Interview: Richard Davidson

The director of communications at Anthony Nolan says human interest stories and case studies help bring the charity's work to life, as well as attracting attention from the media

Richard Davidson says good case studies can help a charity secure valuable media coverage
Richard Davidson says good case studies can help a charity secure valuable media coverage

The leukaemia charity Anthony Nolan announced in February that it had established a year-long editorial partnership with Trinity Mirror, publisher of national newspapers including the Daily Mirror and local titles such as the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool Echo.

The charity hopes to get about 200 stories to run across all the publisher's titles during the year, in a deal that it estimates would be worth £1m in paid-for advertising.

Not every charity is in a position to set up such a partnership, but Richard Davidson, director of communications at Anthony Nolan, says valuable media coverage can be gained if charities come up with good case studies.

"The majority of our media coverage is case study-led, both locally and nationally," says Davidson. "Seeing case studies appear in the media is so rewarding because they bring the work of the organisation to life."

He says a charity's front-line staff are key to getting good case studies. "It is important that the comms team works closely with the people who are close to the beneficiaries," he says. "If relationships with them are strong, stories will come and it will be easier to generate case studies."

Charities should build databases of potential case studies so that they are ready to respond to requests from the media or can react to events quickly, Davidson says. He recommends using case studies in as many ways as possible: in addition to targeting print and broadcast media, the use of social media and the charity's website can lead to more take-up, he says.

"Keep an ongoing relationship with the people in your database and ensure that if their stories are used they are thanked and updated on progress," he says. "Try to feed back any success to subjects of the case study so that they feel that they are a part of the story's success." Similarly, he says, comms teams should make sure that front-line staff are informed of the impact their suggested case studies have made.

The case studies that charities want to use will often be of a sensitive nature. "We are working with patients at the most vulnerable times of their lives and we have a responsibility to handle their stories sensitively," says Davidson. "Sometimes working with a partner or parent is better. People who are potential case studies do occasionally say no, and that's fine - their health might have taken a turn for the worse or the circumstances might have changed. It is important to respect their decision and allow them to be in control of their story."

Anonymous case studies are better than fictional stories. "It is much better to use real-life stories than hide behind made-up ones," says Davidson. "If your charity has got a source of good stories, you should use them. These are what people engage with.

"Everyone can relate to human interest stories - they can see their own son, daughter or parents in them and are drawn by that. The skill of the communications professional is to find stories that people will relate to by picking up on engaging angles."

Davidson advises charities to focus on what is unique about a case study. He cites Peter Hodes, an Anthony Nolan volunteer who gained media coverage because as a stem cell courier he has only 42 hours - the time the ice packs last that keep the cells alive - to carry cells from a donor, who could be as far away as Australia, to a patient in the UK. "We were able to highlight a charismatic person in a unique story and capitalise on the angle," says Davidson. "The story first appeared on BBC Online and then snowballed."

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