Sport's charities and grassroots organisations will play a vital role in getting the nation active again as restrictions lift. Nick Rewcastle, Managing Director of sport and social impact PR and communications agency NR PR, says the PR industry needs to step up and ensure their stories are told.
Times have been tough across all sectors, but the last year has been damaging to the charity sector, and has set up a worrying future.
Significantly, in the third sector, one in five charities are now considering downsizing as a result of the pandemic, with 17% exploring closing down some, or all, of their offices.
The impact that the pandemic would have on charities was clear right from the start, with news headlines estimating billions of pounds worth of funding gaps within weeks of lockdown.
Sport’s positive impact on the charity sector was also brought into the spotlight with the cancellation of mass participation events - such as the London Marathon - creating eye-watering figures of lost revenue for charities.
There is light at the end of the tunnel with major events set to return this summer and beyond, but the mass reach of sport did manage to fill some of the shortfall in the meantime - and it shows the power that sport has to unite people behind a cause.
The 2.6 Challenge mobilised the nation to do whatever exercise they could in a bid to raise money; other mass movements like the one led by Captain Sir Tom Moore, saw millions more raised. That one specifically helped the NHS, but it shows that the public can be mobilised in support of good causes - especially when the media gets behind it.
So, although the question might not spring to mind instantly, it should be asked: what can PR and the wider media landscape learn from this? The answer is that it can actually help tremendously.
Let’s not hide from the fact, of course, that the PR sector has had its challenges over the past 12 months. Major firms have shrunk, some smaller agencies have folded completely, and 50% of freelancers are said to have lost at least 60% of their income.
But it still plays a crucial role in amplifying the crucial work done by impactful organisations around the world.
There is so much positive impact being delivered in the charity and grassroots sectors, yet it is under-amplified partly due to a lack of access to PR, which ensures that the ability of a movement to reach the nation rests on an element of luck. Despite the great work done by these initiatives throughout lockdown, a more sustainable approach is needed.
The power of sport is clear, and that’s why there are so many non-profit organisations delivering it to communities. It’s highlighted by the increase in businesses that integrate sport for social good into their corporate strategies, and why the social and economic value of grassroots football for adults, in England alone, has been calculated at £10.8bn per year.
Sport undeniably has tremendous power to positively benefit both individuals and the communities. More so now than ever before, with the impact of the pandemic unveiling some stark realities. Sport England has suggested that 30% of people admitted their ability to perform daily activities, such as taking the stairs or carrying shopping, has declined since the pandemic began.
We’ve all seen the need for good over the past 18 months, but I was once reminded by a journalist that ‘good news is a hard sell’. Sadly, they are not wrong, and we probably can’t change that.
But that makes it all the more vital that skilled communicators with strong relationships are involved in telling these stories.
Over the last year NR PR has worked with organisations like London Youth Rowing, which helps young people in some of London’s most disadvantaged communities get active - crucially also serving as an entry point for a sport so often associated with wealthier demographics.
It’s time to make PR accessible so that charities and grassroots organisations - who offer so much to their local communities - can ensure their good news stories are heard.
Sustainable business models are imperative, but it’s absolutely achievable by working closely with these clients to design retainers and campaigns that are reasonable, yet impactful. Community organisations aren’t a stretch on resource, the deliverables are manageable but ultimately, they provide the service that has been needed for so long.
Over the last year, sport has stated its commitment to making an impact on wider society, but it’s time to show the substance behind the right noises the industry has been making.