Marketing for Nonprofits

by Sheena Horgan

Posted on Apr 15, 2022

In our 50th episode (!) we were delighted to be joined by Sheena Horgan of Drinkaware Ireland to discuss the differences, and commonalities, of nonprofit and corporate marketers. 

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Podcast Transcript

Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by The Digital Marketing Institute. I'm your host, Will Francis. And today, I'll be talking to Sheena Hogan all about digital marketing for a not-for-profit and the unique challenges that that poses compared with the corporate sector where Sheena started out.

Sheena is CEO of Drinkaware, an Irish advocacy group, focusing on reducing alcohol misuse. An independent consultant for over 20 years, Sheena has worked with a broad range of not-for-profit governmental and commercial organizations in both Ireland and the UK, where she founded the PR agency, Eulogy. She's appeared regularly in the media as a journalist, but also as an advocate for campaigns dealing with sport, children's issues, and internet literacy and safety. Sheena, welcome to the podcast.


Sheena: Thank you very much. Great to be here.


Will: Great to have you. Yeah, no, I can't wait to ask you about this stuff. We've been waiting a while to talk to someone in a position to kind of explain not-for-profit marketing to us, I think, and you are really well-placed to do that. But before we get into it, just tell us a little about how Drinkaware operates, you know, within the context of digital marketing, what does it do, and how does it spread its message?


Sheena: Well, we're a national charity based in Ireland. And as you said in the intro there, we're about the prevention and reduction of alcohol misuse, which includes tackling underage drinking. And there's three core work streams that we have to do that. And they are education, outreach and engagement, and research, and all of them are interlinked. The outreach and engagement piece is the critical piece, obviously, in the context of this podcast.


So, we do a huge amount on digital, on owned and earned channels. And our marketing, and our media, and our comms is fundamental to who we are and what we do. So, our way of approaching reduction and prevention of misuse of alcohol is by analyzing and understanding what the attitude and behavior of drivers are, and then applying that insight and evidence to our communications.


So, it affects our messaging, our tone, the channels that we use, absolutely everything. So, the data element of that, the research element is important. And we're all about trying to bring the general public on a journey, a positive behavioral change journey. And that's, you know, classic marketing speak, really, when we're trying to change people's behaviors, or attitudes, or understanding of brands, and of services, etc. So, marketing, digital marketing, in particular, is hugely relevant and at the core of very much of what we do.


Will: Yes. And your core message, is it about just promoting less drinking, or is it about promoting specific types of behavior?


Sheena: Sure. Well, it's kind of the clue is in the name, I mean, the name is Drinkaware. And, if you like, our brand and our brand name is almost a call to action. So, the line that we use is be drink aware. And it's about encouraging people to have a better understanding of alcohol and their own consumption.


In terms of the behavior that we're looking for, we're trying to encourage and promote people to either cut down or cut out, certainly, to, if they are going to drink, to drink within what's known as the low-risk weekly guidelines. And every market, every jurisdiction has a set of guidelines that are based on World Health Organization recommendations. So, here in Ireland, we have ours. In the UK, they've standard units and everything else.


Will: Yes. Yeah, I get that. So, yeah, like you say, Drinkaware is kind of, it's your name it's used to call to action. So, is it about driving awareness? I mean, I'm thinking about the funnel now, I'm thinking about marketing objectives. Is it all very top of funnel stuff, just get the message out there and get into people's heads?


Sheena: No, it's actually taking people through that full behavioral journey. So, there are many stages to that. There is a certain amount, which is awareness of us as an organization, us as a brand, but also awareness of people's consumption, their own individual behavior and lifestyles. You're then adding to that a layer of information. So, what is the actual salient information and knowledge people need to have?


You're then bringing them further on saying, "Okay, can we motivate people?" What is the motivation, the reward, the benefit of reviewing and thinking about your consumption and changing your behavior? And then you're moving then onto capacity and empowerment, and supporting, how do you encourage and support and help people to change?


