Change.org UK chief Brie Rogers Lowery on PR's crucial role in the age of 'clicktivism'

From the boardroom: Brie Rogers Lowery, Change.org's UK director, explains how PR helps campaigners get their messages out to the media.

Brie Rogers Lowery: Change.org can act like a PR agency for its petitioners
Brie Rogers Lowery: Change.org can act like a PR agency for its petitioners

Not many organisations with a UK PR team of two people can generate 500 stories a week in this country, but then Change.org is not like most organisations.

Set up in San Francisco in 2007, the online petition website has become a go-to resource for num­erous groups and individuals across the world, creating ready-made stories for journalists in the process; trying to ban Donald Trump from the UK and reinstate Jeremy Clarkson as Top Gear host are just two headline-grabbing ones in this country in rec­ent times. More than 145 million people use the website globally, as so-called ‘clicktivism’ grows in prominence.

Brie Rogers Lowery, UK boss and deputy MD for Europe, has worked for the British operation since 2011, when it had 100,000 users. It now boasts 12 million, and she sees PR as vital to its success: "The idea is about shining the spotlight on stories. PR has been a crucial way to get the message out."

Change.org will offer PR assistance to its petitioners, if needed: "Some people can do it themselves, but an important part of this role is to help coach users through the process of going from anonymity to being in the media spotlight, which can happen in a day or two. It’s daunting, but they also know having their story on TV or in newspapers can be the thing that energises the campaign and helps them get more attention."

"We are a bit like an agency for them, they are our clients," she adds. "We advise them but the campaigns remain theirs."

A good example is student Laura Coryton’s petition against VAT on tampons, started in 2014, which gathered more than 320,000 signatures, received widespread coverage and forced ministers to respond: "Laura had never done any media, and within a few weeks she was on every news channel. So we’re giving her support as an agency should."

Talking of agencies, Change.org does not have a retained PR consultancy in the UK, although it uses FleishmanHillard Fishburn for some project work. "They are great to work with," says Rogers Lowery. "We’re always interested to hear from agencies with ideas on how to use the internet to give ordinary people more power." Change.org will also help agencies respond to petitions on behalf of clients.

The group’s relationship with the media is multifaceted. As well as a resource for journalists, publications will often launch petitions, and Rogers Lowery highlights two successful ones: The Independent’s Refugees Welcome campaign, which rec­eived more than 300,000 signatures, and The Sun’s petition to free Briton Karl Andree in Saudi Arabia, which collected 258,000 and led to intervention by David Cameron.

"Campaigning newspapers are using Change.org to make the news as well as report it," says Rogers Lowery.

Change.org is not averse to its own publicity, and the UK boss has given interviews in recent months, inc­luding a profile in the London Evening Standard in January. Change.org’s regional PR chiefs – including UK comms director Tom Bage – rep­ort to John Coventry, MD, global comms, as well as to country bosses. The UK PR team’s small size is typical for the regional off­ices. Rogers Lowery hopes to grow the team, but there are plans to ease their workload by creating tools to match campaigns with journalists.

Either way, PR will continue to be pivotal. "Our plan in the next five years is to reach a billion users," Rogers Lowery says. "It’s about scaling what we do, the access, the support we provide, and the PR part of that is crucial. How can we better connect journalists with users, how can we help build those brands, how can we ens­ure we are also offering media, journalists and PR agencies what they find most useful? That’s the challenge."

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