How the HIV/Aids Alliance improved its public appeal

Susannah Birkwood speaks to the biggest mover in this year's Third Sector Charity Brand Index to find out how it managed to boost its brand so effectively

When several countries started cutting their aid funding for HIV-specific projects in 2011, the International HIV/Aids Alliance knew it had to change its image. The UK-based charity, which is the umbrella body for 30 national organisations dedicated to ending Aids worldwide, saw a trend among governments to reallocate the funding they had previously spent on the disease to broader areas of health, such as sexual and reproductive health or human rights.

"International donors were pulling out of our members' countries," says Jayne Obeng, head of communications at the charity, which provides its members with funding and advocacy. "We had to reposition ourselves so that we would be seen as an organisation that was working in broader health issues and was still relevant."

In 2012, the IHAA decided to carry out what Obeng calls a "perceptions study". It commissioned the PR agency Edelmann to compile a questionnaire, pro bono, which it used to interview 53 of its member organisations and advocacy partners about how they perceived the alliance.

"The main finding was that we didn't have a very clear brand - it was very fragmented," says Obeng. "People only really understood the part of the organisation they were connected with, but they didn't really have a sense of the whole. We felt we wanted to bring some greater consistency."

So later that year the alliance paid the PR agency Forster £20,000 to help it develop a new brand model. With the agency's support, the charity established a new strapline for its logo, "Together to end Aids", replacing its less focused predecessor "supporting community action in developing countries". The strapline was chosen partly because it emphasised the importance of collective action by members, Obeng says.

Throughout 2013 and 2014, the IHAA went on to roll out a series of measures to improve the brand. First, it produced a set of brand guidelines to encourage members to be more consistent in the way they described the organisation.

"We asked people to use a certain kind of language," Obeng says. "We were perceived as something of a technical organisation, so we tried to bring in a bit of warmth and use less jargon - instead of talking about 'harm reduction', we talk about 'drug use' instead."

The charity also developed a number of case studies that it used to pitch to media outlets, and it took several journalists on trips to visit its partner organisations in developing countries. Obeng says this resulted in the charity becoming a "go-to" organisation for the media, with the BBC now regularly approaching it for comment on HIV-related issues.

In mid-2014, the charity launched a new mobile-friendly website, developed by the digital agency Tic Toc. And in May 2015, it launched its first online campaign, Write Us In, calling on supporters to sign an online petition for fair access to healthcare for LGBT people.

In one respect at least, the results of this multi-pronged approach have been positive: the IHAA was the biggest climber in this year's Third Sector Charity Brand Index, rising 32 places to 102nd.

Additionally, whereas 85 per cent of the people interviewed in the charity's 2012 perceptions study viewed the organisation as a global leader in tackling HIV and 36 per cent thought the charity was unique in some way, a repeat of this study in March 2015 found numbers had risen to 95 per cent and 52 per cent respectively.

Through initiatives such as Write It In, meanwhile, the charity has begun to appeal to a broader audience, Obeng says, which should ultimately help it to secure funding from sources such as foundations and private companies and plug the gap left by the withdrawal of government funding.

Obeng says there is still some way to go to realise this goal, but she is optimistic. "You don't change people's perceptions overnight," she says. "But the brand index and our own results give us the feeling we're working in the right direction."

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