Digital PR in the third sector: Everything you need to know

By Emma Robinson
29th November 2022

It might sound obvious, but when developing a Digital PR strategy for any brand, it’s imperative to fully understand their industry and target audience.

There are certain sectors that can be a little trickier than others to secure coverage in, and our approach as Digital PR specialists needs to adapt to get the results we need.

For example, for retail brands, throughout peak gifting periods it’s always strong tactic to target product listicles and round ups in relevant titles, but in the third sector, this naturally isn’t an option.

The third sector – defined as charities, social enterprises and voluntary groups that deliver essential services to improve individual wellbeing and economic growth – generally have more focus on awareness objectives than other sectors, and because they’re often dealing with such serious issues – it’s imperative that the messaging that we choose to push out on behalf of our client is right.

These organisations often have very strong and impactful stories to tell, and messaging will likely need to evolve and change over time as different issues become priorities within an ever-changing landscape. For example, the cost-of-living crisis is on everyone’s minds right now.

For this reason, a Digital PR strategy for this sector often must not only be very flexible to changing concerns but also extremely well considered and planned from a messaging point of view.

Having worked with many clients in the third sector, we’ve put together a few tips on how to ensure cut-through with your Digital PR strategy:

1. Carefully consider the language you use

When you’re writing pieces for the third sector you will be dealing with highly sensitive topics and so must ensure the language that you’re using reflects this.

If you’re not careful with the language you use, you could unintentionally cause offense or misrepresent a serious problem.

2. Be ready to act quickly

Since social issues are constantly changing, they can swiftly become “breaking news” stories. Because of this, you need to be ready to act quickly if the situation is something your brand can and should be commenting on.

For example, when the 2022 mini budget was first announced, we reacted quickly on behalf of the National Zakat Foundation with a release specifically around how the charity would be increasing beneficiary pay-outs by 15%.

Due to the quick turnaround of our commentary, we were able to achieve coverage in highly relevant publications, allowed us to introduce the brand to some of the UK’s leading charity publications, and opened conversations with many relevant journalists to position National Zakat Foundation as an authority.

3. Ensure you have media ready experts

Both national and third sector journalists will often want first hand quotes or even telephone and TV interviews so that they can gain a fuller understating of the issues being discussed.

Journalists use interviews to really dig into the specifics, allowing your experts to demonstrate strong authority on the topic, whilst ensuring that the audience will learn key information that they need to know.

For Charity Right we were able to leverage an interview with their CEO about world food insecurity to position him as an authority figure and offer some helpful advice on how to reduce food insecurity.

4. Create personal case studies

Case studies are absolutely vital in third sector PR.

They are a great way to humanise a story and show the genuine, first-hand impact of social issues. But typically this approach will only work if the case studies are not anonymous.

The impact of the case study is lost when it is anonymised, and the emotional reaction becomes muted so journalists will be less likely to pick this up.

5. Make sure your release is data-led

Stories within the third sector really benefit from having stats and quantifiable data as the hook – it proves the legitimacy of the issue and shows why the charity or organisation is focusing on it.

By ensuring a release is data-led it becomes more pressing or ‘newsworthy’, and therefore will be more likely to be picked up by journalists.

6. Always have more than one data source

Since data is key, having more than one source is equally important.

When pitching a data-led story, it’s better to have multiple data sources to showcase the full extent of the issue.

Journalists, particularly national journalists, will want to see data from various authoritative sources so your data alone likely won’t be enough. You will also need external proof, but don’t go too overboard.

If you cram too much data into your piece you run the risk of losing the humanity and emotions in it, so striking the right balance is key.

For example, in summer we used a combination of data collected in-house from National Zakat Foundation and data provided by the Muslim Council of Britain to produce a release about how Muslim communities are some of the worst affected in the cost of living crisis.

7. Prioritise quality over quantity for your outreach

Third sector press is much more niche than other sectors, and with so many social issues being faced everyday it can be difficult to cut through the noise.

This means that it’s far more important to curate a smaller, niche, and highly relevant publication list and personalise your pitches to each individual journalist.

In this case, less really is more, and securing coverage in a small number of hugely relevant publications can genuinely make a difference.

8. Be sensitive to the stories you’re telling

As with all PR you should choose the topics you comment on carefully, but in the third sector it’s more important than ever to stay within your field of expertise. So don’t comment just for the sake of coverage, really consider if you can add value to the conversation.

The topics covered are often sensitive – with real life ramifications – so it can seem not only inauthentic, but also inconsiderate if you comment on anything and everything for the sake of exposure.

Instead, ensure you stay on track with commentary that is within your niche.

Having an effective Digital PR strategy in place is an effective way of supporting the third sector whilst increasing the reach of the important work that the charities within this niche do. As a PR it can also be really fulfilling work in this sector, as you can see the real-life impact on people and feel a part of the help and support that is being offered.

If you have any questions on how to improve your Digital PR strategy in the third sector, make sure to get in contact today.

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