Interview: Betty McBride, policy and comms director at the British Heart Foundation

She talks to Kaye Wiggins about her potent brand of PR

Betty McBride, policy and communications director, British Heart Foundation
Betty McBride, policy and communications director, British Heart Foundation

It's central to our work, says Betty McBride, policy and communications director at the British Heart Foundation.

It's little surprise that Betty McBride describes herself as "unrelenting": according to PR Week's Power Book, she's the most influential person in voluntary sector communications.

McBride joined the British Heart Foundation in 2000 and has made her mark with headline-grabbing campaigns such as last summer's Watch Your Own Heart Attack film.

But she's not getting cocky. She says she "must be horrible to work with", and she knows she can't afford to sit still.

McBride's faith in the importance of communications is unwavering. Mix it with policy, she says, and you have a potent combination.

"Comms is not just the fancy wrapping on the box: it's at the core of our charitable purpose, and matching it with policy work makes that clear," she says.

"With my policy hat on, I campaign for change; with my comms hat on, I make sure people know about it."

She is keen to eradicate what she sees as the turf wars many charities suffer from. "There is a lot of territorialism in the sector: comms teams don't talk to fundraising teams and neither of them speak to the service providers," she says. "I've got around this by creating campaigns that overlap between teams."

One example of this is last year's Yoobot campaign, an interactive online game to educate children about healthy eating: it was a social marketing campaign delivered online, so different teams within the charity had to talk.

But despite her creative use of the internet, McBride insists it is not the answer to everything. "I hate it when people say the future is online, but don't say what they mean," she says.

"We shouldn't be dwelling on fancy words like Twitter and Digg, and we shouldn't get into a race for the newest social media technique. It has to be us driving the media, not the other way around."

So what does the future hold? "There needs to be closer integration between PR and online. Newspapers are losing their subs and marrying newsdesks with websites, and I think PR will follow this trend."

She thinks the sector is well placed to cope with change. "Charities are not staff-rich, but their staff are flexible and good at learning on the job. And they can cope with limited resources.

"Communications is about being absolutely passionate about what you represent, and the sector is lucky to have this passion in abundance."

2000: Director of policy and communications, British Heart Foundation
1996: Head of press and public relations, Help the Aged
1994: Head of media relations, Voluntary Service Overseas
1985: Researcher, BBC
1973: Reporter, Hendon Times

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