So, for example, if anybody went onto our website on, you would see things like lots of advice and tips on how to cut back or cut out. You will equally find lots of data, lots of information on what a particular drink is, what is a standard drink? What is a standard unit because different countries use different terms? So, it's the full spectrum of marketing and comms. It's the full behavioral journey we're trying to take people on. And people will jump in at different stages, but we're trying to really work people through all the way through.


Will: Yeah, that makes sense because, yes, it's more than just telling people, it's more than just preaching from the mount, isn't it?


Sheena: Completely. And actually just telling people doesn't work, especially from, you know, the kind of health behavior. And loads of other organizations and services will be well aware of this. You know, dictating to people doesn't work. Fear-mongering doesn't work, which is why I said at the outset, it's almost, it's the message, it's the tone. It's the full package that you need to look at.


So, we need to be very clear on how we can support the general public. So, we're not about pointing the finger, or wagging the finger, or giving out, or dictating, or scare-mongering, in particular. Because it's just shown in countless amounts of research that just doesn't work. So, it's much more about bringing people on that inclusive type of journey.


Will: It's tricky, isn't it? When you are telling... You're not telling people to not do something, it's not like smoking where there is no healthy level of, you know, that behavior. You are just telling people to do it with a bit more kind of deliberateness.


Sheena: With a bit more knowledge. And what we find, particularly, in the research, and a good example of that is, say, during COVID, because there was many restrictions, and hospitality, and bars, and restaurants closed, we looked at-home drinking. And when you look at people drinking in the home setting, there is an awful lot of unintentional excessive drinking happening. So, we would talk to people about that. What does that look like?


So, that's why the understanding piece is really important. If you understand what people's attitudes are, as well as their behavior, if you understand what their knowledge level is, and therefore, you try to contribute more meaningfully to that, it's about empowering people to make the changes that they want to make. So, we will find in the data that there is probably about a third of people who want to drink differently.


So, we're about trying to give them the tools to facilitate that change, tools, which includes the reasons and motivation but also includes the know-how. So, what are the tips and tricks on going on a night out, I know I'm going to be exposed to a lot of good friends with a lot of good intentions, but maybe peer pressure, etc., how am I gonna manage that? And that's what we speak to. We speak to, well, here is a couple of things, stay out of rounds, alternate with water, or, you know, here are the things that you can do. And particularly with younger audiences, that's really important.


Will: Yes, no, I get that. So, in spreading your message, are you just repurposing your offline assets, things from flyers, TV, radio, etc., and putting them on the internet? Or do you think you're using digital in kind of very inherently digital ways?


Sheena: Well, I don't know whether I'm old school or new school in this comment, so I hope you'll treat me kindly, receive it kindly, in a sense. I have always, as a comms and a marketing and a brand person gone, it starts with the brand and it starts with the message. And the channel is really, you know what the message is that you want to convey, you know arguably who you want to convey it to, what channel do you need to reach that audience?


So, in our case and point, it's the general public, it is the adult drinking population, but also the people around them, society at large. And because it's the general public, digital is an obvious, good, efficient economic route to market. So, we would rely heavily on digital, in that regard. I mean, our website has half a million visits every year.


And in Irish terms, that's an incredible amount. We have a quarter of a million uses of the online calculator. So, that allows us to know when we look at our population data, that's an awful lot of adults engaging with our brand and our information. So, digital, be it owned channels, earned channels are hugely important to us. But for me, I would always be putting the message and the brand first, and then, "Okay, which is the channel that best suits it?" And digital will always come into that.


Will: Well, yeah, you're clearly using digital in a way that it could only be digital, like, this kind of, you know, tools that you provide and what have you. So, yeah, that makes a lot of sense. No, and you're absolutely right. You know, it's nothing old school about putting the brand and a message first, for sure.


Sheena: Well, do you know I say that because having worked in agencies for so many years, invariably, at different times, you'd have a client come and say, "I need a digital campaign." You know, “we're not on TikTok. We're not on Instagram. We need something on it”. And that, to me, is you're looking at it the wrong way around. You need to be going into these channels because actually it adds value and does something for you.

