations and often look for jobs that align with their personal interests and aspirations.

Work Development Day Desk

The challenge for the employer is to ensure that they are listening to the needs of their staff and going the extra mile to provide opportunities for employees to feel like they are doing social good in their everyday actions.

Supporting a charity and carrying out charitable activities is a popular way for employees to feel like they are giving back and contributing to a purposeful activity. Millennials love the feeling of satisfaction that comes with knowing that they are making a difference and are demanding more from their employers when it comes to opportunities to do so.

Crucially, millennials are engaging with charities in a different way to that of older generations. Instead of giving money to a charity, millennials are more likely to want to support a charity by offering their time, skills or expertise in a certain area that could benefit those in need. For example, a millennial may prefer to spend time with an elderly person in their community to help reduce loneliness, rather than making a one-off donation to charity which supports this cause.

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

Photo credit Matthias Zomer

Employers must realise that employees need to be given the opportunity to engage in activities with charities, and provide them with the time to allocate to charitable giving which in turn creates a happy workforce.

Our Development Day initiative to allows staff the opportunity to broaden their skill set and pursue areas of personal and professional interest that are likely to have a positive and tangible effect upon their development. The development day can fall into one of the following categories:

  1. Volunteering
  2. Charitable initiatives
  3. Educational courses
  4. Helping the community

The initiative has seen the team give generously with their time to charities they feel passionate about. The team have spent their development days doing a variety of activities, from giving PR advice to charities in need of guidance on strategy, to volunteering with food kitchens.

Work Desk

The development day initiative offers a clear exchange of positive experiences. The charity benefits from the support of a willing volunteer and the employee gives to a cause they feel passionate about.

Charity & Commercialisation

The Commodification & Commercialisation of Charity

The dominant transformative feature of life in the last 200 years has been the steady commodification of all things and activities. This has occurred to the point that under capitalism, nothing is produced that cannot be sold for profit. This commodification has been applied to everything from goods to labour, and increasingly to intangible products such as ‘love’.  It seemed inevitable then that such an approach would be applied to the act of giving and charity. Many would argue, so what if it still raises money? However, this commodification and associated commercialisation pushes at the boundary of disrespectful when it begins to override the cause itself, and the lives of those it represents.

Commercialisation of Charity Pink Rose Hands Breast Cancer Awareness The PHA Group

Charity, compassion and altruism have become market commodities. Through the development of branded product, whether it’s from Breast Cancer Awareness or Brand (RED), charity is increasingly about purchasing power. These items are bought and displayed by the consumer, to other consumers, as a mark of their good deeds. Yet, through the endless commercialisation, these products become disassociated from their original cause. The purchasing soon risks becoming a self-interested action, rather than a genuine demonstration of charity.

Though this isn’t necessarily the end result the charities had in mind, it does seem inevitable. The whole plan is to sell product, after all. To encourage this kind of engagement, you must first build a brand around the cause. Doing this unfortunately means simplifying the issue and core values. This works well for consumer products, but can marginalise and ignore any other than the chosen representation of the disease. In the case of Breast Cancer Awareness, this was the focus on early screening and preventative measures, not the devastating effects that occur if these efforts fail. This ‘softened’ and one-sided narrative has led to growing upset within the community of survivors and sufferers alike.  Likewise, the original BandAid initiative was rife with reductive depictions of Africa and Africans. These do little to help the cause, in fact hindering it in the long run by reinforcing the ‘White Saviour’ complex and reducing the agency of those in need. Such ideas are dangerous, particularly as they become ingrained in our understanding having been so heavily commercialised.


There have also been arguments that thought it encourages engagement with an issue, this is apathetic engagement, whereby people buy into a brand because of its status, not because they really care. This would perhaps be considered acceptable if all profits from the products went to the charities, unfortunately this is rarely the case. As with the craze surrounding the Motorolla (RED), only partial profits were donated. Breast Cancer Awareness have also come under fire, as the money raised is often largely re-routed back into yet another awareness campaign, rather than tangible research.

The Pinkification of Breast Cancer Awareness is perhaps the most contentious issue of late. Meant to entice the ‘socially aware’ consumer, this campaign although wildly successful, has been criticised for encouraging apathetic involvement and yet further excuses to spend on needless product. This trend is especially prevalent in the US, where pink products sold under the guise of Breast Cancer Awareness are inescapable. Yet some give such a marginal percentage of profit, or none at all, that it has become hard to justify the omnipresence of pink. This spending would be better utilised via a direct donation, but it seems people don’t like to give something for nothing… an inherent misunderstanding of how charity works.

