Charities step up aid effort

Charity comms chiefs are dramatically stepping up their efforts to promote overseas aid in response to growing hostility from politicians and the media.

Charities such as ActionAid and Cafod have been forced to revisit their PR tactics following recent media coverage and a renewed debate in Westminster about the Department for International Development's budget.

ActionAid head of media Jane Moyo commented: 'We're having to work an awful lot harder to make the case for aid and development.'

Cafod head of media Damian McBride told PRWeek: 'We can't stay out of it or leave DfID to fend for itself.'

Last month, Defence Secretary Liam Fox was revealed to have challenged Prime Minister David Cameron's plan to enshrine the government's overseas aid spending targets in law.

Two weeks later, on 27 May, the Daily Mail ran a front page story highlighting UK spending on 'foreign handouts', quoting Conservative MP Philip Davies who said Britain must be 'stark raving mad'. The rightwing columnists Kelvin Mackenzie and Melanie Philips have also attacked UK spending on overseas aid.

ActionAid responded to the Daily Mail story by using social media to encourage supporters to comment under the article.

Moyo said: 'It's about getting people commenting and talking to journalists whenever we can, being proactive and telling stories of aid, working with celebrities to tell the story, and really making our website work hard.'

Cafod's approach has included placing articles by church leaders from the communities that receive aid, enabling them to emphasise the difference it is making on the ground.

McBride recently started at Cafod - two years after resigning as Gordon Brown's media handler in Downing Street.

He said of the renewed media focus on aid: 'At Cafod we are getting stuck into that debate - both by robust rebuttal of some of the myths around aid, and by pro-actively presenting the counter-arguments.'

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