We had an interesting session in the class with a guest speaker from Friends of the Earth. He highlighted some important points with regards to the relationship between Public Relations and NGO’s and how NGO’s use this tool to meet their campaign objectives. Here’s a brief summary of what we learnt.
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• Position your organization as credible and transparent, and showcase the wonderful impact you create
• Develop branding and communication material that stand out among those of your peers
• Promote your cause and impact through social media, online channels and other innovative ways
Last decade has seen a massive growth in the number of civil society organisations. This growth has been so fast that these organisations have become powerful agents of change. But with power comes responsibilities, therefore, these organisations are often looked at from a critical eye to examine whether they are fulfilling their responsibilities properly or not. There are several ways to distinguish between an NGO and a corporate or business organisation. The first point of distinction is ownership; instead of owners or shareholders they have stakeholders and beneficiaries. Second point of distinction is motive; such organisations are driven by value motive whereas a commercial organisation is driven by profit motive. The output of NGO’s is usually subjective, for example, unlike commercial organisation it does not depend on the number of products sold rather it depends on developing or increasing the understanding of the change, delivering a particular thing which could be changing a law or changing the way society looks at something like diversity etc.
The relationship between NGO’s and PR is quite interesting. The speaker mentioned that PR and NGO are seldom heard together. This is because of the negative perception associated with the word ‘public relations’. So, generally we find that most NGOs have communications department, campaigns or media relations departments’ etc. which share the same role and responsibilities as that off a public relations department. Another reason is since most of the corporations use the term public relations, NGOs are bit wary of using the same term since these corporations are the target of NGOs. But if you scratch the surface, you will find that they do the same thing as PR practitioners like writing press releases, briefing journalists, maintaining relationships with stakeholders and organising an event etc.
The biggest limitation which NGOs face is the limited access to resources, they operate on very small amount of money. But it is this limitation which has led to the development of a very innovative culture within such organisations. Also, NGOs usually enjoy high levels of trust amongst people and therefore, they get trusted to go in and experiment, it is not unusual to find an NGO taking something which it right at the edge of cutting end technology and using it for a purpose. They are very quick to be in the latest place. For example, NGOs were very quick to be on second life (and quick to leave as well), MySpace, twitter, facebook etc. because they are cheap and quick medium to reach the target audience. For example, 38 Degrees has run many of its campaigns online and have successfully managed to gather tens and thousands of supporters for different causes. Thus, NGOs operate in an innovative culture within their limited resources.
The proliferation of NGOs has resulted in fierce competition in the third sector. They need to be competitive and in order to survive they often form an alliance. Lot of NGOs recognises that they cannot achieve change without being in an alliance because large alliances which come together enable rapid spread of innovation. An idea that sparks off at one part of the sectors spreads fast through alliance.
In order to develop effective campaigns, NGOs first analyse the situation, it includes communication expertise at the very beginning. The process generally takes a long time. Once the situation is analysed, they then need to identify stakeholders who have the power to stop something from happening or bring a change. After this, they map out what is required from those stakeholders and what the NGO want them to do and how will they reach them. NGOs need to be innovative in reaching these stakeholders and once they reach them, the doors would be open to talk and communicate.
Social marketing is about using the tools of marketing looking at individual behaviour to promote a cause. On the other hand, campaigning is like saying we are going to run after companies and not let them do something. Public Relations practitioners need to be aware that social marketing give away lot of information and is very much led by the audience. Therefore, they should be prepared to relinquish control.