psLondon blog | Authenticity is everything: crafting a captivating charity brand with Sarah Williams, Director of Marketing & Communications

Authenticity is everything: crafting a captivating charity brand

2 October 2023

Shade ThompsonSocial & Content Marketing Manager

“The most compelling thing about working in marketing is connecting with people in meaningful ways. It’s about creating a positive relationship based on trust and understanding.”

With a background stretching from the Civil Service to international media organisations, Sarah believes that effective marketing is about building relationships and engaging with audiences on a deeper level – putting purpose at the forefront of strategy.

Thank you for taking the time to have this chat with us, Sarah. Firstly, we would love to know a little more about your role as Director of Marketing and Communications at Place2Be.

Sarah: Place2Be delivers expert mental health support within schools across the UK, as well training school staff and providing professional qualifications for those wanting to become child therapists.

My role covers all aspects of marketing, communications and digital, as well as events and public affairs. I sit within the charity’s executive team to help steer our business strategy and delivery. One in six children has a diagnosable mental health issue in the UK. The good news is that by building understanding and providing easy access to expert emotional support from an early age, young people are better able to manage their mental wellbeing – to build resilience and better cope with life’s many challenges. So my job – our job – is to empower communities and build skills and understanding to enable young people to meet their full potential.

Thanks Sarah. We were shocked to learn about the prevalence of mental health issues in young children when we first started working with Place2Be. It highlights just how important the charity is, and how critical it is to build awareness and engagement.

Looking deeper into your own journey, what led you to the world of marketing and communications? And what is it about marketing that you enjoy the most?

Sarah: The most compelling thing about working in marketing is about connecting with people in meaningful ways. It is about creating a positive relationship based on trust and understanding. Using my skills for good is something I’ve always been drawn to, which led me to this role.

I enjoyed the research and behavioural studies module in my marketing qualification, many years ago, something that particularly resonates now I work in the third sector, alongside therapists. The psychology behind decision-making is fascinating and so important, whichever sector you work in. Our work at Place2Be is evidence-based, grounded in almost 30 years of experience of providing support in schools. The insight we gain through our work informs how we improve our services.

“I enjoy the visual aspects of brands and creating impactful, authentic content.”

I enjoy the visual aspect of brands and creating impactful, authentic content. It is important to tell compelling stories, using first-person accounts and easy to understand data to demonstrate the impact of your support.

Telling your story using authentic content is a must for any charity. As the UK’s leading provider of school-based mental health services, how does Place2Be differentiate itself from other charities within the sector?

Sarah: Our teams work within schools - they are part of the school community - to give young people easy access to mental support, when a child or young person needs it. We are embedded in schools and work in partnership with them, so it is vital to build trust and understanding.

We work with children and families who may be wary about talking about their emotional difficulties or trauma. Counselling and therapy can sound scary to some people. So, it’s our job to de-mystify our work, to make Place2Be and our work approachable and accessible, so that children, young people, schools and families understand that it’s ok to talk about your emotions and to ask for help if you’re struggling.

Is it a challenge to get the tone right between the seriousness of mental health difficulties that children are facing, and conveying an optimistic message about the impact of the services that you provide?

Sarah: As Place2Be is a solution-focused charity, we tend to steer away from the doom, and avoid catastrophising situations. We focus on how we can support a child or young person. It’s about giving them the skills to cope, enabling them to concentrate on their learning and giving them hope for the future. We present ourselves as a brand that is realistic and optimistic.

“It’s about demystifying the narrative and removing any kind of scariness.”

With such important messages to get across, we’d love to hear more about how the brand refresh we did together has worked and how it’s evolved…

Sarah: The brand refresh we did with psLondon made a huge difference. It has enabled us to approach our marketing activities with more confidence. The refresh involved developing a journalistic photographic style. I believe that having strong and diverse imagery is important. People need to see themselves in the picture – quite literally – to know that they are not alone – and to encourage our school communities to be open to discussing their mental health and to ask for help when needed.

As we evolved from working with primary schools to including more secondary schools, we’ve had to expand our visual assets to represent the age group mix.

Showcasing diversity across our collateral can be a challenge, as it is time-consuming and costly to carry out photo shoots in a large number of schools. And of course, no photoshoots could take place during lockdown! We have listened to feedback from our staff and audiences and have created a wider suite of imagery, including illustrations, highlighting diversity, building relatability, consistency and trust with audiences. This is particularly important for our materials that promote Place2Be’s services within a school, to make our services, familiar and approachable.

We have also evolved our employer brand to build a more powerful narrative at Place2Be, which is helping us to attract a more diverse community to come and work with us. Our proposition ‘For a career with purpose, this is your place’ is helping prospective staff to see themselves in a range of roles; and helping current staff feels a greater sense of pride in their work.

Sounds like a great place to be! When it comes to brand identity, what are some of the main challenges you’ve experienced over the years?

“Start with the end goal in mind.”

Sarah: Well of course everyone has a view on design, marketing and communications! Varied perspectives aren’t a negative thing, in fact it’s great to encourage debate if it makes the end product even better. Don’t be distracted from the core purpose. I always use the mantra ‘start with the end goal in mind’.

It is important to remain focussed, asking what are we trying to do? Why are we doing this? What's the objective? to bring things back to the core purpose, and not lose sight of it.

That ties in perfectly with our FutureThinking approach to brand development - that’s probably why our team enjoyed working with Place2Be so much. Looking at the current economic landscape, how do you think charities could use their brand to continue to reach their audiences?

“Storytelling helps us to connect with audiences.”

Sarah: In a tough economic landscape, if you’re asking people to part with money, it’s even more important for charities to pitch it right, and to underpin requests with evidence. Authentic engagement is key. The evolution of our employer brand has helped us to build more of a narrative at Place2Be - our teams are getting more involved in sharing what they do and communicating the impact of our work. I think it's that storytelling factor that helps us to connect with audiences. Real engagement and showing the difference we can make through our work in schools makes compelling content on Instagram and other social feeds. And be prepared to try new stuff: My team made some Insta ‘reels’ in the office recently, filmed on an iPhone, which have performed really well.

Brand heritage is so important too. We have been delivering support in schools for almost 30 years and have built trust at a grass roots level, which is the most valuable of assets. But we also need to show that we are still relevant and delivering services that meet the needs of communities.

That’s so true. We find that it’s critical to stand on the shoulders of past success, but always look forward to what you’re trying to achieve – and staying relevant is so important! What marketing trends do you see evolving in the next few years for not-for-profit organisations?

Sarah: The use of AI through platforms such as Chat GPT is an interesting development. I hope that all organisations, not just in the charity sector, will be able harness technology to become more efficient and more joined up – while being careful not to lose the all-important human contact and connections.

It’s been great to have had a chance to chat with you. Thank you very much for your time, Sarah!


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