So, for example, at the moment, yes, we're on Twitter and Facebook, but also Instagram. We've gone back onto Pinterest now. We will look...haven't got round to TikTok yet, but it's a resourcing issue, but we're gonna explore it. But we'll see if it works. And if it does, great. And if it doesn't, we'll come off it because we have to be efficient with our resources. So, I think digital offers this brilliant catalyst in facilitating, reaching audiences that you want to, but it's also down to the engagement you're looking for. Is it just numbers or is it engagement?


And when we look at our audiences and engagement, for example, young men and, in particular, young men under the age of 30, 34 would be particularly problematic drinkers in Ireland. So, how do we engage with them? And that could be looking at the likes of bathroom advertising in the Aviva Stadium (in Dublin), where the rugby matches and soccer matches happen, which is very effective.


Or it could also be using certain social media channels, which are reaching that audience, and we're getting good engagement there. Or we could find Facebook is absolutely not for that young male audience. We're not reaching them there. So, it's about cutting your cloth accordingly. But to answer, I suppose, really, the first part of the question, which was around, do we use the offline, do we translate it, or do we create something unique? It starts with the message, and then we may tweak it because it's going out in a particular channel. But otherwise, the core message is always the core message. And I think you have to stay true to your brand, and your message in that regard, especially as a charity.


Will: Those kind of mechanics are always in tension with each other because, yes, it's the brand and the message first, and the channel should just serve that. And I agree with that. But at the same time, there's an undeniable first-mover advantage when things like TikTok come up on there, and they do present an opportunity. And perhaps if you went in there, you wouldn't be doing it as well and as considered as you'd hope. But you know that is a potential opportunity to get some kind of quick and dirty numbers. And there's always that. I think that's what brands struggle with.


Sheena: Yeah. Absolutely. I mean, is that not, I suppose the scenario you've given there, that's where you try and see what's the longer-term strategic, what's the shorter-term tactical piece. And certainly, for brands that I'd have worked with in the past, first-mover advantage, absolutely, I get. Just for us as an organization, that's not necessarily at play. And we have to be more strategic. And we'll do some tactical things, but we're much more about the medium- to long-term.


And we're always keeping an eye on the horizon as to the direction that we're going in. It's just really, really important for us as a charity and, especially as a small team and small charity, that's fundamental to it. But, no, for sure. I mean, if there is, I'd love us to be on TikTok. But I only want us to do it with our resources if we know it's gonna work for us. So, we will look at a feasibility study, and we'll try it. But if it works and if it's fit for purpose, great. And if it's not, then we need to deploy our resources elsewhere.


Will: And is this typical of a not-for-profit environment where there's, I mean, yeah, you mentioned the words feasibility study, you know, and that more kind of, I suppose, risk-averse measured approach. Do you think that's typical of the charity sector?


Sheena: I think it is. I mean, it's very hard to make sweeping statements on the charity sector, because certainly, here in Ireland and from what I know, say, of the UK, the charity sector is a huge sector. And it's everything from a small voluntary organization to a massive international development organization. So, there's an awful lot of variances in between. I think what I would have learned over the years from the sector is that it can be more risk-averse, for sure.


And it can also be almost more tactical. I think, coming from the commercial sector, I've always got my eye on that longer-term strategy, what ultimately are we trying to achieve? And I think there is a tension in the not-for-profit sector between that impact, short-term impact, long-term impact, tactical piece, plus, also, you have to consider the resources that a lot of charities would have, and the short-termism of those resources.


So, is it a case of going back to the powers that be, that are funding them, especially if they're state-funded? And, you know, every year coming cap in hand and looking for money, so can you look longer-term? And how do you sort that tension? So, it's a wee bit different. I think because of us and because of the team that we have, and maybe my own background, we do embrace risk. We wouldn't be risk-averse, but we do it with a strategic oversight, very, very much so. So, we will assess what the risk is here and then act accordingly.


