The real reason you don’t give to charity

We all know the scenario. We walk past a charity collection stall, get stopped by an enthusiastic fundraiser with a clipboard and a well-rehearsed pitch. We get the all-too-familiar feeling of guilt as we make up some lame excuse as to why we choose not to give.

charity“I already give to charity.”

“I’m a bit skint right now.”

“I don’t have time – I’ll visit your website later.”

Whatever the excuse, and whether or not it’s valid, the truth is that most of us walk away feeling uncomfortable. Our guilt buttons have been pressed, and we have to try to switch to “callous mode”.

The Guilt Trap

When we DO give, of course some of us willingly give because we genuinely connect with the cause, but many of us fall into the Guilt Trap – and give only because we feel emotionally blackmailed into doing so. This results in an uneasy feeling, not dissimilar to how we feel when we’ve just bought a pair of shoes that were way too expensive – but the shop assistant assured us we look great in them.

Charity marketing should be no different to commercial marketing. When faced with charity, we employ exactly the same decision making process as we do when we consider purchasing a product or a service. We trust in facts and figures, but when it comes to signing the dotted line we also tune into what some people call the gut feeling.

We listen to our emotional response.

Our job as marketers is to ensure that this emotional response is aligned with the individual’s values. So how do we do that? Well – first of all, let’s not assume that everyone is our target market.

Charity Spam

Fundraising in the street is really a bit like spam email. We bombard every single person with our message, not knowing whether or not they are likely to be interested. A small percentage will respond, whereas the vast majority will turn away – and made to feel guilty for it. If we on the other hand engage with people in a select community, where we know there is already a heartfelt interest in a particular cause, we can create messaging and activities that resonate with that audience. This way we generate higher response rates, which give us improved ROI, and we are more likely to gain advocates who in turn will share the cause with their own networks.

Secondly, we need to also recognise that it’s not all about the money. By guilt-trapping donors, we may get a small, single donation or a sign-up for a monthly direct debit which is soon cancelled. In addition, the person may end up with a negative connotation of the charity. If we instead focus our efforts on winning donors who genuinely love what the organisation stands for, the charity can see long-term benefits which spread like circles on water.

Find the Sweet Spot

As marketers, we really need to wake up and respond to modern human behaviour. As cold as it may sound, charities need more than just pictures of crying children and endangered animals. The new generation has become immune to many of these visuals – because they are constantly bombarded with them and simply cannot respond to them all. But there will be that one or two causes, that speaks to them through the noise; that’s where the sweet spot is.

By implementing this marketing shift, charities will of course also stop wasting time and money on ineffective fundraising. And that’s surely a winner in anyone’s book!

5 tips for making PR work for you

I sometimes hear small businesses claim that they “can’t afford good PR”. This always prompts me to ask: “So – what is your idea of good PR?” Often the response is that good PR entails shuffling tons of money into epapers-logosxpensive lobbying, exclusive events and fancy brand makeovers. But in this era of post-recession frugal management trends, SMEs are waking up to the fact that PR can work wonders for them even with small budgets. With the right messaging and the right channels, companies can achieve targeted coverage that helps them win the business they want.

This week I met with PR expert and former journalist Margaret McDonnell and I want to share five of her top tips for achieving powerful PR opportunities, regardless of size and scale.

1. What’s the story?

Always ask whether what’s going on in the business can be a potential news story. What new products or services are being launched? Is the business approaching any milestones, or are you planning an event? If it’s interesting to your clients or prospects, chances are it will also spark an interest from the press.

2. What’s going on around you?

By keeping an eye on the media environment in general, you can discover angles of news stories which you could comment on or respond to as a business. If a new statistics report is released, for example, you could take the opportunity to write a commentary on how you see the trends affecting your region or your clients.

3. Write it yourself!

Many journalists appreciate receiving a brief, well-written piece of copy which can be published as it is, or built out into a bigger story. Margaret’s top tip is also to include a photo – even if it’s just a headshot – to make the story even more personal and eye-catching. (Bear in mind, of course, that newspapers don’t want to print the same story as everyone else, so make sure you don’t send a generic mass email to all your contacts. Make it personal!)

4. Keep it regular, but not over the top!

Make a habit of sending a story to your press contacts once a month. This will help build familiarity with your brand and keep you at the forefront of the journalists’ minds if they ever want to do a story involving your particular industry. However – if you want a story to have a seasonal connection such as Christmas or summer holidays for example, send it plenty of time in advance.

