60 Seconds with Cision's Orla Graham Communicating Causes

Interview with Cision’s Orla Graham on Communicating Causes

Orla Graham, senior client insights manager at Cision, speaks to Christine Kanu about her role in a new book: Communicating Causes – Strategic public relations for the non-profit sector.


Communicating Causes – Strategic public relations for the non-profit sector

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into writing

I’ve been working in the heady world of media evaluation for about 12 years now. I started off in a small media monitoring and evaluation company in Belfast as a media researcher and ended up running the evaluation department.

I moved to London to join Gorkana, as it was at the time, almost five years ago. I fell into media analysis completely by accident, but the combination of research, getting nerdy with data and being able to build relationships with clients is a perfect mix for me.

I’ve always loved writing and steered towards arts-based subjects at university with lots of written assignments and dissertations. I always enjoyed planning out the story I wanted to tell, weaving in the relevant pieces of research, and sitting down to just write and write and write!

That’s probably where I’m most comfortable in life – in front of a keyboard, or with a pen in hand! I also used to write band and gig reviews for BBC Radio Ulster, which was a lot of fun. Recently a friend and I have decided to start up our own website to get us back into the habit of writing regularly again.

How did you get involved with this project?

I started guest lecturing in the University of Greenwich’s PR degree programme a couple of years ago, where I met Dr Nicky Garsten who directs the course.

She also teaches a module on non-profit communications, I’ve worked a lot with government and charity clients over the years, which I find incredibly interesting and rewarding, so I started to present a lecture on evaluation within Dr Garsten’s non-profit comms module.

When Dr Garsten began compiling a book for PR professionals and students in the non-profit sector and asked me to contribute a chapter on evaluation, I jumped at the opportunity immediately.

Not only was it a great opportunity for me to get writing again (and be able to officially call myself a published author, which is a lifelong dream!), but it was a fantastic chance to contribute to evaluation and measurement being put at the heart of communications, when it can so often be overlooked.

Who is the book for and why should they read it?

The book is aimed at any PR practitioners working in the non-profit sector, anywhere in the world. Whether a seasoned professional, a recent graduate or a junior PR exec, the book will provide a lot of fascinating insights into how to create meaningful and impactful campaigns in the third sector – and how to measure them and prove that impact, of course!

Topics range from internal communications to global strategy, from the nuances of international markets like China and Brazil to governance and building trust. Something for everyone!

Tell us a bit about your contribution to the book.

My chapter, PR Measurement in the Non-Profit Sector: Making a difference in the world – and proving it, gives an overview of best practice measurement – the Barcelona Principles, the Integrated Evaluation Framework and how to centre evaluation around organisational and communications objectives – and provides case studies from some of our clients including UNICEF and the Stroke Association.

I give examples of how to build a measurement programme that will demonstrate impact, talk about the challenges faced by non-profits and how to overcome them. It’s a guide into both the theory behind a successful analysis programme and examples of how to implement one in the real world.

What do you see as the biggest challenge not-for-profits face when trying to bring their causes to the attention of prospective donors and/or supporters?

Trust is a massive issue for charities. The last few years have seen scandals on executive salaries, how donated funds are used, and more recently, the use of sex workers on humanitarian missions. All of these have contributed to declining trust in the non-profit sector, which is hard to overcome.

It was recently reported that this year’s Sport Relief raised about a third less than last year, which has been linked to Oxfam’s sexual abuse scandal and fears that that issue has transferred to other charities operating in the same humanitarian and development space.

It’s also difficult for charities to differentiate themselves and establish a unique voice. It’s a very crowded sector, and unlike more commercial industries, charities are competing against all other charities for donations and volunteering, not just those working within the same area, as people have limited time and funds to give.

Cutting through the noise requires a willingness to take risks and consider unconventional tactics, without sacrificing a clear branding strategy.

It’s vital for charities to ensure they strike a balance between appealing to the rational and emotional aspects of communication and engagement. Hard-hitting facts can help establish a charity’s authority, but emotional appeals are more likely to engage an audience in the subject matter at hand.

It’s been photos of children crying and in cages, for example, that has driven the recent outcry against US immigration policies, rather than statistics or data. Engaging audiences to take action (whether that’s donating money, signing a petition, registering to volunteer, or protesting) requires emotional storytelling and a clear call to action.

Has “fake news” had an effect on the way charities and other not-for-profits need to think about their communication strategies?

Fake news has an impact on all sectors, in my opinion. It’s been around for a long time, we just used to call it propaganda, partisanship or ‘tabloid nonsense’.

What’s changed is the sheer volume of media and content, and the way that it’s consumed – it’s so much easier for a false piece of information (whether it’s deliberately false or simply the result of a misunderstanding) to proliferate and reach a large audience very quickly.

One way in which fake news can be a particular problem for charities is when facts about things like public spending, public services and public safety are distorted. If a charity is campaigning for better end of life care, for instance, incorrect information on NHS spending, government policy and the quality of care services provided, could be very detrimental.

What’s next for you?

I’ve just come back from the AMEC international summit in Barcelona. I’m a member of the AMEC Global Young Leaders Group, which had a really good meeting and planning session at the summit, so I’m looking forward to seeing that group grow its engagement with some great activities over the next year. Keep an eye on the group’s LinkedIn for more details!

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