Will: Yes. And I suppose that brings us on to think about the differences between the corporate sector and the charity sector. Take yourself back to when you started working with charities, what were the kind of striking differences there between that and the corporate sector for you?


Sheena: Well, I think there is that element of strategic versus tactical, short-term versus long-term. I think there's an element of that.


Will: Why is that?


Sheena: Well, again, it could be resources, purely just resources. Also, if you think of how and why charities are set up, from your small one to your large one, charities have a very clear focus and purpose. They are here to do good, whatever that good is. They're here to usually solve a problem. It's not's making the world a better place, but in a negative context, it's addressing a problem that's there. So, how we are formed is coming from that negative space.


So, it's instantly a different mindset. Having said that, what I love about the sector and working with a charity or volunteer organization is it has a very clear purpose. And probably having come from a corporate and private sector, the organizations and brands I loved dealing with, the clients I loved to have, and the work I loved doing was around corporate social responsibility and around having that purpose.


And I think charities are really good at having that single-minded focus on their purpose. But where corporates, again, may have the advantage is being more strategic on that and going, "What is that purpose? How does that extrapolate? What does that mean?" And I think charities will be looking at impact, but they need to drill further down into what that impact is.


So, for example, as a charity, and in other charities I've worked in, we've looked at the theory of change. And the theory of change is really simple. What is the change you seek? And that change you seek is the impact you want to make on the world, on society, on your marketplace, whatever your marketplace is. And if you are focused on that, you need one or two impacts. You need to be very, very clear. Corporates are quite good at looking at focus, but focus as opposed to purpose.


And I think charities are very good at looking at purpose. And you kind of need to blend the two together because then that's the clever sweet spot where you can really make change and you pursue change. And what corporates do well is prioritizing resources and everything else. I think the charities, it's harder to prioritize because you may be a bit, you know, foot to mouth, so the resources may not be there. And that makes a difference.


On that point, though, and it's almost a contradictory one, what I have learned over the years is corporates may have bigger budgets, for sure, but there is that scarcity principle. And working in agencies with clients, having a client who gives you a nice big budget is great, having a client who gives you a smaller budget that you have to treat very carefully to get the right result, actually, being curtailed with that scarcity principle, can help you focus on what you really need to do. So, there is that advantage and disadvantage, if you like, in terms of pure finances.


Will: That's very interesting. What about the differences between how the charity and corporate sectors handle brand?


Sheena: Well, that's really, to be honest, one of, I think, possibly the biggest differences. I think charities, because of their nature and how they've come about, see themselves as a charity. My purpose is to change, to do, to help, to whatever. Corporates see themselves as a brand, and especially the larger corporates are really wedded to the brand, the brand principles.


And there is a financial aspect to brands now, and that's been built up over the years as well, for sure. I think charities need to see themselves as a brand and need to be very careful about owning, what shape does that brand look like, how do you own it, how do you wrap your arms around it, how do you convey it, how do you promote it, how do you protect it? So, certainly, all of our conversations at Drinkaware are about the Drinkaware brand and how do we protect, and promote, and support that brand.


And we would view it like that because we're dealing with the general public, and they buy into brands. So, the general public know and understand our brand. We have 86% trust and awareness, which from a brand perspective is phenomenal that I know many, many brands that would love to have that. And it's because I think we have so much focus on the brand. And if you focus on the brand, which many corporates do, you're very clear on what your values are, what the guidelines are, what works for you, what doesn't, how far you can push it, how far you don't. So, with charities, they are missing that brand identity piece that I think would be beneficial.


Will: Yeah. It does feel that way. Like you say, they're so focused on their purpose. If we get to the outside world, they are ultimately a brand, just like companies are brands, and celebrities are brands, and all kinds of entities really are perceived in this similar kinda way.


Sheena: You have to work hard at the brand. It's not a case of, "I exist. I do good, therefore, actually, the world should view me in that place." You know, you have to engage with the world at large, and convince them and keep convincing them. It's the sustainability of that brand reputation and understanding. And because we live in such turbulent, mad dynamic times, the environment is shifting all of the time.