5. Be quick!

Sometimes being first with a unique story or offering the first comment on a major news event is all it takes to get covered on the front page. Check the Twitter hashtag #journorequests regularly to spot opportunities to speak to journalists on hot topics.

Ask “So what?”

Another one of Margaret’s top tips is to apply the “so what?” test to every story you create. The information might make sense to your business, but does it really add value to others? Is it compelling? Does it offer something of genuine interest to the reader?

Hopefully these tips can help to spark some good PR initiatives. I look forward to seeing your news stories out there!

3 ways to beat Marketing Impostor Syndrome

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by the Sunday Times on the topic of Impostor Syndrome and its crippling effect on many professionals. I had a very rewarding conversation with Carly Chynoweth around various coping strategies for gaining a sense of validation and self-acceptance. It is a topic which sits close to my heart, having battled my fair share of demons when it comes to professional confidence. 

People with masks onAfter the interview, it struck me that the strategies which I had gained over the years, to help me overcome my sense of inferiority as an individual, could also translate into the wider scope of the marketing department. After all, don’t we often mark ourselves down, compared to the efforts of other businesses? Aren’t we often feeling as if we lag behind, as if everyone else is latching on to the latest trends and the coolest new tactics, doing “real” marketing? And so we try to keep up and convince ourselves that we’re just as good, although we secretly feel like we are nothing like what we portray ourselves to be.

This certainly rings true for me.

What is Impostor Syndrome?

People who experience this challenge often have a constant grinding wheel of questions churning in their mind, asking themselves if they are good enough, clever enough or confident enough. They have the sensation that everyone around them is “Real”, whereas they are “Fake” and that they only ended up being successful by pure luck or chance. Remarkably, this is experienced by many top performers who – to the outside observer – seem to possess shatterproof confidence. Examples include elite athletes, senior executives, powerful leaders and influencers.

Strategy #1: Be comfortable with your uniqueness.

I once worked in a marketing organisation where a “messaging workshop” for a new product consisted of visiting a range of competitors’ websites, pulling out key phrases and descriptions from their product pages and mixing them all into a new constellation, attributing it to us. It’s safe to say that the exercise drained all creativity from the room!

This is an extreme example of what happens when a marketing team lacks the integrity of being a unique creature. By wanting to appear to be at pace with the other players, we were not comfortable breaking away from the pack. This approach stifles marketing innovation and may contribute to a continued sense of being a fake compared to others. The same thing also happens to many people on a personal level every single day – we hold back our unique selves for fear of being ostracised.

Strategy #2: Do something terrifying.

Growing up, I was convinced I was destined to be shy, quiet and timid. Throughout my personal journey, I found that the best way to prove myself wrong was to do the very things that scared me the most. It led me to take on one challenge after the next, culminating in a series of stand-up comedy performances which scared the proverbial socks off me. At the time, I’d have happily jumped out of a helicopter before standing up in front of a crowd of people – let alone try to make them laugh! But once I did it, I unlocked a whole new level of confidence.

When managing a marketing organisation, the same fear can apply when faced with the opportunity to change. We imagine all the horrible things that can go wrong, the embarrassment of potential failure – even though we may have several very successful projects in the backpack. This fear won’t let go of us until we let go of it, trust ourselves and trust our teams to deliver the excellence we strive for.

Strategy #3: Ditch perfect. Be awesome.

Both as marketers and individuals, we can be crippled by perfectionism. In many organisations, I dare say it is one of the biggest threats to progress. We fail to value the art of being quick and adaptive, over the concept of absolute exactness. Mature organisations can learn a lot from the entrepreneurial mindset of “Ready, Fire, Aim” – determining the detailed direction as you go along – borrowing guidance from the Agile framework and its interpretation for the marketing specialism. The more time we spend perfecting our campaigns, the more pressure we put on ourselves and the wider the gap grows between us and our more nimble competitors.

Won’t we make mistakes? Sure we will. Plenty of them. But we’ll have momentum, learning as we go along and gaining the confidence of someone who dares to be “good enough”. The war between VHS and Betamax springs to mind – where Betamax was arguably the better product but lost market dominance to VHS due to a sluggish (albeit not entirely self-inflicted) approach to the marketplace.

I have learnt that both as an individual and a marketer, I have strengths and weaknesses which make me who I am. I am unique, terrified and far from perfect; but for those very reasons I will continue to strive for success and will bring success to others along the way.

