Interview: Oxfam communications director Thomas Schultz-Jagow

He tells John Plummer about his organisation's plans to move to establish itself as a lifestyle brand

Thomas Schultz-Jagow
Thomas Schultz-Jagow

Oxfam is probably one of the best-known brands in the voluntary sector. Most people are aware of its name and its humanitarian work.

However, the charity is trying to transcend that well-known image by establishing itself as a lifestyle brand, rather than purely a charity brand. Thomas Schultz-Jagow, director of communications at Oxfam GB, is leading the process.

He says the move is about engaging with people as they go about their lives rather than "artificially injecting messages around aid or humanitarian issues on top of their busy agendas.

"The time of just preaching worthy causes from a charity corner, sitting on our Oxfam box, is a thing of the past," says Schultz-Jagow. "We have to move out of the charity corner, where we have fared well over the years, to evolve and occupy more of a lifestyle space to bring Oxfam as a brand to the British public.

"People do understand what the brand does and see us in a leading position for what we do; they rate us highly on credibility and trust. What we have to do now is strengthen the involvement that people feel with the brand so that if we were a person we would be someone they like."

The main dangers, he says, are alienating traditional supporters and watering down messages. But Oxfam's core mission won't change.

Schultz-Jagow, who was an anti-nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace in the early 1990s before becoming communications director at WWF International, says Oxfam's new approach is being driven by changing social trends. He says that its key aim is to stay relevant to people who have so many demands on their time.

"We need to engage in spaces where the audiences can engage with us," he says.

Schultz-Jagow joined Oxfam as campaigns director in 2007 and managed global campaigns on economic justice and essential services before taking his current role in May. He now oversees 70 staff in the media unit, PR team, internal communications, corporate communications, digital communications, the creative studio and market research.

Oxfam had already started down the 'lifestyle route' before Schultz-Jagow took charge in May this year. One of the key moments was the 2008 rebrand in which the charity adopted the Be Humankind strapline. This is used to show that Oxfam stands for justice and fairness as well as for international aid.

The charity has also broadened its activities: it now runs a month-long music festival called Oxjam, campaigns on climate change and has a chain of specialist bookshops. It has spruced up its high-street shops. It even gets young designers to turn donated clothing into fashion items.

Schultz-Jagow says the lifestyle route isn't appropriate for every charity but voluntary organisations will increasingly have to deepen their attachment with people if they want their support.

"It is incredibly hard in terms of information overload and rapidly evolving technology to maintain relevance," he adds.

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