Profile: Leigh Daynes - A clear plan of action

The director of comms for one of the largest children's charities talks to Matt Cartmell about his strategy to raise the brand's profile.

Leigh Daynes has a tough task on his hands. As director of comms for one of the largest children's charities in the UK, he has to drive Plan UK out of the doldrums of just six per cent in public recognition, according to PRWeek and Third Sector's Charity Brand Index 2010.

To tackle this, he has spent the last year working on a new brand, logo and advertising for the charity.

'We just need many more people to know who we are and what a difference we make,' he says, punctuating his words with a big-hearted smile. 'Not withstanding the enormous regard people in the field have for Plan, and its tremendous heritage, it is one of the least well known charities of its kind.'

He is frank in admitting that a major issue for the charity, which helps provide opportunities for some of the world's poorest children, is that Plan 'labours under a name that has no meaning'.

Daynes says: 'One of the imperatives of the brand review is how do we invest meaning in a name that has no meaning?'

Another issue, he says, is that Plan has failed to invest in telling its story.

However, Plan has a powerful story to tell. It was born on a battlefield during the Spanish Civil War to provide protection to children. Plan's focal point now is the protection of adolescent girls around the world. 'Girls face terrible discrimination of age and gender,' says Daynes. 'They are likely to marry early and to die during pregnancy and childbirth. They are far more likely to be denied an education and a self-sufficient future.'

As our interview takes place, citizens in North Africa and the Middle East are asserting their own rights in a way that bypasses charity groups such as Plan. Daynes remarks on the power of social media as a factor in this explosion of civil unrest. 'What role do NGOs such as Plan have in the future in mobilising communities to take political action? As we have seen, communities no longer need to wait for our help - they are taking it themselves.'

During the war in Kosovo, Daynes played a major role in managing media relations for Save The Children in Macedonia. 'An awe-inspiring experience,' he says, recalling camps fenced in chain mesh that housed thousands of people streaming across the border with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

'People would be crammed together on the inside of the fence, pushing little rolled up pieces of paper through,' he recalls. 'Those scraps of paper had the telephone numbers of a relative, with the message: "Please ring my relative and tell them I'm OK".'

During one briefing in a hotel bar with a national newspaper reporter, Daynes was able to organise for two suitcases of mobile phones, pre-loaded with free airtime, to be shipped to the refugees that night.

International Broadcasting Trust director Mark Galloway says Daynes is 'a big personality and a great strategic thinker'.

'I've always been impressed by his ability to think about the bigger picture,' he says. 'He does his job superbly well but he is always thinking strategically, about the role of the media, public engagement, accountability, scrutiny, impact, issues that are by their very nature tricky and challenging but hugely important.'

He is also generous. The first time Daynes met with PRWeek, when he took up the top comms role at Plan, we were greeted with a box of eggs laid by one of the hens kept at his rural Essex farmhouse.

Daynes joined Plan from the British Red Cross, whose director of comms Phil Talbot remembers him for bringing 'a mix of passion and insightful analysis', coupled with 'a real feel for the needs of the audience and the voice of the beneficiary'.

Daynes reveals that it was while exploring a vocation in the Anglican priesthood - 'I was quite young then,' he explains shyly - that he became interested in the role of civil society in the defence of people's rights, by studying the work of Christian theologians in the slums of Lima.

Daynes says: 'These theologians read the gospel as a blueprint for social justice. Some would say they had a Marxist reading of the New Testament.

'One thing I have brought with me from that is the role of comms in achieving social justice. PR professionals in my sector sit in a privileged place giving a voice to people who do not have a voice.'

With the all-new Plan ready for launch in April, Daynes is bursting with anticipation. But he spares a moment before he rushes off to reveal the sad fate of the hen that laid the eggs. She met an untimely end at the hands of the local fox, bringing him, as he puts it, 'very much closer to the realities of life in the countryside'.

2010: Director of advocacy, campaigns and comms, Plan UK
2003: Head of corporate external affairs, British Red Cross
2001: Comms manager, Refugee Action
2000: Comms manager, Brook
1999: Press officer, Save the Children
1997: Assistant press and PR officer, Centrepoint


- What was your biggest career break?

Joining Save The Children was awe-inspiring, particularly to have been in Kosovo handling media relations during the conflict and the privilege of moving into humanitarian causes.

- Have you had a notable mentor?

Sir Nicholas Young, chief executive of British Red Cross, was an inspiring person to work with. He taught me some of the characteristics that make for outstanding leadership. Sandy Buchan, CEO of Refugee Action, is a person of enormous integrity from whom I learned a huge amount.

- What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?

Be bold; boldness has power and creativity. Also, to quote the American autobiographer and poet Maya Angelou: 'No-one will remember what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.'

- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?

Passion. And I prize highly the critical faculty and the ability to see as many solutions as there might be challenges. And energy - no-one died trying.

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