One of last year's more unusual charity PR successes resulted from a corporate social responsibility initiative by the ethical energy broker Utility Aid, which decided to employ someone who would spend a year working for a week at a time for different charities.
Some of the 45 charities that took part in The Nicest Job in Britain - the brainchild of the brand agency Viva - used it mainly to gain valuable publicity in the press, broadcasting and social media. Guide Dogs, for example, reckons it received coverage that was seen by 1.2 million people, and several of the charities were mentioned in the Daily Mail and The Independent, and on BBC News.
The person recruited for the initiative was Luke Cameron, at the time a 25-year-old who had previously worked as a merchandising assistant at the clothes company Superdry. For his efforts, he received a salary of £35,000, free accommodation, the use of a car and an expenses-paid holiday to a destination of his choice.
His tasks included fundraising for Help for Heroes, gardening for the National Trust and cleaning out stables at the Donkey Sanctuary. But the biggest benefit the charities received, says Cameron, was the exposure: "We had so much press and social media; we had documentaries made and articles in every national newspaper, which increased the charities' profiles."
Some charities, he says, were more effective than others at taking advantage of the PR opportunity. "Parkinson's UK completely embraced the concept," he says. "Every single day I was in a different department, experiencing what the charity does: media, PR, research and policy, then with a group of volunteers. The charity got its in-house media team to follow and film me, and shared the footage on its social media streams."
Guide Dogs, the animal charity Wood Green and Help for Heroes also videoed Cameron while he was working for them.
Louise Robertshaw, head of communications and campaigns at Guide Dogs, says the charity reaped significant rewards from Cameron's work in return for relatively small amounts of time. She says the charity secured 18 pieces of media coverage about him, which reached 1.2 million people. There was an article in The Daily Telegraph, and Cameron's daily video diary was viewed 564,000 times.
Another charity that took full advantage of the opportunity was Birmingham Children's Hospital Charity, which talked to Cameron on the phone before his visit and discovered that he had had open-heart surgery when he was 10 years old. It arranged for him to watch a young boy also going through open-heart surgery, which caught the attention of ITV's documentary strand Real Stories With Ranvir Singh.
The programme decided to film him watching the surgery for an episode of the show that was broadcast in August. Nicky Weston, fundraising PR manager at the charity, says 3.5 million people watched it.
Help for Heroes' approach was slightly different. It sought mainly to get positive coverage on Cameron's Nicest Job in Britain blog, which he wrote once a week about his experiences at each charity. David Fraser, press and communications manager at the veterans charity, says it realised that if Cameron was given a good overview of the charity's activities, he would be likely to reflect this in his blog.
"Luke blogging about us positively was hugely beneficial," Fraser says. "I would put a lot of that down to the fact that we made it an honest, two-way experience in which he was allowed to meet beneficiaries, volunteers and staff, share his experiences with other organisations and do some fundraising."
The fundraising consisted of Cameron participating in a 75-mile cycle ride with two double-leg amputees.
Cameron completed his final placement, at Maggie's Centres, in December. The connection with Utility Aid has now ended, and Cameron has embarked on raising money from sponsors to repeat what he did at 40 different charities. Organisations interested in taking part can nominate themselves at www.nicestjobinbritain.co.uk/charities.