Sensitive subjects require agile solutions: How adaptability delivers impact in Not-for-Profits

Written by Sian Evans, Senior Account Director, Communications

When I arrived at Icon Agency at the start of 2020, one of the first projects I was lucky enough to work on was an integrated communications campaign to elevate the profile of the teaching profession in Victoria - a task that came with challenges no one could have foreseen over the ensuing two years in and out of some of the worlds toughest COVID-19 lockdowns.

In hindsight, this project was perhaps the catalyst for developing my immense respect and admiration of organisations in Australia’s ‘for-purpose’ sector.

Managing complex or sensitive topic matters, particularly in unpredictable environments, has been a constant theme of my career and one that presents huge opportunity, challenge and responsibility.

Operating as a communications consultant in the Not-for-Profit (NFP) space, there are particular considerations that, while not unique within communications, can have a uniquely profound impact.

Since 2020, the team at Icon Agency has helped reduce pregnancy stigma by encouraging conversations about stillbirth for Still Six Lives, launched the World Games for Special Olympics Australia, raised awareness of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, driven public support to ensure continued funding for Carers Victoria and ignited action amongst mental health professionals treating psychosis in young adults.

In this time, we have been led by one guiding principle when it comes to working with NFP clients - that true adaptability in every sense of the work is the key to success in driving impact.

Having a sound communications strategy and detailed plan of activity before you kick off any project is important. However, not everything can go to plan all of the time, so we must stay flexible.

Those working in this sector I’m sure will be familiar with this particular scenario - a brief has been nailed, the talent is locked in, the media release ready to go, an event about to go live, a shoot about to happen and suddenly - something, that is out of your hands, changes.

Because the reality is - so many people care about for-purpose initiatives. For an NFP, the stakeholders can be, rightly so, endless.

NFPs are not only managing their own organisations priorities, but those of their donors, members, executive board, federal government, state government, councils, partner organisations, stakeholders in their sector, stakeholders outside of their sector with an interest in supporting their sector, the general public and the list goes on.

It’s important to keep in mind that when faced with these pressure-points, being adaptable and solutions-oriented can be invaluable to the client and internal team you’re working with. For me, it’s the real difference between pitching that you become a bolt-on partner and truly living that.

It’s a skill that has been prioritised within the team at Icon Agency - for example, when we’ve pivoted in-person panel events to video production, re-drafted content last minute before publication due to changing legislation, and found alternative case studies in the most unexpected places.

So, if the challenge then is to be flexible to accommodate changing goal-posts - what does that mean in practice?

While there are various tools that can be leveraged for all communications campaigns, here are just some basics that helped us ensure success for NFP clients:

  1. Never underestimate the power of key messaging - ensuring detailed key messaging is completed at the beginning of a project is important in bringing stakeholders on the journey. But more than that, if objectives, briefs or circumstances change, ensure these are reviewed and updated regularly, so the aim of the campaign is clear and consistent.
  2. Educate, don’t inform - it’s an unfair expectation to place on time-poor media that they will use specific language to describe your topic area. With the likes of Special Olympics Australia, FARE and Still Six Lives, providing media with additional resources and guidance was key to securing quality coverage, particularly during a time crunch. This can include tips on interviewing case studies or the type of language that’s appropriate to use when reporting on the subject.
  3. Consider your channel - when handling sensitive topic areas, like Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, stillbirth, or mental health, a ‘case study’ to help tell the human story is often either unavailable or inappropriate. Where alternative perspectives, such as family or friends aren’t an option either, consider your channel. Perhaps a content-led approach is better suited, or engaging a well-known spokesperson or influencer could also help deliver the message.

In an ever-shrinking and crowded media landscape, partnering with organisations to make work that matters has never been more important. From this position of being eternally adaptable, we can continue to navigate intricate webs of stakeholders and regulated markets, enabling NFPs to effectively reach their audiences and drive positive change.

To hear more about Icon’s work in this space, reach out for a chat:

Make what matters.
Let’s talk.

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