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Cause & Effect: Michael Keating
Cause & Effect: Michael Keating

Michael Keating is Digital Communications Manager at Samaritans. After starting at a business directories company, he moved into the charity sector at The Mission to Seafarers, before joining Samaritans in 2014.



I’m not convinced that the traditional journey still applies. Traditionally, you put some money in a bucket, say, or you give someone your address, then you get a welcome pack, and then a couple of months later you get a campaign and then you get another campaign and the value of the ask slowly increases. I don’t know if that journey really exists now, given that there are all of these different touchpoints where people will engage with you: through social media, Whatsapp, you’ve got email; you’ve got all of these different channels.

The best creative in the world isn’t enough. If it sits in an email, you need to get someone to open it. So, what we’ve done this year is reduce the amount of people we contact. A lot of the cold stuff is being delivered through social ads as well as search advertising and some retargeting. All the warm stuff is being done through email — the expectation is, these people are warm to us, they’re more likely to open the emails and see the good stuff that we’ve done.

Content can create engagement, even without a sign-up. Our Small Talk Saves Lives campaign was built around a video about how to start difficult conversations with your friends, what kind of signs to look out for if you’re worried about someone. It has been way bigger than we thought it would be — around 10 million views now. There wasn’t an explicit email sign-up ask, but we’ve noticed a real increase in our email newsletter subscriptions. And then the kind of results you might expect: Facebook likes shot up, Twitter followers shot up, YouTube subscribers have all shot up. Now if they see our fundraising content, they should already be a bit warmer to us.

Other charities are explicitly targeting your people. I did a social advertising workshop at a charity communications event a little while ago, and it was really interesting to hear that a lot of us tend to target people who like charities that are similar to ourselves. We’ve done that in the past, where we’ve targeted people who support MIND and that sort of thing. I was quite honest about that, and then some other people admitted, “we do something like that too.”

A younger generation has grown up expecting things to be free. We’re looking at a generation of people (which includes me), who grew up downloading music, streaming stuff, getting everything, if not for free, then for very low cost. I guess what worries me is that we’ve tried contacting those audiences before and they don’t give us money. Maybe as they get older that will change. I guess the real concern is: what if that doesn’t happen, that they just expect all of the services that charities provide to be there, but without having to actually support them? It is probably the biggest challenge that we all face.

There’s a lot of pressure placed on digital teams. And the challenge is to try and deliver, but also try and keep your team excited and motivated at times where everyone’s being asked to do that bit more work in the same amount of time.

I believe in ‘stretch’ projects. I am very proud of having built a team where everyone in it feels confident enough to step up and take on a project that’s bigger than what they’re used to, and then see them go on and do a really good job. And it’s something that everyone on my team has now been able to do. I’ve tried to create an environment in which everyone can learn, get better, and then do stuff better than I can do it. Because part of running a team isn’t having to know everything, it’s being able to trust people to be able to do it for themselves.

You can learn a lot from a ‘disaster’. I was at a business directories company, and we sent out a big promotion. I wasn’t paying enough attention, sent it out, and I’d got the fax return number wrong on the leaflet. We thought “It’s probably not that big a deal. It’s 2008, who’s even got a fax machine?” This poor guy ended up getting about 2,500 faxes. I learnt two important lessons. First, check everything — don’t rush through things. Second, just because you don’t use a specific method of communication, it doesn’t mean it’s not valuable to other people.

Cause & Effect is a series from Hope, in which leading figures who have been involved in building and promoting good causes tell us what they’ve learned from their experiences. Interview by Michael Isaacs.

Michael Isaacs

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