ADVERTISING: Britain's biggest charity advertisers - Charities must advertise if they are to compete for money and attention, and the biggest are as media-literate as any commercial brand, says Dominic Mills

DOMINIC MILLS

- Wise up about the media owner you're contacting. Don't expect poster companies to design or print your ads, or radio broadcasters to make them from your script. Don't produce press ads of irregular sizes.

- Know what you want. "Charities come to see me,

says Francis Goodwin, managing director of poster contractor Maiden Outdoor and himself a trustee of a third-world children's charity, "but they don't know if they want a one-day campaign, a stunt, a town-only campaign, a regional campaign or whatever."

- Find a supporter inside the media owner, the higher up the better.

Sales directors are the obvious target, but pressure from a proprietor or editor makes a difference. It's relatively easy to find out about the personal passions of editors. Once you've done that target them with copies of your ads.

- Find a commercial sponsor to pay for a discounted campaign. If it's one who rarely advertises on that medium, so much the better. Media owners love the chance to schmooze new advertisers.

- Schmooze media owners yourself. "Invite them all to a lunch or dinner,' says Sue Dear, sales director of the Mail on Sunday, "and they will all try to outdo each other."

- Be careful about issues of taste and decency in your ads. "We all like strong creative on our sites or pages,

says Goodwin, "but we'll want to see it. Anything too strong won't run if it's for free.

Dear adds: "Don't do nudity or animals being hurt. It's tough enough to get them in even when charities are paying."

- Flatter them. "Tell the newspaper that it ran an ad for your charity three years ago (they won't check) and it worked brilliantly,

says Dear. "They'll think there's a chance of a testimonial, so they'll run your current one."

tabular

In the context of the £12 billion or so that British advertisers spent on above-the-line media in 2001, the total value of advertising in 2001 by the voluntary sector - £41 million - may sound like a drop in the ocean.

Indeed, it actually represents a small decline from the sector's £47 million in 2000.

Yet, as Adrian Burder, marketing director of National Canine Defence League, notes, advertising is an essential part of his weaponry. "Generally, we are spending more. We're desperate to do the job we've set ourselves. We have to keep raising funds and we have to keep building our database. That means advertising. On issues, we work closely with other charities, but when it comes to fundraising, the gloves are off."

The National Canine Defence League's advertising was worth £1.71 million in 2001, down from £3.04 million in 2000. In addition, the charity invested in £0.96 million worth of direct mail last year.

As advertising and media agencies know too well, however, the game is getting harder by the year - and not just for the voluntary sector. "There's a proliferation of products and services vying for our attention,

says Andrew Brown, director general of industry trade body the Advertising Association, "and there's a proliferation of media. These days, in order to get heard, you have to shout louder.

In the hubbub, all advertisers vie with each other, not just with their peer groups.

This competitive element is one critical factor behind charity advertising.

If they're not competing for attention, then they're competing for funds or awareness among potential donors. "We compete with everybody,

says Julie Alexander, communications manager at The Samaritans.

Yet, as the table shows, the bulk of that total value is accounted for by the 25 largest advertisers. Most, if not all of them, are the biggest and best-known names in the sector. The amount of advertising by the biggest is comparable to many brands in the commercial sector. Like their commercial-sector peers, the biggest are sophisticated animals. "Most of the charities we work with are commercially astute and media-literate,

says one media buyer. "They know what they want to achieve, and how to get it."

For example, the £4.4 million the British Heart Foundation (BHF) spent on advertising last year would rank it between 150th and 200th in the league table of UK advertisers by spend. It's about the same as the private healthcare body HSA spent, and almost twice as much as another private healthcare organisation, PPP.

Yet even once you get beyond the big players, many smaller voluntary organisations also spend money on advertising - mostly on inserts. All told, some 1,800 voluntary bodies recorded some kind of advertising spend in 2001.

The figures come with some caveats. They are compiled by the media monitoring organisation AC Nielsen MMS, which monitors advertising across TV, radio, posters, cinema, national press, most regional press and most magazines.

The sums in the table comprise the ratecard value of advertising time and space booked. The figures do not differentiate between paid-for space and that given either at a discount or for free - clearly an issue for many voluntary sector bodies (see box, p20). Nonetheless, even as a crude measure of advertising activity, if not spend, they are a good benchmark.

Broadly speaking, charities advertise for a number of reasons: fundraising; volunteer recruitment; database building; awareness; campaigning to make the public aware of a specific issue, and emergencies.

Some advertising campaigns try to accomplish more than one aim, often combining a call to action on a specific issue with an appeal for funds.

While this may contradict established wisdom among advertising agencies not to put more than one message into an ad, most charities feel it is an opportunity wasted if there is no number for donors to call.

But few charities come at advertising from the same angle. They will have different agendas, and those agendas change with circumstances.

Charities tend to use different media - TV or direct mail, say - as their objectives shift, says Owen Lewis, an associate director at WWAV Media, whose clients include three of the five biggest advertisers. "If they want to generate names to build a fundraising database, then direct- response media - direct mail, direct- response TV or inserts - work better than off-the-page media."

For the biggest, most regular advertisers, media budgets for specific fundraising ads are often based on a return-on-investment (ROI) model. Over time, they have come to know what works and what doesn't. Media buyers that specialise in charities have considerable experience in this area. "Our skill set,

says Lewis, "is in knowing the ROI."

