Communications: Broadcasting - Trust and rules - the secret of TV

For the average charity press officer, three minutes on the Today programme is the only kind of publicity worth having. Working with TV, by comparison, is dancing with the devil. It's risky - they and their clients might end up feeling exploited.

One way charities can capitalise on television coverage is by employing red button technology in the way Unicef did last May for Soccer Aid. The interactive red button on Sky viewers' remote controls can be deployed to get people to volunteer or donate through the TV.

Viewers who press red go through to an interactive menu, which can be used to take credit card details or to search a volunteering database, for example.

Throughout ITV's Soccer Aid competition, the red button was on the screen, raising £338,000 for Unicef's work.

One of the concerns when working with television producers is that important issues get sensationalised. Recent research by the Voluntary Action Media Unit (Third Sector, 30 August) showed that charities were divided about the recent trend in so-called shock docs.

Channel 4 has a weekly meeting at which press-friendly titles are created to get viewers to switch on - that's half the battle. But behind many sensationalist titles are really sensitive films. I've lost count of reviews that say "I didn't expect it, but this was a really great film".

So how can charities avoid being the victims? It's all about trust and working with people who you believe respect the work you do. Find out all you can about the filmmaker, the company, the channel and the slot.

What's the intention of the film? How will it be shown? Then set some ground rules - what you will and won't allow to be filmed, for example.

Get this in writing and hold them to it. Insist on viewings and the right to suggest factual changes.

Then push for as much support as you can from the channel - websites, red button interactivity, fact sheets and ways to get your message across.

Work with their press office to make sure you get coverage on the day of the show to persuade other sensitive souls that, although they might hate the title, it's a show they must watch.

Outrage once a film has been broadcast smacks of naivety. Go in with your eyes open, and take risks. Broadcasters are desperate to get viewers to watch the first five minutes - risque titles, quirky formats and unusual casting can be the best way to do it. If you hold out for the dispassionate, respectful documentary, you may never get your moment in the sun. Take the risk - you may be surprised at the results. Nick Ware is controller of the Community Channel

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