The Rise of the Internet Gourmets

Gourmet meal on smartphoneAmong this year’s murmur of New Year’s resolution classics, I discovered a surprising newcomer.

Many people, including yours truly, find the turn of the calendar year to be a comforting reminder of new beginnings and second chances. This inspires us to re-visit our objectives, draft fresh plans and – hopefully – learn from past mistakes. Whatever our ambition, the start of a new year offers a rare opportunity to make a mental break with the past and focus on the blank canvas of time that lies ahead.

This year, apart from the typical health-related resolutions of going to the gym, cycling to work, losing ten pounds etc, many people in my network were talking about how they resolve to spend their time in 2015.

Time is recognised as a precious commodity, yet most of us are guilty of spending it ways that are less than ideal. We want to spend more time with our family and loved ones, we want to dedicate time to doing the things that enrich us and we want to work fewer hours or perhaps improve our output rate so we feel less stressed.

“So what?”, you may think.
“What is so new about this?”

Well, the basic desire to spend more time enjoying life is in itself nothing new. However, one aspect of our lifestyles which is becoming exposed as a major time thief, is the smartphone.

Where once TV used to be recognised as the big culprit in absorbing our time, smartphones have now surpassed it and become the biggest device for consuming media at an average of 2 hours and 57 minutes in 2014 according to

The big difference here is that although a time thief, TV can still be enjoyed with other people – whereas smartphones are all about the individual. Your mobile device is a window which nobody else is looking through, only you. This means that as a smartphone user, you can be sitting in the same room as ten other people, but nobody else will be sharing your media experience. The device is not only absorbing your time – it is absorbing other people’s time with you. (Did you ever try to have a conversation with someone who’s playing Candy Crush Saga?)

As a result of the distractional effect that smartphones are having on our modern lives, many people are now resolving to spend less “dead” time on their devices. The discerning smartphone user will choose to not pick up the phone and check Facebook every time they are bored, but instead approach their online experience the way they would a gourmet restaurant. They know their “funds” are limited, so they will carefully consider how they wish to spend them.

If sparking up Facebook every fifteen minutes is the tech equivalent to eating your daily meals at McDonald’s, then the gourmet may choose to replace this with a more nourishing experience such as a TED talk, in-depth article or language course a couple of times a day. The user would not necessarily spend less time on their device, but they would pay more attention to when they use it, how often and what the defined purpose is.

This of course has bearings on the marketing landscape.

It means we as marketers need to pay closer attention to the behavioural patterns of the user, as well as help them achieve the rich, nourishing experience they desire through delivering quality content, responsive and clear messaging in a format which is respectful of the user’s time.

Now – that’s enough talk about resolutions.
Let’s go create some plans to make them happen!


Who owns your brand?

labelLet’s be honest…

You only own a very small share of your brand presence. The part that you own is what you tell the world. The rest is down to what the world says about you.

When your target audience wants to know more about your business, it has access to a wealth of information across a wide range of channels – many of which you have little or no control over.

Market initiated channels

  • Social Mediascreenshot
    For many, LinkedIn and Twitter are now the first ports of call for learning about businesses and products. Although you can of course control what is being said on your own official social media channels, you cannot restrict what other people are saying about you. Stay aware of what is being discussed and respond to genuine queries in an official manner – but avoid the trap of defending yourself in every instance or you will simply appear arrogant and deprecating, like this restaurateur for example.
  • Glassdoor
    Employee reviews are becoming more prevalent through channels such as Glassdoor, where people can give anonymous comments and feedback on their experience working in a particular business. And this is no longer just a jobseeker’s resource – we now see prospects and customers looking at vendors’ profiles on Glassdoor to gauge internal efficiency and optimism levels amongst staff, which then reflects on their views of the business.So what do you do if you have bad reviews? Well, the best way to manage this is to read them, raise them internally and make tangible plans to resolve them. Don’t be afraid to ask staff to use these types of sites – it can be the best driver for improvement you’ll ever have.
  • User forums
    Whether or not you are aware of it, it is likely that there are independent forums online for customers discussing your products. Some may be public, such as general DIY websites or money saving forums for example, while others could be private and more product or brand specific. Again, you may want to monitor what is being said – where possible – and then aim to incorporate any complaints areas or suggested improvements into your roadmap.

