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With this month’s earthquake in Turkey and Syria causing widespread devastation, nonprofits were quickly on the ground providing support, while launching appeals to raise vital funds. Felix Freese, senior brand and communication manager at UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein, provides some insights into their emergency campaign response, as well as some key tips for fundraisers on how to respond to urgent need.
An earthquake shook the world. At UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein we were in the middle of preparing a fundraising campaign for Ukraine when our plans were interrupted on 6 February by the events in Turkey and Syria. Once again, our emergency campaign procedure, which had been tried and tested at the outbreak of the Ukraine war, came into play: a close interaction between our newsroom and the campaign team. In both cases, the motto was to “do rather than wait”.
Responding to the need for speed
Speed counts in emergency aid, but in fundraising, too. The greatest challenge when launching emergency aid is to estimate the scale of need. No one knows initially how bad the situation is or will become. Or whether or not it will even be picked up by the media. At this stage, those first decisions are important. Experience has told us that it pays off to produce more content than we think we will use. Here, besides mailings and newspaper inserts, digital media files are especially helpful. The production costs are lower. Social media, search engine advertising and email newsletters are part of our standard repertoire.
Thinking in terms of synergies
In addition, we produce online banners, digital out-of-home advertising media, TV spots and filler ads. Why? Because we have seen that when disaster strikes, everyone wants to help. And the easiest way media providers can do so is by offering free advertising space. It is also important to think in terms of synergies. If you book newspaper supplements, it makes sense to offer filler ads. If you run TV commercials, online banners should be placed during the same time slot. If eBoards appear at railway stations, online banners should be regionally limited via geo-targeting.
Using in-house creatives
Another advantage is having our own in-house creative agency. We know how to create standard advertising media files as fast as possible. We are constantly trying to speed up these processes. No one has to be briefed externally. Approval procedures are also much faster. The time gained can be used to try out new things. While other organisations are still producing content, we are already in the process of increasing our performance through A/B testing or exploring new advertising channels. The result: online banners for desktop with a QR code that can be used for donations via mobile phone. This banner format is now a standard. The same goes for perimeter advertising in football stadiums.
Taking a collaborative approach
Simultaneously to the fundraising ads, we create a push via PR. Here, the close exchange between communication, fundraising and newsroom keeps us aligned. This type of exchange takes place at least once a day. One person takes the lead. But it’s more about being a moderator or scrum master, drawing on the expertise of specialists. In addition to arranging interviews and providing visual and audio material, the main focus here is on creating content for websites and newsletters. But how do you stay in the media when the coverage of the disaster drops? Last year, for the Ukraine, we created a PR stunt that generated the most newspaper clippings of 2022: a projection of a peace dove on one of the most famous mountains in Switzerland (below).
Today, so many NPOs come up with communication campaigns when a disaster strikes. This is why small things make a difference. Are we successful with our approach of close interaction between newsroom, fundraising and communication? It might be a validation when we hear that donors heard about the earthquake through our newsletter first. Or when we only see UNICEF eBoards in the city. Or when no other NPO has a PR campaign that Switzerland is talking about like our peace dove. We will test it again in our next emergency aid campaign.
Here are my recommendations for improving your emergency campaigns:
- Produce general emergency content like online banners or eBoards or TV commercials in advance. Buy paper for mailings and newspaper supplements ahead. Work with templates. Then you only need to fill up the copy and imagery.
- Produce as many media formats as possible. Media providers want to help during emergencies and will offer free space.
- Try something new. During emergencies, the output and the synergies between all the media are much faster. And A/B tests will deliver better results.
About Felix Freese
Felix Tatsumasa Freese is senior brand and communication manager at UNICEF Switzerland and Liechtenstein, a role he has held since 2019. Prior to that he was Copywriter for Spinas Civil Voices, a fundraising agency working solely for nonprofits. He came to that role following 17 years as copywriter and then creative director at advertising agencies like BBDO, FCB, Publicis, Saatchi & Saatchi and TBWA / Media Arts lab, working for clients including BMW, MINI, Nivea, Zurich Insurance, Swiss International Airlines, McDonald’s and Apple. He can be found on LinkedIn.