Expert view: Time to wake up to the tabloids

Kelvin MacKenzie edited The Sun from 1981 to 1994. He talks to John Plummer.

The amount of media that exists now is so much larger than it used to be and newspapers actually need all the content they can get.

When I became editor of The Sun in 1981 we had 32 pages. It's now about 84 to 92 pages. That means there is a greater opportunity for charities to get their messages across than there was before. But I don't think many of them are taking full advantage.

They often see the political class as their main target audience and ignore the consumer. They want to get on the Today programme or in The Guardian. Nobody reads The Guardian - other charity workers might, but other charity workers don't matter. You have to try to encourage newspapers such as The Sun and The Daily Mail to pick up on your stories.

The Sun is not the same big, hostile beast that it was in my day. It is a warmer and more inclusive newspaper and presents good pickings for charities. Rebekah Wade, the current editor, is much cuddlier than I was, so you have a far greater chance of getting something covered.

Charities have got to be more risk-friendly and accept that they probably can control the message a little bit, but not completely. And if it doesn't come out in the manner they expect it to, it's not the end of the world. Nobody can remember these things 72 hours later. What matters is the amount of coverage you get - so weigh it, don't read it.

Using celebrities can be good and bad. Celebrities are like the rest of us - they have their good sides, which are useful for generating publicity, but they also have their faults. The difference is that their faults tend to be big news.

Try to become friendly with a reporter at a national newspaper. Send a two-paragraph letter introducing yourself to the news and features editors, and do the same to the editor. If nobody replies, perhaps follow it up with one more letter and then forget it, rather than getting angry. Accept that it isn't working and move on.

And be more transparent. I give to the Journalists' Charity and I give to guys playing music on the underground if I like their music, but I don't support many others. Seeing somebody dressed up as a duck or a giraffe at Waterloo station and rattling a bucket saying "I'm raising money for some heart or lung machine" doesn't do it for me.

I view them as quasi-criminals, because I'm unsure where they come from. I want to know what percentage of the bucket's contents they are getting.

- Kelvin MacKenzie will speak at the Charity Communications '08 conference on 8 May.


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