TV, as a tool for promoting social change, can highlight social issues responsibly by integrating them into dramatic storylines which directly affect the fictional characters we most care about as a nation, and introduce us to real life people with extraordinary and inspiring stories – but how do charities get on TV and maximise the coverage that it brings?

While much is made in the media about how TV is rotting our brains or is making our children fat, there’s less discussion about how it can be a force for social good, can help highlight and address social issues and raise awareness of charities that support the most vulnerable people in our society.

TV, as a tool for promoting social change, can highlight social issues responsibly by integrating them into dramatic storylines which directly affect the fictional characters we most care about as a nation, and introduce us to real life people with extraordinary and inspiring stories – but how do charities get on TV and maximise on the coverage that it brings?

Make Contact

Making your charity known to TV research departments can be key in getting your issue and possibly your charity on TV. Soaps are driven by issue led storylines, and have dedicated researchers who work with charity experts to inform and advise on storylines.

Coronation Street Banner

Both MIND and Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust have worked with EastEnders, the former on the Stacey Slater Bipolar storyline and the latter advised the soap around Tanya Jessop’scervical cancer story. Both charities have benefitted from great press pick up and increased brand awareness from their involvement with EastEnders.

Coronation Street and The British Heart Foundation took this one step further with the “Heart Attacks Can Happen on Any Street” campaign based around the Audrey Roberts heart disease storyline. Coronation Street trailed the BHF number after the show, and the charity built an entire campaign microsite around the story – you could even send Audrey an online get well card. This maximised the relationship between the charity and the show and exposed the BHF to a whole new audience of potential supporters.

It’s worth keeping an ear to the ground about forthcoming storylines that you might be able to get involved with, check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/actionline/ for upcoming and current topics on the BBC. Also, make yourself known to researchers and producers at production companies. If they don’t use you this time, at least they will be aware of you for the next time.

Build Relationships

What TV often does better than charities is know how to tell a good story. Right now it’s highly likely that your charity is working with someone with an incredible story to share, some people don’t necessarily want to go public about the challenges that they face, but others are happy to share their stories.

It’s vital that you have good relationships with your service users and that they trust you enough to share their experiences with the general public.

The Secret Millionaire is a direct reminder of the good work carried out and supported by charities in the UK. On the latest series we saw Meningitis campaigner Alex Williams share his story with millionaire Matthew Newbury – Alex has been a part of the Meningitis Trust’s work for a number of years.

Alex Williams & Secret Millionaire Matthew Newbury

Meningitis Trust capitalised on their strong relationship with Alex during and after the Secret Millionaire coverage by providing links from their website homepage to information about meningitis symptoms, Alex and the Secret Millionaire, all supported with images and calls to action.

It’s also good to build up a database of TV production companies who make the programmes that are most likely to feature charities, and find out who the people you need to speak to are.

Expert Voices

The news is a traditional way for charities to get their voice heard on TV. Charities, both large and small can benefit from being on hand to give reaction to fast breaking local and national news stories.

Cuts and austerity are an increasingly common way to get onto the news. There are regular stories about how particular groups are the worst affected by cuts (including womendisabled workerspensioners and young people).

Build up your press contacts and work on your statements and soundbites to ensure your charity is on hand to give expert commentary on a subject when it breaks. You can also follow journalists and commentators on twitter to get your charity involved in debates and build your profile. You can be sure that if you give quick and quality responses they’ll be back for more.

Get Links

We’ve already spoken about the importance of building relationships to help you get on TV, but building up two very different kinds of links is important too – those with celebrities and with websites.

Like news, game shows and sporting events have traditionally been easy ways into TV for charities – and often they involve celebrities taking part to raise money and awareness for their chosen charity.

If you are working with celebrities or famous patrons encourage them to link to your charity and TV appearance on their website or social media accounts.

Also, if your charity is going to appear on TV or the radio, ask if you can get a link from the shows website or microsite. A permanent link from a website like ITV or the BBC can help improve your own search engine ranking.

The ethics around TV’s coverage of sensitive issues will rage, but isn’t it better if your charity is included, visible and the expert voice in the debate.  Some TV appearances will take months of planning and others will have an element of luck. But they could be part of the journey to your charity becoming the recognised experts in
your field, and opening your charity up to a whole new audience of potential supporters.

For more on charities & TV visit Guardian Voluntary Sector Network and for advice about your online and digital presence email hello@reasondigital.com or visit http://reasondigital.com/ and sign up to our newsletter.

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