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PRs must help people talk says Heart of the City’s Carolyn Housman

21st June 2013


Media training is something usually associated with creating a brand image for a company, not with helping individuals break down taboos within their social groups.

But this is exactly what the HIV charity Body and Soul achieved when it teamed up with the PR company Red Door Communications.

Armed with communications expertise, volunteers from the PR group came forward to deliver media training to young people affected by HIV, either those with the condition themselves or those with close family members suffering.

Through training groups, they teach those affected – often children and teenagers confronting complex new emotions – to speak about their condition confidently in their communities and to handle awkward questions, ensuring they are not answering more than they feel comfortable doing.

The participants they have worked with say the training has enabled them to deal with their own anger about their diagnosis, as well as break down taboos within their social circles. They’ve been able to comfortably talk about issues around living with HIV – something that they felt previously nobody wanted to talk about.

The training has also enabled them to go on and speak about their condition in media interviews, raising awareness and providing relatable role models for other young people living with HIV.

This is one example, but there are many other ways PR experts can help others. PR firms can adapt their media training to address key areas where real attention is needed, such as honing the interview skills of homeless people who are ready to get back to work or building the self-confidence of those in danger of turning to crime as an outlet.

Helping these groups to talk about the issues affecting them and opening up channels of communication could allow them to voice their opinions and avoid being coerced into activities they’re uncomfortable with.

PR professionals are also adept at communicating in a crisis and with dealing with different types of people on a daily basis. The resulting assertiveness skills can be adapted for groups who work with young people who may be reluctant to receive help, such as children and young people who may have been through the care system.

For the PR agency, those who volunteer see improved staff retention and a more motivated workforce as they broaden their own skills base.

Involvement in CSR and volunteering also gives more junior members of the team the opportunity to take on responsibilities and activities that they may not have had the chance to otherwise.

Red Door Communications’ partnership with Body and Soul won a Lord Mayor’s Dragon Award last year for its work with the charity. Run by the City of London Corporation, this year the awards are aiming to double the number of entries from SMEs, and in particular the media and communications sector.

Lacking the skills to speak openly and confidently is something perhaps many of us can’t imagine, and having that ability is vital to rebuilding lives. We hope that more communications experts will realise just how valuable the day-to-day skills they use could be in creating futures for people in need of a healthy and happy future.

Carolyn Housman is chief executive and director for Heart of the City, an organisation that works to promote and instil responsible business practice into the City and City-fringe companies to help create prosperous, healthy and sustainable communities.

For more information about business volunteering and the Lord Mayor’s Dragon Awards go to dragonawards.org.uk. For more information on Heart of the City go to theheartofthecity.com.

Carolyn Housman is director and chief executive of Heart of the City



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