Marketing chief turns BBC into donation destination

BBC Children in Need director of marketing and fundraising Sarah Monteith is using her wealth of experience in the commercial sector to develop links with corporate supporters.

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Marketing Week (MW): Is Children in Need under greater pressure to raise money this year because of government spending cuts?

Sarah Monteith (SM): With the Big Society, the onus is now even more on charities or individual bodies to take up causes where the government may have been before. We all face the challenge that the human need is absolutely huge. My focus is completely driven towards how much revenue we bring in every year – and the targets and forecasts, what works and what does not work. We give out £40m a year, but that is nowhere near the applications that we would want to fill.

MW: Is it harder to convince the public to donate because personal budgets are tighter than in previous years?

SM: You would assume that it would be harder, but until we run the campaign, we do not actually know. Two things can happen in a recession. People have less money to spend, but there are also more people who are in need of that money. If we can get those stories of need across, perhaps there is a stronger degree of empathy that culminates in people giving more. It is not necessarily the case that it will be far harder for us to generate income this year than in other years.

MW: Do you need to make your stories and messages harder-hitting to convey this need?

SM: When times are tougher, our stories get tougher. Bringing those stories to life does demonstrate that even though you may be feeling the pinch, it is nowhere near the bottom of the rung. Children in this country are going hungry at the moment.

MW: How do you work with the projects you fund to ensure that your marketing accurately reflects the issues they face?

SM: When projects apply for funding, we review them and allocate money on a deserving basis. We have people who not only make decisions about who is funded, but who gets involved in those charities. In terms of storytelling, it is vital for us that we have an editorial team that can go in and talk to those projects, then bring the stories out that we can communicate to the audience. The projects that we help define us.

BBC Children in Need – the real story

As the BBC gears up for its annual charity telethon on 18 November, Children in Need is under greater pressure than ever to raise funds. Financial hardships are growing for disadvantaged UK children and more regional charities are also likely to look to Children in Need as a source of funding, as support from local government falls victim to public spending cuts.

More corporate partners have been brought on board this year to share the burden of fundraising and provide extra marketing resources. Director of marketing and fundraising Sarah Monteith, who joined Children in Need in January 2011, also brings commercial marketing experience to the role, balancing long-term branding with a focus on hard revenue measures.

MW: What marketing expertise have you brought to Children in Need from your previous employers, such as BSkyB?

SM: The natural way to start is to break down the mass-market appeal into very specific audiences and to try to talk to those audiences in slightly different terms, to bring them the right stories and elements of – if you like – the product. It is quite a tough remit for me. There is massive awareness already and an enormous amount of money has been raised, but how do we do more?

MW: How do you measure Children In Need’s brand awareness and the impact this has?

SM: The brand was created 31 years ago. We tend to go off the scale in terms of measuring brand awareness, so it does not really tell us that much. We have a hard and fast – and actually quite scary if you are in my position – way of evaluating how a particular campaign has performed. We count how much money it raised.

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MW: How else do you measure the charity’s performance?

SM: We forecast everything we do and we look at how we do against those forecasts. We have targets in place and it is not just “at the end of the night we expect to raise X”. There is a target against all our different income streams, including merchandise, corporate partners, public fundraising and on-the-night donations. It is carefully analysed and we see year on year what is going up and going down. We also analyse which type of appeal film works best, which are not heavy-hitting enough or do not reach the right audience.

MW: What help do corporate brands provide in fundraising and marketing for Children in Need?

SM: Corporate partners have a route to consumers who can generate income, whether they are donating or fundraising. The corporates also get the halo effect of the alignment with the BBC. Asda has been a long-term partner and a lot of what it is doing this year will be around baking. It also sells a lot of our merchandise and does a lot of staff fundraising. With the number of Asda stores across the UK, we can really pinpoint the projects within their localities.

Another partner that really stands out is bakery chain Greggs. We are always surprised with how energetic it is. There is also Boots and Welcome Break. The Post Office is obviously going through a lot of change at the moment, but it is still massively committed to us, so we have got a member of our team to go in once a week to help it add resources.

MW: How do you collaborate with the BBC’s various departments, and do budget cuts there mean there is less money for Children in Need?

SM: We are over more BBC platforms this year than we have ever been before, so it is quite the reverse. Viewers will see quite a step up for Children in Need this year. This year during the whole week prior to the show there will be primetime TV action, radio and digital. Half of our board of trustees is made up of really influential BBC people, including the controller of BBC One, the head of audio and music, the controller of Radio 2 and 6 Music and the director of procurement. We sit down with them every month. The BBC is not going to support a charity it is not proud of.

BBC real-time reader responses

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@hybridoriental

What sort of marketing ethics do you consider when promoting a fragile cause or ’product’?

Sarah Monteith (SM): In core marketing terms, the kids and the projects that we help are our product. How we market that is what we do in order to generate the income. The kids and the projects broadly remain the same. We are still coping with the age-old problems of poverty, illness and danger.

Every appeal film broadcast on the appeal night will be chosen by my team and the editorial team. We will plan what story we are going to tell, we will work out to the tiniest degree which child we are going to use in that film, then we will sit back on the night and watch how the texts come in and how the phones are picked up. Then we will know if we made the right choice or not.

We have a lot of mechanisms to measure, and we forecast just like any other marketing department would do. My background is in brand marketing and it is no different whatsoever. I suppose it just feels a bit odd to be talking about kids in that way, but the model applies. Woe betide the charity that does not apply sophisticated marketing models to what it is trying to do.

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@Joyouscomms

How does social media change the landscape of marketing for charities?

SM: Digital is fantastic for being able to measure not only engagement but whether you can convert those social media followers into actions. The key to that is to build long-term relationships with everyone who engages with us and to generate money from them. We must not be satisfied that we have nearly 500,000 Facebook fans or 11,000 Twitter followers, but convert all of those followers and fans into donors or fundraisers, while tracking what money they are giving us.

That should not be done cynically. We should not expect that we can go to people and say “give us some money”. We need to be providing them with content, offering them an experience and engaging them with the charity as a brand. The way to do that is through stories of the people that their money is helping.

Year round, you will see things going on about what we are doing in terms of grant-making, what help we have given and what differences people have made by donating to us. You will also see merchandise for sale. What you will not see so much throughout the whole year is a direct ask for money. What we tend to do is have a campaign period that starts in September and builds through to the show in November.

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