So, you have to be vigilant to the brand and keep a close eye on it, and keep reinvigorating it, and keep questioning it, and going, "Are we still fit for purpose? Do we need to change or tweak? Does our tone need to evolve? You know, has our audience changed?" All of those good questions. But I think, certainly, the not-for-profit and charity sector could benefit from viewing things in that way as a corporate, maybe is more likely to do.


Will: And it's interesting, I think corporates are slightly moving in your direction a bit because this whole brand purpose idea that's become popular in the last decade or two, and, you know, consumers are increasingly curious about, what values do the companies I spend money withhold, and all that kind of stuff?


Sheena: Absolutely. I mean, from my pre-Drinkaware days, when I was looking into working with and writing an awful lot of, doing an awful lot of journalism around corporate social responsibility, you know, I think back to some of the research data and reports that I'd have from, say, 10 years ago, that would say things are moving in that direction, whereas now we'll see research that says actually X percent of consumers are willing to pay more for brands they believe and trust, that the essence of values is far more integral.


And the whole movement around ESGs, and, yes, the environmental...yes, the green bit, but also the social bit is really beginning to take off as indeed it should. And I think different audiences, particularly younger generations, they're expecting and demanding this, they're willing to vote with their feet. And that's really important. Brands need to be aware of that.


Will: What's an ESG?


Sheena: Environmental social green credentials. So, the social element is, how does a brand engage with social elements? So, you can't just exist in a society and do nothing for that society. So, it's a bit like asking brands, what are they doing with regard to their social development, sustainable development goals? It's the same kind of principle, but it's something that's coming up and coming up time and time again.


So, in Ireland, there is an organization called Business in the Community. There's the equivalent of that in pretty much every...certainly every Western market, and I know in the States as well. And the Business in the Community, they will look at, how do you measure these? How do you measure your corporate social responsibility? How are you engaging? But it's gone more than just green credentials and being environmentally friendly. It's about being socially friendly as well. And that's a really good progress. But it's still, I think, early days in that space.


Will: It is early days. But like you say, what's kind of emerging for us at our age, like you say, has likely become normal, to some extent, for the people who've newly become consumers, 18, 19, 20-year-olds, who are making purchasing decisions. They're kind of completely at ease, well, that they expect to know what the company stands for. You know, they expect a company's values to, in some way, be communicated to them in a way that it's perhaps odd if that doesn't happen. So, that is interesting. I think that, yeah, the two sectors anyway are sort of perhaps moving towards each other slightly.


Hello, a quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies to toolkits and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing? Head to to sign up for free. Now, back to the podcast. So, you know, in terms of the budgets you manage there, do you think that the money you are spending is coming under greater scrutiny because it's a charity?


Sheena: I think, to a degree, it does, for sure. But having said that, I've worked with a lot of corporate organizations where you might think the budget you're asking for is small change, but the finance, a director, and manager will fight tooth and nail for every euro and cent in that particular budget. So, it kind of varies. But I do think there is a moral, as well as a governance aspect, to the budgets that we have, that absolutely, you have to be accountable, you have to be transparent, you have to be accountable.


And I think in many jurisdictions, then, there is a charity regulator, or there is a governance code. And it's the same as corporate governance, but even more so for a charity. So, you do have to be compliant, and you do have to abide by that. So, it's really, really important that the budgets do come under scrutiny. But again, it comes back to that strategic piece of, if you are looking at your impact, if you are very clear on the impact and the changes and the difference you want to make, and you can measure and account for that, then that allows for that budget conversation to be a better, more informed conversation.


Will: And then when you've spent the money, is it important to have kind of robust data, robust reporting in terms of showing in forensic detail what you did with it?


Sheena: Yeah, absolutely. And to be honest, it should be across all organizations regardless of their commercial or private status, for sure. But it really is, and especially in an organization like Drinkaware data is king for us. Absolutely. If you bear in mind, I said that we have three work streams, one of which is research. And I would always say, our research and our data is one of our most important assets because that's what informs all that we do.