The importance of using media buyers that understand the dynamics of charity advertising is apparent from the list in the table. Broadly speaking, media buyers can be split into two camps: the big, all-round operations such as MindShare, PHD, Manning Gottlieb and Zenith, and smaller ones that specialise in direct response media such as WWAV, Upward Brown, Zed and Prager Proximity. Some charities split their media buying between the two. RSPCA uses PHD for awareness and advocacy advertising and WWAV for direct-response advertising.

In terms of media selection, a clear trend is emerging: the use of direct- response TV (DRTV) for fundraising.The rise of 24-hour satellite and digital TV means the medium is no longer solely a high-cost, mass-market channel. The change has created a market for cheap airtime that is ideal for DRTV advertising by charities.

It is significant that the biggest charities are now spending large proportions of their budgets on TV in a way they could not have afforded before. "We first tried it in 1997,

says Burder, "and for a couple of years we were the only ones. Now the market has opened up, and it's also one where you can buy time cheaper at short notice. "

Geoff Dale, marketing director of Christian Aid, says around two-thirds of his spend typically is in support of Christian Aid Week, an annual event in May. A major chunk of that goes on TV.

"There will be some regional differences but basically we know every year what we need to spend to make people aware of the week,

he says.

"We have an added advantage in that, as a charity, we're named after our appeal. That helps with name recognition. Last year, we raised £13 million, with costs less than a quarter. Press advertising would not normally have got us that level of return."

The rest of Christian Aid's media budget is spent supporting advocacy or campaigns around issues specific to the charity such as developing world poverty and debt.

By contrast, the BHF's media budget is almost entirely geared to raising awareness of heart disease. "Last year was BHF's 40th anniversary, so it was an exceptional year,

says Robert Ffitch, a director at Manning Gottlieb Media, BHF's media buyer. "We stopped running ads to raise money some time ago. But from an advertising point of view, the BHF behaves more like a conventional advertiser. The message is that heart disease is a killer - and by the way we're a heart foundation - not vice versa."

Ffitch adds: "We apply many of the same disciplines to the way we spend the money as commercial advertisers. We make sure we use the right media to target the right people for our message; we make sure we reach them frequently enough for the message to get home, and we look for the right share of voice. We book the time and space that is right for us, which means we have to pay for it."

If BHF accepts that it needs to pay for its media, The Samaritans tries to get as much media time and space as it can for free. "We have 97 per cent awareness, so people think we're a big charity,

says Alexander.

"The reality is that in terms of income we're small. So we can't afford to run big paid-for campaigns, and when we advertise our services to potential users we feel we also have to focus on donors."

Many of the biggest-advertising charities are genuinely mass-market - meaning that their target audience is not necessarily defined by age, sex, location or socio-economic status. This has an impact on how and where they direct their budgets. "In the sense that we need to reach the public at large,

says Dale, "we are a mass-market charity."

The Samaritans are similarly broad in scope. "Everyone's a potential user,'

says Alexander, "or everyone knows someone who is. But it's very difficult to speak to someone when they are in a state of emotional distress. So we need to target them before if only to make them aware of The Samaritans."

The sheer cost of reaching this near-universal target audience is one reason why The Samaritans tries to get as much free space as possible.

"Apart from the post-Christmas period and the exceptional impact last year of foot and mouth in rural areas,

says Alexander, "we're not tied to advertising at any particular times.

That means The Samaritans can take free space where and when it gets it.

"But,

cautions Alexander, "it's pretty challenging operating such a policy on a day-to-day basis. You've got to be constantly in touch with media owners because free spots only come up at very short notice, and you've got to be ready with creative work. Media owners are fantastic, but we invest a lot of staff time and effort at our end in order to get free space. We also try and co-ordinate door drops with our advertising and we have to make sure we're staffed if there's a big increase in call volumes when an ad runs."

If the major charity advertisers have one concern it is, as Burder puts it, about the "law of diminishing returns". "We can't just keep upping our spends, so we're always testing new types of media and new creative to see if something pulls a better response."

HOW TO GET FREE SPACE FROM MEDIA OWNERS

Is there ever a good time to get free media space? Probably not.

In boom times media owners sell every square inch or second they've got to paying advertisers. In bad times - as now - they'll want to squeeze every pound they can out of the advertising market. Sales directors are not employed in order to be generous.

Nor does appointing the biggest media buyer and asking them to throw their weight around on your behalf guarantee success. "Whatever muscle or leverage we have,

says one TV buyer, "we tend to use for ourselves.

Life, however, is rarely that black and white. Plenty of charities do get free or discounted space or airtime. It is available, but it's a question of understanding how to tap into it.

Poster campaigns, for example, run on two-week cycles. But there are gaps between cycles. Traditionally, the poster business is quiet in January and August.

Most newspaper charity ads are paid for but, says Tim Kirkman, head of press for Carat, the UK's biggest media buyer, "if the sales director is kind you might get extra space for free. Free space is driven by availability at the time. Normal policy is either to return space to editorial or sell it short term. The best way to get free space is by lodging numerous different standard-space-sized pieces of copy and hoping for the best.

There are, say media owners, a few tried-and-tested guidelines and tactics.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus