The rise of the anti-globalisation movement with its 'No Logo' war
cry has called into question the value of commercial branding.
But if the likes of McDonalds and Coca-Cola are seeing the downside of
super-branding, new research suggests that Britain's charities -
ironically even the environmental and development groups opposed to
global brands - should be looking to take a leaf from their books.
For charities are operating in an increasingly crowded market. Some
220,000 organisations have charitable status - a mind-boggling figure
that is growing at the rate of 10,000 per year.
With the notable exception of the RSPCA, even the best-known face has a
plethora of competitors in their particular sector.
Joe Saxton, head of the Future Foundation's not-for-profit section, says
research commissioned by his think-tank suggests that co-ordinated
communications and marketing - or branding - pave the way to public
recognition and healthy donations.
His organisation's latest quarterly survey asking 1,050 people to name
the first charity they think of, has - in order - Oxfam, NSPCC, RSPCA,
Barnardo's and Help the Aged as its top five.
Saxton says: 'When you look at awareness, the first three are in a
league of their own. They are working across a range of areas: local
media, national media, service provision, parliament. You get to know
about those organisations.
Some groups are spending quite a lot of money on advertising - but they
are not getting results because they are not using the media well. You
have got to hit the public on all sides.'
Failure to do that can stem from 'organisational caution and
conservatism', which Saxton believes stops some very big charities
speaking out on controversial issues.
By contrast, most of the charities on the Future Foundation's list are
good at co-ordinating their messages.
In other words, you don't launch a media campaign on child welfare while
the marketing team are mailing out on a different issue. The various
teams should be saying things in different ways but giving out the same
The NSPCC's Fullstop campaign to end child cruelty within a generation
(see box below) has been rolled out. It means the whole organisation has
the same message of ending child cruelty in a generation.
But do employees motivated by a desire to change the world and possibly
suspicious of commerce accept such language?
Saxton suspects that charities are by-passing internal opposition to the
concept of branding by simply rebranding branding.
'They are talking to staff about the importance of getting the message
right. They are doing all the activities of branding but not using the
word. Those in the Future Foundation's top five may also be
beneficiaries of a virtuous circle,' Saxton says.
'There is a sort of supertanker momentum that makes it easier to stay in
the public consciousness once you get there. It is like buying a TV -
you think you can trust a Sony TV because you have heard of it, and you
are more likely to buy that one over one that you haven't heard of,' he
Research by University of Surrey Roehampton academic Philippa Hankinson
backs the theory that charities should be looking to mark out their
distinctive space by developing the brand.
Hankinson surveyed 316 of Britain's 500 wealthiest charities to assess
the sophistication of their fundraising department on the branding
She then matched those findings to each charity's success in raising
Her key conclusion was stark: high brand-oriented fundraising managers
attract significantly more voluntary income than low brand-oriented
This is obviously grist to the mill for brand-oriented fundraisers, but
the definition of a brand means there are also big implications for PR
professionals working in charities.
Hankinson uses a broad definition that goes well beyond the
organisation's name, logo and motif.
'Branding', she says, 'is about communicating a set of values that sets
your group apart from other charities - even those working in the same
Her research suggests that charities where fundraisers believe in the
value of branding, are likely to use a far broader range of media to
publicise themselves and their beliefs.
Such respondents also believe that branding not only helps in obvious
areas such as fundraising and raising profile but also in the
achievement of policy goals through lobbying and changing public
Hankinson told PRWeek that many communications, marketing and
fundraising people in the charity world have already been won over to
the branding gospel - but this is not enough.
Now, she says, there is an internal communications challenge to convert
others: 'You do need a softly-softly approach because it is important
you take all the staff including volunteers with you. At the moment
branding is in the marketing department and it has to come out of
'You could use a phrase such as management of reputation instead of the
word branding. It is about reputation and how that is perceived by
outsiders and staff. Few charities take the chance to talk about that in
their induction process and other training,' she adds.
Externally, Hankinson says, charities with a poor understanding of
branding make little use of the full range of communications tools.
'Every charity and organisation has the right to remain silent. They do
not need to brand but they run the danger of being misunderstood.
A charity needs to be very constant about its values and to that extent
I think charities can spend (on marketing and communications) to reap,'
Research by the Future Foundation found that while most people could
name a children's charity for example, only half as many were able to
identify what a particular children's charity actually did. This
suggests that the public get their satisfaction from the actual act of
giving rather than investing time in finding out what happens as a
That makes name recognition as important as virtue in the world of
It is no surprise that the NSPCC figures so highly in the public mind.
An already significant profile has been enhanced since early 1999 when
the 117-year-old charity launched its Fullstop campaign, a fundraising
and promotional effort aimed at ending child cruelty within a
generation. In two-and-a-half years it has raised close to £100m.
NSPCC head of media and public relations Keith Bradbrook says his team
is pleased at their success in building a second brand: 'It has
established its own identity - it is some achievement in such a short
time. A lot of PR work and assisted communications work through
advertising has built that,' he says.
The charity has a communications budget of £3.5m. Bradbrook
emphasises that the concept of branding is only helpful up to a point,
whether it be for the NSPCC, or its successful alter-ego: 'We do and we
don't think of ourselves as a brand. We are not a brand for its own sake
- anything that might be commercially good for the brand would not stop
us speaking out or doing something for children.'
While the public recognition helps in achieving goals, he says the
charity has been accused of exaggerating the problem of child abuse.
'There is a balance to strike. One or two children die every week
through child abuse but that is not happening in every town and we have
to reflect that. The way the tabloids report child abuse tends to be
very black and white - either abusers are monsters or the abuse doesn't
exist,' says Bradbrook.
'We do try and protect the charity from that by refusing to say the
things the media want us to say. We have not done certain campaigns that
people have wanted us to do because it would lead us down the doom and
gloom route,' he adds.
He says one of Fullstop's strengths is precisely its positive message -
that child cruelty could be eradicated in a generation.
Established in 1942 to campaign for the relief of famine in
Nazi-occupied Greece, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief survived
the war and is now one of the most recognised aid agencies in the
Given this enormous success, it is probably not a surprise that the
charity is at ease with the idea of branding. Apart from anything else,
the terms 'charity shop' and 'Oxfam' are virtually synonomous.
An Oxfam spokesman says: 'Yes we consider Oxfam to be a brand, although
not everyone likes the term. We've identified what values make up our
identity, based on the reality of how we work. The combination of these
values, combined with our purpose of overcoming poverty, helps to
Staff and volunteers around the world have been provided with
information and advice on building that brand.
'The focus has been on helping them understand who Oxfam is and how they
can help people see more of our true identity through their
communications,' he says. The media and fundraising teams work 'hand in
hand and report to one another', he adds.
The media team's success is judged on both the way it promotes the
charity's policy campaigns and its fundraising activities.
'The communications department shows us to be a viable business partner,
a leading humanitarian organisation and at the forefront of the global
campaign for the poor,' the spokesman said.
Current campaigns include conflict, education and the price of drugs in
the Third World. The hard-hitting drugs campaign 'Cut the Cost'
(pictured left) has been Oxfam's main focus this year and the charity
claims 'significant concessions' from drug manufacturers as well as
support from governments.
Malcolm Fleming, corporate appeals manager, adds: 'We work very closely
with the media team on any PR we are organising.'
He has recently appointed a PR consultant to concentrate on corporate
fundraising initiatives. The consultant is expected to promote Oxfam as
a 'relevant and clued-up' partner for companies interested in working
with a charity.
The Co-operative Bank, Friends Provident and tea and coffee company
Taylors of Harrogate are among the high-profile companies whose sales
In many ways this organisation is the prototype children's charity,
established as Dr Barnardo's in the 1860s to ameliorate the downside of
the industrial revolution, urbanisation and Victorian values.
Despite dropping the 'Dr' from the front of its name, a spokeswoman says
the charity has found that in PR and branding terms, its Victorian roots
can be both an advantage and a drawback.
'We are a very well-known brand but are well-known for our Victorian
work and therefore there's a huge misunderstanding about what we do
today. Our last orphanage closed more than 30 years ago and yet two
years ago when we began a big re-branding exercise it wasn't uncommon to
talk to Barnardo's staff and volunteers who still believed we "helped
the little orphans,"' she says.
Workshops about branding were organised for key marketing staff, a move
re-inforced by a brand manual on its intranet.
The PR team provides support for fundraising initiatives, backs lobbying
and policy campaigns, provides general information on childcare and
Barnardo's work and handle potentially negative stories. The heads of PR
and fundraising work closely together with both reporting to the
director of marketing and comms.
The PR budget accounts for just under one per cent of the charity's
£100m annual income with advertising consuming another 1.3 per
Its current advertising campaign, which seeks to remind the public that
abuse or deprivation suffered in childhood can result in suicide or
substance abuse decades later, sparked controversy.
Phillippa Hankinson says the ads fall just the right side of the thin
line that separates pulling at the heartstrings from images which are so
stark that people switch off in self-defence.
The charity is also currently campaigning about child poverty, claiming
that Britain has the worst record in Europe.
Asked if the need to protect the brand image can lead to compromises,
the spokeswoman claims that policy decisions are based solely on the
interests of vulnerable children and young people.
However, awareness of the need to justify those decisions to protect the
charity is obviously strong. 'Where these are on sensitive issues, then
care will be taken in deciding the tone and content of public statements
and the level of explanation required as to why a particular policy has
been adopted,' she adds.
HELP THE AGED
This month the fifth most recognised charity, Help the Aged, is
implementing a 'refocus' of its brand.
Director of communications and marketing Steve Jones says the idea of
branding is central to the charity's profile. The organisation campaigns
on issues based around four long-term strategic themes: poverty,
isolation, ageism and quality in care.
'We are redefining our mission and our vision because our old mission
statement did not describe what we do and wish to do in the future. In
doing that, we also redefined our values and our behaviours,' he
The PR and press team report to him on the use of a press and
campaigning budget of about £750,000.
Jones says PR is used as a substitute for advertising to push the
charity's agenda in influencing policy and public opinion. It also
contributes to the charity's overall brand.
'We get a lot of profile from our campaigning work and have fairly good
national coverage in the media generally,' he says.
Jones works closely with the fundraising director. The PR team is
arranged on the basis of providing 'account based support' to its
internal clients - promoting the charity's revenue-raising services; its
charitable provision; its main events and its fundraising
This month's re-focusing is partly aimed at providing a more distinctive
image from the other big player in the sector, Age Concern.
He says: 'People get us confused with Age Concern all the time. What we
are attempting to do is make our image stronger so we can become more
'Staff understand that there is so much information out there that we
need a way of getting through to people but that does not mean we need
to spend a huge amount of money to do that,' he adds.
It is often said that the British care more about their pets than their
children, so maybe the only surprise here is that the RSPCA is one place
behind the NSPCC.
Well over 90 per cent of the charity's £67m annual income comes
from voluntary sources.
With great scope for use of emotionally-charged images of cuddly pets
and the British public's fabled love of animals, it might be thought the
177-year-old charity's PR team is pushing at an open door.
But there are challenges. The charity confirms that its values can
conflict with the need to fundraise. But asked whether policy statements
or operational decisions are modified for fear of upsetting potential
donors, its answer is a blunt 'no'.
Its ongoing campaign against hunting with dogs presumably alienates
potential donors in the countryside but it has already won over a big
majority of the public, according to most opinion polls.
The head of fundraising and head of PR report to the director of
communications. The PR team, whose budget the charity does not disclose,
is responsible for promoting campaigns and the charity's other work and
ensuring consistency of promotion. Its lobbying role is seen as more
important than helping raise funds.
In a statement, the charity confirmed that it sees itself as a brand and
staff training is about to reflect this.