It's also the evidence, and anybody who works in any aspect of the health sector will know everything that comes back down to what's the evidence, it's an evidence-informed or evidence-based campaign. So, evidence is key, and that's where the data sits. What I would caution, though, as I'm sure a lot of people will be aware of, you can use data to retrofit almost anything that's which selection of data do you want to choose to use?


So, we would always have, I suppose, multiple sources, multiple cross-referencing. We're always trying to look at the bigger picture, but data, be it our own or others that we look at, is hugely, hugely important. And it falls back to that impact piece, what are the metrics? What are the KPIs? What are the outputs, the outcomes, and then the impact that you're making? And data is crucial for that.


Will: Yes, no, I understand that. Okay. Well, in this latter third of the hour, I want to get into the kind of nuts and bolts of doing marketing for a not-for-profit. And the first thing I'd love to know about is, tell me about the most successful campaign that you've worked on in a charity setting?


Sheena: Okay. Well, I would say a lot of the campaigns that we do are iterative. If I can say that, put my tongue back in my mouth, they're iterative. So, it's about the collective piece that we do. It's one campaign after the next. So, we tend to evolve campaigns, especially ones that live on digital. So, I think a good example is, certainly, the most recent example that springs to mind is our St. Patrick's Day campaign.


And I know you have a global audience, but I would hazard a guess that no matter where you are, you understand St. Patrick's Day is inextricably linked to being Irish. And also, arguably, there is an alcohol theme that invariably is associated with it. So, in 2019, our main theme for St. Patrick's Day, our main message was about challenging the stereotype, challenging the Irish stereotype on St. Patrick's Day. And what we've done every year since, is we've evolved that, evolved that theme.


So, the most recent one then, just in 2022, was about saying that St. Patrick's Day means much more. So, it means more than just alcohol, or drink, or a pint. It means, it's our culture. And what does that culture look like? So that campaign, very soft campaign, very subtle messaging-based one, started on digital. And we pushed out with a message with a question, what does it mean to you?


And then we gathered all of that user-generated content about, you know, actually, being Irish, doesn't just mean having a pint in the pub. It means social. It means storytelling. It means music. It means craic agus ceol, which is, you know, the stories and the music. It means being welcoming to other kind of markets, other audiences, diversity, especially with all that it's going on at the moment. So it's about diversity and inclusion. It means a huge amount.


And so all of that content then was then repurposed, if you like, into a PR campaign. So, we had a whole mixture of cross multiple channels of this simple piece that we will be using some of that messaging themes for the rest of the year. So, our St. Patrick's Day campaign kind of morphs into our summer campaign. It then morphs into our September back-to-school campaign and our Christmas campaign. So, each campaign we do, there isn't a big blowout.


That's not how we operate. I know other organizations do, and I've done loads of kind of big audacious campaigns. But for me, the one that we do for Drinkaware is it's always iterative. It's building all the time. And that links in with our strategic purpose. And what we're trying to do is, we're trying to convey a message in a different way to a different audience. Here's the same message repurposed slightly differently. But that started, as I say, it starts on digital and expands from there. And that would be quite common. A lot of our campaigns would start out like that.


Will: I mean, what's some of the example collateral that I would see as part of that campaign?


Sheena: Well, it's really it's down to utilizing the user-generated content. So, it's all of the classic kind of pieces that come from that. But we'll take the information and the feedback that we get from those engagements, we'll take the comments people make, and we will include them in our social media assets. So, our social media assets will be a mixture of, it could be data. So, it could, for example, be saying, "One in three people are making changes to their drinking habits, are you in that category? "


And the purpose of that is taking our research data, pushing it out to the public. But there is that wonderful thing about human nature that we like to do what others are doing. So, if we think everybody's boozing, that feels normal to us. If we think that there's, you know, one in three, one in five people changing, go, "Oh, should I be changing them?" Maybe I should be changing.


