OPINION: Hot Issue - Can all publicity necessarily be seen as good publicity?

The National Trust's annoyance at the way it has been portrayed in a five-part BBC documentary series as an organisation hampered by differences over its future direction has raised once again the age-old issues about media exposure. Is it now too simplistic a view to regard all and any publicity as good publicity?


Not necessarily - ask Prince Charles.Charities need to reach people, but there's a big difference between publicity and communication. The OED defines publicity as 'public exposure' and 'notoriety' and it's a fine line between them.

We suffer from tall-poppy syndrome in this country. Stand out from the crowd and people will queue up to chop you down to size. Public exposure may get recognition, but does it engage people? Charities like Oxfam constantly strive for understanding from our audience.

Getting people to understand involves dialogue; it means tackling complex subjects and presenting them so people can understand. The more we are challenged to be accountable, the more we need communication rather than simple publicity.


I believe most publicity is 'appropriate' publicity. But there are those who believe that the only publicity is good publicity. They want journalists to write only glowingly about them without a hint of negative comment.

Then there are those journalists who have an agenda, and whatever we do they won't budge. In most cases we get the editorial we deserve. If we want 'appropriate' publicity, our image must not differ from the reality of the organisation. And when the proverbial hits the fan, we should not keep the press at bay and stay silent.

If we act honestly and with integrity, there is nothing the press can unearth because there is nothing to hide.


The National Trust is being talked about more because of the BBC series. Even if the messages the Trust had hoped to convey were consigned to the cutting room floor, its rebuttal gives it further opportunity to get the public talking about it.

None of us likes bad press - but there is a distinction between press we don't like and inaccurate coverage. The latter is a serious risk and has to be avoided by careful groundwork. If it goes wrong it becomes a bartering tool for getting better coverage next time.

But at least you've made it on to the agenda. Visibility is important - the public deserves to know what happens to the organisations they fund.

What was the more important outcome for The House - opening the Royal Opera House up to a new audience or offending sensitivities within the organisation?


Like any relationship, working with the media takes serious investment and time. Yet the pressure to seek the quick fix of opportunistic publicity has never been greater. In an ever-fragmented 24-hour news environment, the demands placed on charities' media teams have grown exponentially.

The real challenge is to take the long view.

Transparency and accountability require us to act as good custodians of our reputations; our beneficiaries deserve our thoughtful approach.

The challenges are mainly presentational ones, as well as how we enhance our skills and research and plan better.

This is not well served by an 'all is good' approach. We've all got a story to tell; but never at the expense of those we serve.


The British media is unpredictable. It can build or destroy reputations.

Think of Gerald Ratner, Nestle or Barclays.

No matter if you speak to a BBC researcher or a reporter on The Times, there is always a risk that you may be misquoted or misrepresented.

To a degree, libel laws offer protection, and you can complain. But the public usually forms an instant view. Misguided perceptions may take years to correct. Plenty of people remember the alleged scandal of dumping oil rigs in the North Sea and the accusations made against John Leslie.

Yet remaining silent has ceased to be acceptable. The public now regards silence as a sign of 'guilt'.

So if the media approaches you, tread carefully. Plan exactly what you want to say, and do not deviate. This way you can minimise the risk of damage to your reputation.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in

Latest Jobs

RSS Feed

Third Sector Insight

Sponsored webcasts, surveys and expert reports from Third Sector partners


Expert hub

Insurance advice from Markel

How bad can cyber crime really get: cyber fraud #1

Promotion from Markel

In the first of a series, we investigate the risks to charities from having flawed cyber security - and why we need to up our game...

Third Sector Logo

Get our bulletins. Read more articles. Join a growing community of Third Sector professionals

Register now