The Sensitive Side of Storytelling

People don’t just approach me to drive sales and footfall.  It’s often more subtle than that.

In the third sector, in particular, there is often a desire and a need to dispel myths, reduce stigma and change perceptions. This is particularly the case when charities work with vulnerable or underserved individuals and communities.

But with that comes a different dynamic altogether. Charities working with vulnerable people are quite rightly protective of the people they support. But they also seek to empower these individuals to speak out, share their stories and be heard.   That’s where they often see a conflict and a challenge. Can they do both? The answer is yes.

I was recently invited to speak to a staff team at a local charity. While they could see the benefits of engaging with the press and media, they had reservations. I could just let them get on with it, some PRs do, but it’s not in my interests for things to go wrong.  I support my clients and, with charities, that often means supporting the client’s clients.


Supporting clients with their planning. Credit – Jamie Dryden, Proud of my Pixels.

Take The Yard, who work with children and young people aged 0-25 with Additional Support Needs through adventure play sessions in Edinburgh, Dundee and Kirkcaldy.


Celine Sinclair, CEO, The Yard.

Celine Sinclair, CEO said, “We want to empower our families to speak out, to use their voice and experiences, and add that authenticity journalists need to bring their story to life.   However, we’re exceptionally careful when positioning any of our families within the press and media, and Claire gets that. During any case studies she has written for us or articles based around a family or a parent, Claire is always sensitive, transparent and supportive, ensuring that the individuals know the potential pitfalls of media engagement and how to minimise them. Her skills and approach are essential for a charity like The Yard where story-telling is crucial, but has to be done safely.”

So what can you do if you’re wary of putting your story ‘out there’ or encouraging one of your beneficiaries to?

  • Remember that some journalists will be happy to use anonymous quotes. Others will decline because anonymous quotes could affect trust and authenticity amongst readers. If you’re concerned about being identified, set the agenda with the journalist from the first approach, not just as the article is going to print
  • Be selective – do your research on the journalists you engage with to ensure balance and empathy. Check if the publication you plan to approach employs a health and wellbeing writer, for example, or someone who focuses on children and family. While all journalists are obliged to follow specific guidelines, specialist writers will be used to writing about sensitive topics
  • Similarly, contract photographers and videographers who you know can be sensitive and patient with vulnerable people, e.g. those with additional needs or individuals struggling with anxiety. Ideally, we make press/media engagement a positive, not something that compounds any existing challenges
  • Ask for advance sighting of articles – although this is by no means guaranteed, and many journalists will decline, you can ask from the outset or at least be given a chance to check the facts before the story goes live
  • Jot down what you want to say during your interviews. Journalists won’t have an issue with these prompts which work especially well during phone/online interviews when you might become distracted
  • Remember the journalist isn’t duty-bound to print everything you say, and won’t. They have a space to fill but they’re competing for space too, so try to keep your points clear, concise and on-message

I support my clients with their media moments and will never ask you to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.

For more support in getting the word out safely and on your terms, please get in touch in confidence – or 07912 324 264.