Breast Cancer Awareness Pinkification

There ought to be a focus on action before awareness, as important as the latter may be. In fairness to the movement, it did set up to remove the taboo of Breast Cancer and enable people to speak freely of their experience. In this respect at least, they have made significant change. It is simply a shame that charities have been forced to commodify their message to engage consumers.

Shopping habits aside; the real risk with charity campaigns like (RED) and Breast Cancer Awareness, is the unintended upset caused to those who feel their voice has been marginalised. The use of pink, a gendered coloured associated with softness and femininity, has received criticism for ‘weakening’ this form of cancer and pushing aside any defeminised narrative. Activists are working hard to re-integrate these stories into the public sphere. Projects like ‘Punk Cancer’, as well as Stella McCartney’s mastectomy photo-shoot have attempted to recalibrate how breast cancer awareness can fit in with other versions of a woman, proving that what might be traditionally deemed ‘defeminised’ ways of speaking about breast cancer, can, and have been equally successful. We can hope that this approach will be more widely adopted in future campaigns.

Breast Cancer Awareness ribbon

Image courtesy of: Howard Lake,

Top 5 Charity Campaigns

5 Best Charity and Social Good Campaigns of 2016

2016 was the year of video content, and these campaigns certainly showcase some of the best of this talent. Video’s ability manipulate emotion and effectively convey even the most complicated issues lends itself well to charity and social good campaigns. Here we take a look at our top pics from the year, and what they did so well!

This brilliant video from The National Autistic Society shows a minute and a half through the eyes of an autistic child. The walk through the shopping centre shows the challenges that those with autism have, specifically the information and stimulus overload that can be particularly distressing.

Although it received some backlash for reducing the many-faceted nature of autism, and the whole host of different symptoms across the autistic spectrum, it still relayed an important message of acceptance and open-mindedness. People should be careful not to view this video and suddenly assume total knowledge and understanding of the disorder. However, it was still a hugely powerful campaign and quickly went viral.

We absolutely loved this year’s Paralympic campaign. This all singing all dancing affair was a fantastic display of talent and success. Quite apart from making us feel wholly unimpressive, the song was incredibly catchy and one of the most feel-good campaigns we saw all year. This charming and emotive 3 minute display of excellence is a sure winner for our top 5 picks of 2016.

This campaign highlighted the inequalities faced by young girl’s every day, and experienced in every part of their life. The words of others echo and reform at later stages, chipping away their self-belief and confidence. This campaign aimed to dispel these preconceptions and empower young girls to participate and get stuck in wherever they please. Girl Guiding has always been a group aiming to engage and teach young girls skills and values so that they can really make their impact in the world. #ForTheGirl showed Girl Guides relevance today and received over 600,000 views on the original Facebook post alone.

This cleverly constructed, informative and though provoking advert addresses a huge number of issues faced daily by the world’s most vulnerable. The Alphabet of Illiteracy sees each letter feature an issue that illiteracy is proven to fuel; the simplified approach to such a complicated issue is really driven home by clever animation. Very deservingly, it won the 2016 Cannes Lions Health and Wellness Grand Prix.

Okay so this one is just on the wrong side of 2016, but it’s just too good to leave out. The video explores how we understand and position ourselves in society, and how we naturally do the same to others. By ‘unboxing’ people we are more open to out similarities, and so more open to new relationships and interactions. The message behind this video comes at a time of increasing uncertainty and distrust of others, especially of those from a different background to us. All That We Share does an excellent job of reminding us that there is more that unites than divides us, even if it’s something as small as never having seen a cow…

Special shout out to the BBC Three mini-series, ‘Things not to say to …’ This is a hilarious and genuine insight into the lives of people facing various disabilities and challenges. Their frank and honest approach makes their condition more relatable and combats many of the taboos faced in daily life. Also, it’s just a great example of bite-sized video content that is so successful these days. These videos are a real coming together of important social good campaigns and digestible and shareable content.


How to Build A Charity Website

Charity Case Study: David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation

A charity’s website is a vital part of any organisation. It is the medium in which they can reach out to an audience and engage with their donors. It can also provide vital information about the causes that are supported.

At the heart of any charity are two main goals;

  • to provide information by cutting through the noise
  • receive donations by providing a clear messaging.

The David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation is an effective wildlife conservation charity, funding key projects in Africa and Asia working to save endangered wildlife.

The foundation relies heavily on donations from the public, through the campaigns they run and the donations they receive through the website. We were approached by the foundation as their website failed to provide them with a modern interface which in turn resulted in losing out on vital donations.

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation The PHA Group Charity Website

In terms of functionality, the site required a new approach to incorporate the new brand direction, creating a unified look and feel between print and digital, along with staying true to their heritage.

