Interview: Dee McIntosh

The director of communications at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home says featuring on ITV dramatically improved its online engagement

Dee McIntosh
Dee McIntosh

Battersea Dogs & Cats Home's director of communications, Dee McIntosh, is still celebrating after the charity's collaboration with TV presenter Paul O'Grady won it a National Television Award last month.

The prime-time ITV series Paul O'Grady: For the Love of Dogs beat Top Gear, The Apprentice and The Great British Bake Off to win the factual entertainment category.

"We are thrilled we won the award, but not surprised," says McIntosh. "We knew how popular the programme was. We are in negotiations about a second series and Paul has been very vocal that there will be one."

The show came about after ITV saw the potential for a longer series in a one-off BBC programme about the charity. The seven-part series went out last autumn and featured O'Grady getting to know the staff and dogs over two months.

"The immediate impact of the show has been to put the charity front of mind for the public," says McIntosh. "Our profile has gone sky high, particularly digitally. The show has taken us to another level and everyone thinks about Battersea first now."

McIntosh believes that taking the initiative in engaging with the public online has been the key to maximising the charity's exposure from the show.

"Animal lovers like to be part of a community and social media is a great way of creating an affinity with them," she says.

During the nights when the show was broadcast on television, the charity asked followers and fans on its social media channels questions in an attempt to generate responses and create debate.

"We picked out 'dog-a-likes', which were other dogs at our centres that were similar to those shown on the programme," says McIntosh. "We also made sure we told the public what happened next, because they wanted to know how the featured pets were getting on after the show."

She believes her background as a broadcast journalist, including six years at BBC 2's Newsnight programme, has helped to give her an understanding of what might work and what is unlikely to. She advises PR professionals to "understand what you as a charity have to offer and to get out there digitally and really engage with your organisation's supporters".

The approach adopted by McIntosh is clearly working. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home has recently been commended for interacting with supporters online, after it topped Third Sector Research's Charity Online Index 2012.

The TV show and extensive work online are part of a bigger push to raise the charity's profile. McIntosh points to the arrival in 2010 of herself, Claire Horton as chief executive and Liz Tait as fundraising director as major factors behind a significant change in how the charity promotes itself to the public.

"We've been making great inroads with our brand awareness and the TV programme has multiplied that," says McIntosh.

"We didn't have a voice before. We weren't as proactive as we are now, but we haven't regretted the change in strategy.

"Now we're out there, and people know about us. There's no stopping Battersea now."

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