Interview: Carolan Davidge

Cancer Research UK is making big changes to its core message, says its director of communications

Carolan Davidge
Carolan Davidge

Carolan Davidge says there is one crucial lesson about communications that all charities, regardless of size, should learn.

"The main piece of advice I would give to charities who are thinking about how they communicate is: keep it simple," she says.

"There are so many charities in existence and they are all complex organisations, but boiling communications down to very simple messages is the right thing to do."

Davidge, director of communications at Cancer Research UK, has overseen the charity's latest campaign, which was launched last year and focuses on a core message - that a cure for cancer is possible, but research is the key to achieving that.

"We know we have to make a strong connection in people's minds that we are making progress in the fight against cancer, but research is the main reason for that," she says. "That's the fundamental message of the campaign."

Davidge's enthusiasm for the cause is palpable, and all the more admirable considering how long she has worked in the charity's communications team - more than nine years. This passion was a contributing factor in her being named as one of 16 winners at the inaugural CharityComms Inspiring Communicator Awards in November last year.

She says that it is easy to remain passionate about her role, which is to oversee the charity's press and PR, social media and internal comms, and to work with celebrities, because it continues to be her dream job. "I also work with experienced and passionate people, and that helps to keep the interest levels up," says Davidge.

Bolder communications

CRUK consistently tops rankings of the public's favourite charities, but Davidge says she and the team are never complacent about its success. After a refresh of the charity's branding in 2012, the charity has become more adventurous in how it communicates with the public.

"When we reviewed the brand, we decided that we wanted to be bolder in what we were saying," says Davidge. "We wanted to show our vision of a day when all cancers are cured - something we had never expressed explicitly before. We have to be careful about how we present that vision, because it will be a long time before it happens. However, the new brand sets out the scale of this ambition, and it has been positively received by the public."

Her advice for young professionals wanting to carve out a career in charities is to gain experience of working in another sector first.

"When I started 20 years ago, the sector wasn't as competitive as it is today," she says. "Candidates who bring the benefit of experience in other sectors really stand out in the recruitment process. Also, decide whether you want to be a generalist or a specialist. In larger charities such as ours, there are opportunities to really specialise - for example, in the digital, PR or brand teams. We look for people with specialist skills."

Looking to the year ahead, Davidge says she believes that the issue of transparency should continue to top every charity's agenda. "It's no longer something that we read about only in Third Sector - it is making the national news agenda, with stories about investments or senior salaries becoming a real public concern," she says.

"The public wants charities to be more transparent about how their donations are spent, and we will all have to get smarter to address this public need."

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