Turning trust into action: engaging your readers to help the community


We often talk about engaging the community — creating unique events, connecting with them through social media, encouraging dialogue and participation, reflecting their passions, grievances, beliefs, and news.

But with our power to connect and engages comes the responsibility to drive action to support the community issues we report on.

News articles on tragedies and social injustices often elicit the strongest emotions. How often have we read a sad story and wished we could do something to help?

Well, here's the beauty of being in newspaper marketing. We can.

With the right structures in place, we can respond immediately to tragic news issues reported by our editorial, enable, and encourage action from our readers with our marketing, help the needy, and in doing so, boost our brand empathy and trust.

As newspaper marketers, we have elements of a typical marketing job — public relations, advertising, strategy, and all the usual stuff — but we also get to be charity fundraisers and vocal philanthropists — encouraging people to part with their money for good and often less-publicised causes. For this part, we have it easy; a trusted relationship with our readers and access to free house ad space that other charities often can't afford.

It's a perfect position to be in, not to mention a very satisfying part of our daily job.

At the South China Morning Post, we've been involved directly and indirectly in charity initiatives for a long time. Sometimes the charity effort is unsolicited, and we regularly witness the generosity of our readers, who, after reading about a poverty stricken family's fight to save a child's life, contact us with money to help.

In fact, the reason this topic is on my mind is because we announced today that our annual Christmas drive, a 24-year, long-standing charity effort called Operation Santa Claus, raised an all-time high of HK$16.5 million to support 16 local charities, thanks to unprecedented donor efforts. This charity drive mobilises the entire community, from kindergartens to big bank corporations. They support us because they trust us, enjoy the fundraising efforts, and feel confident that the money will reach the beneficiaries, most of whom are smaller NGOs that don't get government support. Both the beneficiaries and the donors are also grateful for the guaranteed PR they get in our daily coverage.

But Christmas goodwill aside, charity support can't always be planned. News brings disasters and tragedies, and responding to them quickly requires a vehicle for fundraising that can be implemented at a moment's notice. A timely response is needed to capture readers' emotional desire to help, as well as support the cause as quickly as possible.

We, therefore, decided to launch a quick-response, clearly branded scheme, with a catchy name: Heart of Hong Kong Relief fund. Its objective: responding immediately to tragic news issues that affect the community and need urgent financial support.

Our first call to action was in response to an article we ran on Aug. 18, revealing Oxfam's shocking report about poverty in Hong Kong's apparently affluent city. Based on the report, one in six families in Hong Kong was poor and living in a state of food insecurity — i.e., they were going hungry several days a week because of the escalating food prices. Our resulting advertisement used an emotional, earnest statement from a child who spoke to our journalist: “I'd just like to have dinner. It makes me feel happier, and I can sleep better at night.”

We partnered with two carefully chosen food banks, ensured the money was properly disbursed, and set about campaigning through our own pages. We managed to exceed our fundraising target three times over, feeding hundreds of families in the process.

Our second push was to support the victims of a terrible local fire, which took place in one of the most crowded and poorest parts of the city. The fire caused the deaths of nine individuals and displaced 82 more by destroying the tiny, subdivided, tenement flats they were living in. Within just one week of fundraising, we had already raised enough to cover a month's rent for each of those individuals, and a more substantial amount for the families of the deceased. We partnered closely with the local social welfare department and issued personal cheques with each identified beneficiary's name, to make sure we had 100% of the money properly allocated.

In these times, when we are all focused on and grappling with our own survival as businesses, it's still relatively easy and gratifying to leverage our strengths for a good cause. It not only enhances our brand and engagement with our readers, it helps us as marketers to make the most of the unique positions we occupy, and take responsibility for the power we yield.

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