Special Needs PR: When Publicity Is Heartwarming
Recently the Cherokee County School District won 15 awards presented by the Georgia School Public Relations Association – that’s a record. They even won the top award presented for Best in Class. But they also won, along with many others, a Gold Award for Photography for a photograph titled Let Me Win. The award went to Carrie McGowan who is part of the Division of Public Information, Communications, and Strategic Planning. The photo showed Matthew Taylor as a participant in the Special Olympics competition — all smiles and joy — standing next to Sheryl Gould, the Cherokee County Supervisor of Special Education.
Here’s the interesting truth in the PR business: special needs and disability campaigns and stories are often award winners. If an agency wants to do some pro bono work, charitable organizations that work with those with specific or special needs are a good bet. It’s a great way to hone skills, do some good, and possibly scare up an award. And those benefits don’t begin to cover the heartwarming memories that can be created, or the readjustment of life priorities. That’s why almost every PR firm works with at least a few charitable organizations – many of them do it for no pay or at reduced rates. Also, many of the leaders and staff will choose a project or two each year and do the “work” such as dishing out food in soup kitchens or helping construct a home or two with Habitat for Humanity.
What’s the Best Approach?
In creating a campaign focused on those with special needs, like many other successful PR and marketing campaigns, it’s all about the story. That story can be told with or without a lot of verbiage. Think of Shriner’s Hospital or Ronald McDonald House – a smile on the face of a child who can now be mobile, or who can put on the necessary prosthetics and go skiing – that tells it all. So letting the pictures tell those stories is impactful, but just as Jerry Lewis learned in his annual Muscular Dystrophy telethons, finding a really cute and pertinent poster child never hurt either.
Another Vital Point
Showing how people can help, what they can do, or what their donations will do is another way to do more good for the organization. Just presenting people with a problem that’s being solved is not going to open wallets. Showing what their donations can do, or how they can show up and make a difference … that’s what gets people involved with a cause and keeps them coming back.
PR firms and specialists can help in several ways; they can do the PR work, plan the campaign and use their contacts to get the word out about the campaign or special event being held. They can participate in the actual work needed by the organization – or find a way to bring in funds from within the firm. They can also find the most effective ways of telling stories and helping people see what a difference they can make in the life of even one person. Those are the tools of special needs PR as well as many other charitable organization’s PR efforts.