Founded in 1942 by Quakers and Social Activists Oxfam was once known as the Oxford Committee for famine relief. Today it is an international confederation working within 98 different countries providing humanitarian efforts and running programmes focus on providing communities with necessities such as food, water, education and fair trade.
Thanks to one of our lecturers at the University of Gloucestershire (MD of Leap Frog PR) my final year public relations class had the opportunity to visit Oxfam’s HQ in Oxford. Not only was this a favour on the part of Oxfam but was a valuable learning experience to see how one of the world’s leading NGOs uses public relations to benefit LEDC communities around the world.
News gathering is a key focus of Oxfam’s public relations campaigns. As an NGO Oxfam depend upon different sources of funding, a key focus being on members of the public. As logic would dictate less economically stable times does cause a drop in aid which makes it critical that funding is distributed towards key causes.
Yet the causes displayed in mainstream media do not and cannot always show the stories which matter. With 7 billion humans around the world, millions of separate communities – it is impossible for the media to cover all the news within a 30 minute new segment. Oxfam has the difficult task to sell a crisis, to provide a narrative which will coincide with Grunig and Hunt’s news values.
Certain stories will simply just not make the headlines. Pakistan are currently experiencing floods, which were extensively covered in 2010 by the media, but in 2011 the media focus has wavered. A number of global crisis have passed from view in the news but communities still require recovery help such as in Haiti and Japan. The Ethiopian famine was dropped from news agenda to make way for the revolution in Tripoli. Being part of Oxfam’s public relations team is key as media interest will stir donations which will aid these communities from suffering.
Times have changed which have benefited Oxfam. The recession has dramatically impacted broadcasters from sourcing primary content from abroad (such as live footage and images) which allows Oxfam to provide their own media clippings. This has required public relations professionals to have basic experience of editing media content before sending out to broadcast. The challenge is for Oxfam to find a narratives (usually ones focusing on human impact) to entice the media to address the issues which must be resolved.
Oxfam clearly has a dedicated workforce who love their jobs but I left the building feeling somewhat jaded by the health of our media. Suffering is happening right now, crisis must be addressed but the most important stories often struggle to become mainstream due to competition. Being on Oxfam’s public relations team must be a joy and a frustration – to know one day the world is listening and another day a community will struggle due to less funding.