Oh, Mary

Follow the Shiny Bouncing Ball. Or Don’t.

April 29, 2019
Lacie Peterson

In today’s world of the 24-hour news cycle, it can be difficult to break through all of the noise. Every second, shocking information flashes across our screens. Exposés of scandal and debauchery are now the rule, rather than the exception. But where does that leave the news that is important, but not necessarily shiny?

For example, what happened to the good news about world-changing work that non-profits are doing? It’s no secret that they tend to get the short end of the ‘clickable’ stick. The question for us, as Public Relations experts, is how do we cut through the scandal and give those making the greatest impact the audience they deserve?

The answer is persistence and storytelling. One of our longtime clients is the Campaign for Female Education (CAMFED). Since 1993 they have helped over 2.6 million girls in sub-Saharan Africa complete their education and transition to careers, changing not just their lives but their entire communities. But enticing media to cover them is still a huge challenge.

How do you convince someone sitting in a high rise in New York City that an organization based in the UK, and operating in sub-Saharan Africa matters? By bridging the gap. If you can make the person on the other end of the line feel empathy for someone worlds away, you can make the argument that the story will matter to their readers. And if you can transcend borders and nationality to tap into the humanity within us all, then you really have something.

Imagine an extremely impoverished 13-year-old girl who has just been told that she is to be wed to a much older man, even though she has proven to be among the brightest and most promising students in her primary school. Not because she is less than, but because it seems to be the only option due to poverty. A secondary school in her village (which starts at around 7th grade) is not free. Families must pay school fees, students must have uniforms, must pay for supplies, and must have a way to get to school. This might sound simple to us, but for a family that is working endless hours to keep a roof above their head, or keep food in their bellies, that is a tall order. Especially if it comes down to choosing between sending a son or daughter to school.

Sons are incorrectly perceived as having greater earning potential, and daughters are perceived as only having the opportunity to marry a man (oftentimes a much older man) that can support her and her future children. This is simply the reality for many in rural areas of sub-Saharan Africa. Many just don’t realize that there is another option.

Enter CAMFED. They have worked for 25 years to embed themselves in local communities. They are on the ‘speed dial’ of community members, school officials and government leaders when these girls start to slip through the cracks. They not only pay school fees, but they also pay for the things that can be barriers to education, such as access to tampons or shoes. Imagine failing out of school because you have to take a week off each month because of your period? This really happens.

Today that young woman (and a network of 140,000 other just like her), is leading a movement in her community, mentoring and impacting thousands about financial literacy, reproductive health, entrepreneurship, and self-esteem. This is creating a virtuous cycle of change and hope for many who were simply hopeless. This is what it looks like to change the world.

Did that give you all the feels? It should. Compelling storytelling through honest narratives can make it feel like someone who is nearly 10,000 miles away is right next to you. “The art of the novelist”, as my colleague likes to call it. With this tool, we have managed to bridge the gap for some. But there is still a long way to go. Gaining publicity for this kind of important cause is not easy. It takes persistence, constant communication, and outreach, but when you do get in front of a reporter that can take the time in their hectic and fast-moving world to see the bigger picture beyond the ‘breaking news’ of the day, it really is rewarding. And it is the work that deserves to be seen.