Improving the Image of NGOs by Means of Public Relations

In line with the series of articles dedicated to NGOs that I will publish this spring with What to avoid in sponsorship and how to convince sponsors, I am prefacing that content with today’s article, which, although it may seem somewhat theoretical, is actually based on experience – and the correlation between theory and experience is what today’s young people studying public relations lack, but often what those dealing with such activities in NGOs lack, as well.

Public Relations are a vital aspect of the organization’s communication, and some theoreticians say that if marketing is described by the 4 Ps (product, price, promotion, and placement), in the case of public relations, a 5th P is added, that refers to the dimension of the PERSONAL communication. Thus, public relations bring added value through the involvement of the inter-human component. In this respect, I will present two specific types of audiences through which NGOs can promote themselves very easily, inexpensively, and well: media and opinion leaders.


  1. Addressing media institutions.

Whether it is television, radio, printed press, or the internet, the media in Romania is ideologically and economically controlled. As long as a particular organization does not attack the objectives of the media institution from this point of view and can make money or save money, there is the possibility of collaboration. Here communication is much simpler. As it is about information of cultural interest and the media institutions are legally required to provide space for the promotion of information on such activities, it is much easier and quicker to get answers in terms of collaboration. In addition, if a well-written press release is sent on the internet, this should be enough to achieve the promotion of the event. Unfortunately, many Romanian journalists have no respect for correctly rendering information, and they truncate and make wrong accounts, which by the way they reach the public, can affect the strategic communication of the organization’s image; in the West, this is usually governed by a code of deontological practice, under the sanction of the law through disputes that, in the West, ARE SUBMITTED to the media institutions. In Romania, things work differently. There are truncated quotations, names are tampered with, information is taken/quoted without the permission of the source, sources are counterfeited, information is not verified at the source, and other things like this that can cause a mere press release to do a disservice to the beneficiary by the way the information is taken in the press. As a marketer, I recommend to every client to have their attorney by their side when providing information to the media and offer any information in writing to ensure that the organization’s image is correctly represented … or pay for infomercials. However, under these circumstances, interest in media institutions would drop dramatically.

Warning! One can easily reach in newspapers, on-air, on TV, or on the internet, but what matters is how the organization’s image is rendered. The information given to the press should be drafted by a copywriter that sufficiently well disguises the public relations activities as a matter of general interest. On the other hand, the journalist must understand that the organization’s image is backed by a strategy that demands to be observed. The challenge of this balance is the greatest in terms of media communication strategy.

In the same vein, one must contact the heads of the marketing departments of the respective media institutions for media partnerships and send a straightforward project illustrating the importance of the alliance. This project needs to be customized.

Again, concerning media representatives, it is challenging to outline a strategy, but if long-term relations with certain media representatives are established, the organization’s goals can be met.


  1. Addressing opinion leaders

Opinion leaders influence the image of specific audiences, usually specialized, regarding the organization. They typically have a clear position towards the organization, built over time. When a new opinion leader is approached, he must have a specific and complete image of the organization according to his standards. Many respond positively to networking intentions, especially if the organization has an image capital large enough to provide a sufficient argument to set a meeting with someone who has never heard of the respective organization.

Firstly, it is necessary to have extensive previous documentation on the internet (one must put the person’s full name between inverted commas and press enter to find the articles about this person). If he has a website, read it. If he has a blog, read it. If he writes for a magazine, read his articles. Take special note of those aspects that define his values and patterns of communication that help you understand “how to approach him”. Flexibility and attention to detail play a very important role, as well as knowing exactly what you want from that person. If it’s a testimonial, tell him this. If you want a partnership, persuasively tell him this … using the information that you have. Keep your goals and target audiences in mind. Opinion leaders are valuable resources for any organization and demand to be “courted” and treated carefully because their impression based on the relation with any of the communicated image of the organization can bring or remove clients.

Marcus Victor Grant

Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant 2006-present. Translation by Cristiana Brezeanu of the article “Îmbunătăţirea imaginii ONG-urilor prin relaţii publice, which was initially published in Romanian on May 20th, 2011, on Discerne. Copyright © Marcus Victor Grant, all rights reserved.

The materials published on this blog are covered and subject to this disclaimer.

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