The heritage of any charity is important. Their journey to this point must be considered when thinking about a website design.

Working alongside the DSWF team to align their core messaging and the type of brand they wanted to portray. We implemented a strategy which allowed us to focus on some key core elements of the site; Protect, Fight, Engage. This theme was carried through the site and incorporated in the branding.

The nature of the imagery available, lead us down the route to display these for maximum impact. As the focus of the site was to encourage donations for animals that needed care.


Once we had delivered the website an important part of the process was to maintain a support network for any ongoing enhancements that were needed, which is vital for a growing charity.

 “For a small charity with limited resource, launching a new website with attention-grabbing design that offers customers a seamless experience was always going to be a challenge. PHA worked with us to resolve functionality issues, helped us to focus our messaging and to emphasise the strong visual appeal of what we do. The result is a modern, multi-platform website with great visual impact that we are hugely proud of.”

Vicky Flynn – Head of Brand and Communications

Humanising Your Charity

As those of us who move in media circles know all too well, picking the right spokesperson or celebrity ambassador to align with your brand can quite literally mean sink or swim, particularly where charity organisations are concerned.

On one hand, working with a popular celebrity ambassador or allowing a larger-than-life figurehead to represent your brand can greatly improve a charity’s public image, but the upshot of it is that any negative publicity surrounding that person can potentially reflect badly on the organisation and end up inflicting long term damage.

The PHA Group - PR Charity Personal Reputation


One example that springs to mind is that of Camilla Batmanghelidjh.

Between 1996 and 2015, Camilla Batmanghelidjh was best known as the founder of Kids Company, a well-respected UK charity which worked closely with children and young people.

During this time, Batmanghelidjh became a high-profile media spokesperson for the charity, who was constantly in the company of celebrities and politicians; she was even dubbed the “Angel of Peckham” in the media, while the Daily Mail called her “Our own Mother Teresa”.

Even The Guardian described Camilla as “one of the most powerful advocates for vulnerable children in the country” – what a fantastic position for the brand to be in.

However, in 2015 all of this unexpectedly came crashing down amid allegations of mismanagement and a spiralling financial crisis despite receiving millions of pounds in government funding.

After a few desperate attempts to claw back credibility, shortly after the furore Batmanghelidjh was forced to step down as the charity’s chief executive, and devastatingly for all those who worked for the charity, as well as the families who relied on their support, Kids Company was shut down.


When you strive to humanise your brand through linking with a celebrity or someone who is already well-known by the media, there are several questions you need to consider apart from whether they can help raise general consumer awareness or encourage fundraising. For example:

  • Will the benefits of having this person involved in your campaign or as the sole spokesperson for your charity outweigh any negative reactions from your supporters?
  • How will you handle the issue if they do get negative publicity in the future?

It’s no good having an ambassador or single leader at the helm of your charity if the only thing journalists want to speak to them about is their recent drugs scandal/racist comments/financial issues/alleged affair. Not only that, the last thing you want on your charity website is a picture of someone who has been exposed as being a bit of a shady character.


Another important thing to consider is, will your existing supporters continue to respect your charity if they perceive the organisation to be spending thousands on celebrity ambassadors?

In a decision that completely horrified its supporters and potential donors, last year children’s charity Barnardo’s ‘fessed up to agreeing to pay £3,000 for Binky Felstead (of Made in Chelsea fame) to take part in a PR and social media campaign to get more people to shop in its stores.

Something special happening with @barnardosretail today 🙊 … Follow their account and watch this space!

A post shared by BINKY FELSTEAD (@binkyfelstead) on

While Barnardo’s quickly issued a statement in reaction to some negative Press saying “Barnardo’s does not usually pay celebrities who support our work with the most vulnerable children across the UK”, the damage was already done. The move sparked outrage from some charity fundraisers, particularly from Tory MP Charlie Elphicke who described the transaction as an ‘insult to volunteers who toil to raise cash for needy children’. Ouch.

Although Binky agreed to waive her fee for the activity (which she was allegedly planning on donating to another charity), and then promptly sacked her agent, her brand was also temporarily left in tatters, while the charity lost the respect of many of its supporters.


Authentic support from celebrities in the right form, however, can be welcomed by the public. Take for instance the new UNICEF campaign featuring long-time Unicef Goodwill Ambassador David Beckham.

Having supported the charity since 2005, David is now fronting the charity’s End Violence initiative, which aims to stamp out the mistreatment of children around the world. UNICEF recently launched its campaign video which shows Beckham’s famous tattoos animated with a series of images which highlight the different types of violence children suffer, such as domestic, bullying and online grooming and abuse.

