Workshop: Case Study - Action Aid learns value of soundbites

Francois Le Goff

Summary

After conducting media research, Action Aid discovered that its messages were not successfully making an impact, so the charity switched to a more successful strategy of simple quotes and soundbites.

Background

As one of the biggest UK overseas aid charities, Action Aid's work in developing countries is regularly featured in the national press and weekly magazines.

But, until recently, the charity had not sought to monitor and evaluate its media coverage.

Jane Moyo, acting head of media at Action Aid, explains that media coverage evaluation is not just about counting the number of press cuttings but also about evaluating the impact of the message that is conveyed through the media and assessing whether this message is the right one.

After discussing its needs with a number of communications agencies, the charity selected Romeike. The agency was asked to analyse Action Aid's media coverage over 15 months and assess how effective the charity had been at communicating its messages.

How it worked

The charity collected all the cuttings and sent them to Romeike for evaluation. The agency then reported back on a quarterly basis. It then met with Action Aid and told the charity whether what it is trying to say matched how it is portrayed in the press.

"To take a simple example, one of our main fundraising tools is child sponsorship," Moyo said. "Our key message is that by donating, people do not just help a child but a whole community."

But after examining Action Aid's press releases and cuttings, Romeike said the charity was not getting its message across. "The community element did not get through to the public," said Moyo.

The process has been an eye-opener for Moyo, who is now more aware of the need to translate complex issues into plain English. She said that charities must realise that the media uses simple and accessible language.

"Thanks to feedback from Romeike we now know that words like 'paradigm', which we used a lot, are never printed."

Results

Moyo said that Action Aid's press office is changing. "Our press releases always told the story of a sponsor who had visited a project to see the difference his or her donation was making. Now, we let the sponsors tell their own stories, using direct quotes."

She says that using quotes is a more effective way of conveying the message of long-term commitment to a community.

Action Aid has also changed its message about Africa. Next year is going to be an important year for the continent, with the 20th anniversary of Live Aid and Prime Minister Tony Blair putting Africa at the top of the agenda along with climate change.

After analysing the charity's PR activity between April and June, Romeike described its message on Africa as too complex and negative. The charity had quoted Tony Blair's remark - "Africa is a scar on the conscience of the world" - but has now devised a message of its own: "Africa needs action, not just words".

Moyo stressed that this message has to be very simple in order to reach a large audience. "If we are on the BBC, whose audience is generally quite sophisticated, we can then switch to the second or third message on our list."

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