Refreshing PR tips for Jewish charities


06 January 2010 Refreshing PR tips for Jewish charities Britains Jewish charities are achieving great things but they need to sharpen their understanding of the media and employ a strategic, rather than tactical, approach to public relations so that their contributions to society receive the recognition they deserve. That was one of the broad conclusions of a round table discussion at ORT House yesterday (Tuesday) on how to improve PR performance. Hosted by British ORT, the event attracted 26 senior personnel from some of the countrys best known Jewish non-profits. Inside information on how to make their PR more effective came from guest speakers Dan Brown and Stephen Pollard whose expertise spans the media spectrum from traditional to cutting edge: Mr Pollard as editor of the worlds oldest Jewish newspaper, the London-based Jewish Chronicle, and Mr Brown as the Jerusalem-based founder and editor of the eJewishPhilanthropy blog. British ORT Chairman Simon Alberga opens the discussion on how charities can improve their public relations as, from left, Dan Brown, Shimon Cohen, Stephen Pollard and Robert Singer listen. The significance of the discussion was outlined by British ORT Chairman Simon Alberga in his introduction. We, like others, have suffered with the economic downturn, Mr Alberga said. So we thought, lets find a way to help ourselves and our peers lift ourselves out of the gloom and forge a more positive road ahead as we begin what is hopefully a better year for all. I think everyone will agree that getting the message across better getting the PR right is critically important if we want to improve our engagement with our supporters. We thought there was no better way to do this than to get all the movers and shakers in the Anglo-Jewish charity world together. And so here we are. Much of the participants focus was directed at the Jewish Chronicles Mr Pollard, who good naturedly defended the paper from criticism that it, together with the media in general, preferred sensationalist stories to the ones which the charities submitted for publication. The JC, just like any other newspaper, will report what we consider is newsworthy or of interest to our readers, he said. Clearly, whats sensational will be of interest to our readers. Newspapers have commercial considerations and exist to provide readers with what they want. The JC is also run along commercial lines. But were more than that; were at heart a community organisation. And as editor I have tried to refocus the newspaper as a community newspaper. While several participants bemoaned what they saw as the Jewish Chronicles lack of coverage for their organisations, the Managing Director of Creative and Commercial, Barry Frankfurt, raised a laugh when he said that there was an unhealthy obsession in the Jewish community with the newspaper. Mr Frankfurt said charities needed to be more strategic, rather than tactical, in their approach to PR. We need to ask ourselves, what is it that we hope to achieve he said. Only half of your potential audience are getting close to a copy of the JC each week. You need to identify your audience, your message and the media at your disposal. And the JC is only one part of that, albeit an important part. eJewishPhilanthropy editor Mr Brown added: Dont stop at one place. If you dont get coverage from one media outlet then go to the competition go international even. You have donors or potential donors in other countries; you have a global footprint. And he pointed out the possibilities of abandoning the reliance on traditional media. By having stories published on-line, the information can be picked up rapidly by other on-line outlets and the message spread around the world reaching a potentially huge audience. You never know where something is going to go once its on the Web, he said. Get your message out directly to the people yourselves, he urged. Its not difficult. It wont happen overnight but technology today allows an organisation to go direct. Start a blog! Theres nothing to stop you from going direct. But while extolling the virtues of new and social media, Mr Brown warned that organisations using them needed to be proactive. If youre going to use Facebook, for example, then use it! Dont just set up a group and then do nothing with it. It does you more harm to have a page up there that you have done nothing with for six months than not to have one, he said. Both he and Mr Pollard warned that organisations which start blogs must be prepared to update them often and regularly. Its hard work because if you dont update then people dont come back, Mr Pollard said. Mr Brown added: The thing is to have a regular schedule so if you update every Monday morning then make sure you update it every Monday morning. Mr Pollard was adamant: The future is the web. The number of people aged under 40 buying newspapers is so small you cant measure it. While his newspaper has a print circulation of some 33,000, its website attracts 560,000 individual readers every month up from 40,000 a year ago. And much of that increase he attributed to Twitter. And, he said, the procedure for getting stories published on-line was much the same as trying to get column inches in the newspaper: contact the journalists directly do not rely on sending press releases, hundreds of which are sent to editorial departments every day and most of which end up in the virtual equivalent of the rubbish bin. There was no substitute for building personal relationships with journalists, he argued. And that meant that Jewish charities had to stop being so secretive. Be in touch, he said. Dont think that because we havent reported on you it means that were not interested in you. If we have a relationship with you then if a big story breaks about your organisation then we can put things into context more easily. However, charities had to learn how to package their material in a way that journalists wanted, said the Managing Director of the public relations consultancy the PR Office, Shimon Cohen, who was chairing the round table discussion. The challenge is to understand the kinds of stories and issues that the media are interest in, Mr Cohen said. That could mean deviating from fundraising dinners and putting out human interest stories and stories with a novel idea. Mr Brown said that eJewishPhilanthropy global view meant that it usually only reported multi-million-dollar donations. However, it published a story about a flash mob organised by World Jewish Relief (one of the groups participating in the round table) because it was the first time it had seen a Jewish organisation use such methods and it raised only a few thousand dollars. Other organisations represented at the discussion included: Tzedek, Meir Panim, Jewish National Fund (JNF), Community Security Trust (CST), Norwood, the Jewish Book Council, Weizmann UK, Nightingale House, the League of Jewish Women (LJW), Jewish Volunteering Network (JVN), and Jewish Association for Business Ethics (JABE). World ORT Director General and CEO Robert Singer said the round table event had resulted in a fascinating discussion of a critically important part of running a charitable organisation. The general feeling was that there should be more events like this and we would be happy to host them at ORT House, Mr Singer said. Both Stephen Pollard and Dan Brown did a magnificent job in opening a dialogue with professionals in the British Jewish community. Their insights and expertise and their preparedness to listen augur well for future collaboration on various issues.