Interview: Penelope Gibbs

The director of the Out of Trouble programme talks to Annette Rawstrone about the challenges charities face when dealing with the media

Penelope Gibbs
Penelope Gibbs

- You led the Voluntary Action Media Unit to improve relations with the media. What did this involve?

Having worked in the media I know that most of the power lies with it, and the answer is for charities not to moan but to service their needs better. The three-year project helped to educate charities to understand media needs: it set up askcharity.org.uk and established a media work experience scheme for people in charity communications offices.

- What difficulties do charities face when dealing with the media?

The challenge is to develop relationships so that they have a better chance of getting a story placed, rather than sending mass press releases, which seldom work. The other challenge is to work with the existing agenda. It is difficult to make news, but it is not difficult to respond to what is happening. We get most of our coverage by responding as quickly as possible to events.

- Is it difficult to get positive coverage for your campaign?

We've developed relationships with our key trade press, which has been very successful. We also take care to get statistics across or use evidence to combat the punitive tone of stories.

- Are tabloid headlines about 'delinquents' frustrating?

If we can get a quote in with our point of view, then we have got a chance of the reader picking it up. We are willing to engage with media that are not traditionally a force of support. We got The Sun to cover statistics showing the high cost of remanding teenagers in prison. It did not say that teenagers should not be in prison, but did say that costs are ridiculously high.

- What do you think the latest trends in charity campaigns are?

Campaigners are starting to look at behaviour and trying to work out what people's basic beliefs are and how to change them. It is thought a campaign will work only if it is understood what most people's instinctive beliefs are on the subject.

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