Vendor initiated channels

  • Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys
    This is the company or service provider’s chance to proactively collect the sentiments of their customers to get a full and impartial view of what is done well and not so well. Apart from the fact that a positive NPS carries a substantial weight when it comes to credibility and market confidence, the qualitative feedback from customers can also provide extremely valuable input into how to better serve them. A company should always share their score with their customer base, accompanied by an executive summary outlining which actions the business will be taking as a result of the input.
  • PR
    Public Relations, in all its many guises, is where a company could spend a great deal of funds on creating the image which they want the public to subscribe to. And although this can go a long way to rectify a negative market view or reclaim customer confidence, the general public is becoming increasingly shrewd to identifying PR as a strategy – and will seek to complement the PR messaging with more nuanced, unbiased peer review.
  • Analyst reports
    The analyst community aims to support vendors in their market positioning, while maintaining a balanced messaging environment based on a true representation of market perception. However, as with PR, customers are aware that there is an element of bias in the sense that the analyst is influenced by the amount of face time with the vendor and by how the vendor conducts themselves in the analyst relationship.
  • Content syndication
    The purpose of syndication is to make marketing content available in locations where customers go to research information to base purchasing decisions on. The majority of the buyer journey currently takes place before they even speak to the vendor, so content syndication is an important channel for organisations to be discovered and researched. This is why it makes sense to create collateral that informs and influences rather than purely sells – as the customer doesn’t want to be sold to at this stage. They just want to learn.


Amidst this wealth of content, the most trusted source of advice for many customers is that of professional peers. We all look at what other, similar businesses are doing and what their views are. We then collate comparisons between products and weigh this against any purchased or vendor-driven media. This is why a business can spend thousands on content marketing and still see limited sales impact.

You may think your brand is yours, but it’s not!

The world’s best sales letter

Picture of a sales letterOK, so I haven’t read all the sales letters in the world. But I’m daily at the receiving end of a significant amount of sales emails, out of which the vast majority get deleted before they even get to make their main point. So from the perspective of a professional receiver of sales pitches, here’s my five cents on how to avoid mindless deletion.

The Intro

I recently received an email from an organisation I was unfamiliar with. The email didn’t start off with a snappy, catchy subject line. There was no all-guns-blazing corporate introduction with pictures and links and interactive social media buttons. It just said my name, followed by “Invitation to connect”. That simple.

The text body then started out by clearly saying who was writing the email, which organisation she represents and 15 words on what they are all about. Nothing remarkable about that.

BUT – it’s what came next that really blew me away.

The proposition

Of course, I wanted to know why this person was emailing me. But with the following sentence, she instantly grabbed my attention. And what’s more  – I was smiling when reading it.

“I doubt very much whether you are currently looking to review your PR arrangements (if I had that kind of luck I would be emailing you from somewhere much more exotic than Kingston-Upon-Thames!), but I was wondering whether you might be willing to meet me for a chat in order to make an introduction?”

This is where things got interesting. The email continued:

“If I were you, at this point I would be asking myself ‘what’s in it for me?’. Well, the answer(s) to that question is…”

This then continued into three bullet points highlighting the benefits of meeting with the lady in question. Not only was I invited to a lunch at a venue of my choice (with the only caveat being “please don’t pick The Ivy as they won’t let me in with my Yorkshire accent and I reckon it would be quite embarrassing trying to hold a meeting through the window”). I was also in brief terms made aware of some very relevant ways in which this business could help me.

The reaction

The best thing about receiving this email was the fact that it made me smile. The second best thing was that I was actually reading it.

The unconventional format and the very “human” voice used made me feel a connection – one real person to another. It wasn’t just another faceless, personality-free corporate pitch. It was genuine. And at the wrap-up line of “What do you say? Next week perhaps?” I was poised and ready to be reeled in.

So – was it perfect?

No, by no means was this email flawless. The automated salutation line was unable to process the Swedish letter in my first name, making it a nonsensical “sa” instead of “Åsa”. This happens from time to time and it’s an instant put-off. So the fact that I decided to continue reading says a lot about how much I liked this format.


I can’t help but wish all sales emails looked like this. I do realise there are situations where a different level of professionalism is needed. But I am a great believer in the power of “being a human being” and showing your own style, humour and personality – even when representing a business.

It could turn out to be your company’s strongest asset.


[If you’re curious, the email was sent by Paula Fifield at EML Wildfire.]