With over 11 years of working with UNICEF, David has also visited Cambodia, where he has met some of the children who have suffered violence and abuse.

Shortly after his visit, he also attended the United Nations to call on world leaders to put disadvantaged children, at the centre of the new Sustainable Development Goals, a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

As a result, all of these elements tie together beautifully to create a clear and convincing message that conveys what the charity is trying to achieve. Of course, the celebrity endorsement isn’t everything here, but the support of a passionate celebrity has helped UNICEF reach new audiences with that message.

In summary…

Whether pushing a celebrity or figurehead is the right thing for your charity is largely down to the objectives you are trying to achieve as an organisation. However, the message is clear; while It is rare that issues occur, before putting all your eggs in one basket consider how your brands align, what your supporters and potential donors will think of your decision, and what happens if that person’s reputation is tarnished.

The Problem of Fundraising

Do personal funding campaigns steal donations from traditional charities?

“Charity begins at home”, never has this phrase been more prevalent than today when personal funding campaigns have started to dominate the charity sector all over the world. New online platforms such as Go Fund Me and GoGetFunding have launched which allow members of the public to raise funds for just about anything, at very little cost or effort on the part of the fundraiser.

There are seemingly endless amounts of campaigns currently live and many campaigns that have already been successful. To give you just a few examples, on the more worthwhile end of the scale are campaigns in areas such as:

Medical Care

Campaigns looking for help paying for medical care and/or equipment. Such as the ‘Please Help 3 year old Neel Beat Brain Cancer’ campaign run by Vikash Chooramun, the child’s father. This campaign is one of many currently online that call for public donations to help pay towards all of the costs associated with complicated medical care.


Personal Emergencies

Campaigns that are raising money for people who are experiencing an emergency situation such as flooding in the home or even an unexpected death in the family. For example the ‘Decking Family In Need of Help’ campaign is attempting to raise $5,000 to go towards expenses related to their house fire which caused them to lose irreplaceable personal items and even their family dog. Alongside campaigns like this Go Fund Me has also recently launched a standalone page dedicated to people who have been affected by Hurricane Matthew – allowing victims of this disaster to reach the public directly to ask for relief funds.


Campaigns that ask for help paying for education-related costs. Such as the ‘Help Holly: Jungle to Oxford study’ campaign which is attempting to raise £7,250 to pay for Holly’s postgraduate course at Oxford University.


Alongside these areas there also a hundreds of campaigns for perhaps more frivolous causes including:

  • Weddings & Honeymoons – the public can now ask for help paying for their wedding & honeymoon costs via personal funding sites in lieu of the traditional wedding registry.
  • Dreams/Aspirations – people have also begun launching campaigns to help them ‘achieve their dreams’ such as this ‘Bikini Competition Fees’ campaign which is looking to raise $1,500 to go towards entering into a weightlifting competition or this ‘Please Help Me Record New Music!’ campaign which is attempting to raise $4,000 to pay for the recording of a new EP
  • Travel – campaigns that ask for money to help individuals travel around the world such as this ‘Adventure on the coast’ campaign which is asking for $3,000 to go towards travel costs for a personal holiday.

With so many ‘causes’ to choose from the question is though, is personal funding detracting attention away from traditional charities?

It’s easy to see the draw of personal funding campaigns; reading through the stories of individuals around the world who have experienced terrible diseases or deaths of those closest to them definitely strikes a chord emotionally. But how much can people afford to give? And if they’re giving to personal campaigns will they then need to stop funding conventional charities?

Taking all of this into account it’s incredibly important for charitable businesses to ensure that they are reaching out to the public to tell their story and highlight why their particular cause should receive funding. One of the best ways to do this is through PR.

We work with SSAFA, the Armed Forces charity which provides lifelong support to anyone who is currently serving or has ever served in the Royal Navy, British Army or Royal Air Force, and their families. In October 2015 we were challenged by their team to create a campaign to raise awareness of the ongoing difficulties faced by those who’d lost a loved one during the Afghanistan conflict. Working alongside the in-house team at SSAFA we created the ‘Left Behind’ campaign which used powerful images created by leading photographer and official ‘War Artist’ Robert Wilson as part of a fully integrated campaign to reach out to the UK media and bring this issue back to the forefront.


The results of this initiative included 145 pieces of media coverage, significant growth across SSAFA’s social media channels (over 100% on both Twitter and Facebook) and we also increased incoming calls to SSAFA by 20% compared to the period before the campaign.

A strategic and creative PR campaign will be able to find and showcase the human interest angle relevant to a particular charity (such as our efforts with SSAFA) and utilise this to secure placement within the media and ultimately to reach out to the public and secure donations.