#PRConf15 Guest blog two: Before Addressing how, ask why

Tim Marshall, LPRINZ, PR Consultant, Communication by Design

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND - MAY 21:  during the annual Public Relations Institute of New Zealand Conference on May 21, 2015 in Wellington, New Zealand.  (Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images)

Photo by Mark Tantrum/Getty Images

As a very young child I would drive my mother mad asking “Why?” whenever she told me anything. And when she explained why I would ask why again … and again … even before she’d finished her answer. Then it was a childish annoyance. Today it’s a necessity – hold that thought.

On Thursday at the PRINZ conference I joined 10 other waste-hating delegates for a short field trip to brainstorm ideas for Wellington food rescue charity Kaibosh. What a brilliant organisation – picking up quality surplus food from supermarkets and food outlets and redistributing it to people in need.

Kaibosh actually does what so many people like me have idly wondered: “Why doesn’t ‘someone’ pick up the food from cafes at the end of the day and bread, fruit, vege and meat from supermarkets and give it to people who are struggling to make ends meet.” These guys redistribute 10,000kg of food every month all bundled up by teams of volunteers.

The PRINZ connection was made through Gail Marshall (no relation), co-founder and co-manager of the Community Comms Collective, which voluntarily connects charities with communications people who are willing to donate their services – often as mentors. What a great service.

PRINZ delegates who elected to go to Kaibosh were sent a succinct two page brief including our mission: essentially to suggest how Kaibosh could communicate its environmental impact in stopping food from ending up in landfill, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and saving energy and water. To date Kaibosh’s environmental story hasn’t been highlighted as much as its social story. When we arrived at Kaibosh the very articulate Volunteer and Communications manager Anoushka (Noush) Isaac gave us a quick tour of the place and a run-through of how it works.

What the brief and the tour didn’t cover was “why” Kaibosh wanted to tell its environmental story better. So when we sat down to brainstorm ideas I reverted to my childhood habit and asked why –“Why do you want to do this?”

The question sparked a lot of discussion. We talked about whether the environmental message resonated as much as the social justice message. We discussed whether it was simply implicit in understanding what Kaibosh does. We asked who cared, what they cared about and why they cared. But what we needed to know to be able to usefully help was why shifting up the environmental message was important to Kaibosh.

The answer was they wanted to raise more money to extend Kaibosh’s services. We weren’t privy to financial figures or goals, but we were told that in order to do this they hoped to broaden their supporter (particularly their funding) base.

The group brainstormed some general ideas like speaking engagements with business groups, doing more to promote and recognise donor businesses, getting kids involved with school projects and having Kaibosh provide the ingredients for one of the many TV cooking competition shows.

I trust some of the group’s ideas were useful. My point though, is that communications and relationship-building is strategic – and for professionals to provide the best possible advice and ideas we need the full picture. Before we address questions of “how” to do some PR or communications task we need to ask “why do you want to do that?” to get to the heart of the matter.

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