So, it's very important that self-efficacy piece: if they can do it, I can do it. So, we'll throw that data out there, that could be part of it. We may then find that one or two people engage back with stories. So, we may take a story and evolve that, push that out on social media, but we'll then also utilize some of this information in our PR, in our public affairs campaigns, and in our general pieces that we do.


So, for example, I could do a national broadcast interview where I'm throwing out some of the social media assets that we have, I'm throwing out some of the data. So, we're always trying to milk the assets that we have and the data that we have as much as possible.


Will: Yes. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. But to get that out there, you can't presumably rely on an existing audience, you're trying to reach new people. So, is there quite a lot of paid social media and that kind of display advertising?


Sheena: Yeah, absolutely. We would do a huge amount, in that regard. And we have a very tight relationship with our digital agency. So, we will, you know, like most people would do on a monthly basis, there's, you know, the agreement as to where the various kind of budget is going to be spent and it's across everything. And every month, we'll look at the feedback, we'll look at the measurements, we'll tweak it slightly.


So, the message may change, a channel may change, the paid for a piece may change. We'll look at the CTAs that we have in there. So, the calls to action. So, if we're pushing out a push, for example, directing people to the website, is it generally to the website? Is it to a particular page on the website? And we'll see where that's working best. So, on Facebook, for example, we would do, typically, a lot of advertising pushes towards the calculator.


So, we get an awful lot of uses of the drinks calculator based on that. So, it really varies. And the great thing about, I think, using the agency and the way that we do it, it's a living, breathing document. We have a template, but we tweak it. And it's really important that you interrogate it and tweak it, rather than just assume, so everything's compartmentalized, there it is run with it. We'll examine it, we'll go, which ads worked, which ones didn't, which of the CTAs that worked and which ones didn't, did we get a reaction for or not? So, everything is quite aligned and cross-referenced continuously.


Will: And just to get down to the tactical level, like, what are some channels or tactics, or even just really minute things, calls to action, types of message, types of imagery, I mean, is there any of that that you have on off the top of your head that you know works?


Sheena: We keep it simple. We keep it as simple as we can. Things like, as I say, the data works, "A third of people are changing their drinking habits, are you?" "Two percent of the population knows the guidelines, do you?" So, really, really simple stuff. "Want to find out how much you're drinking, are you above or below the guidelines? Click here, click through to the calculator." "Interested in benefits of cutting out or cutting down? Five benefits of cutting down, four tips to drink less on a night out."


It's all really very simple. And because, again, it goes back to the behavior that you're trying to get people to take up, you have to keep it simple. So, it's not complex, the language is very straightforward. And the tone, in particular, probably the most common thing is that we keep that inclusive tone. So, it can't be wagging the finger. It can't be giving out. We do have to talk about harms, and that's an interesting one. When you're trying to balance out, we want to be positive and bring people along, but we also have to talk about harms. So, it's finding a way to do that as well.


Will: And then thinking about your flock, so the people who actually do actively follow you in, I don't know, an email, newsletter, or social media, they get it. So what are you saying to them?


Sheena: The issue with alcohol is you have to keep saying this, you have to keep reminding people. If you think, again, about that spectrum, that journey people are going on, it's not one piece of information that may trigger an action. It may be, but it may be the 10th time you hear the same message or you hear it in a different way. So, it's always very iterative. And the whole point of our organization is we're looking for change, but not just change for the sake of change.


We're looking for sustainable change. If you want that change to be sustainable and embedded, then you have to work very hard at it. So, it's not just about asking people to change their behavior, it's then reminding them about why they changed their behavior and the benefits they've experienced from that. And also then it's that peer-to-peer piece. So, if I've changed my behavior, will I go and tell 5, 10 people the things that I've learned and change their behavior? It's about having those conversations. So, it's not linear, it's far more collective, iterative, and spread out than that.


Will: And presumably, you have somebody who manages, like a social media manager, somebody who manages your communities. Because I wonder, I look at the way that social media has developed over the last few years. And, I mean, I'm just going into the sandbox here. I don't know, you might not be thinking like this, but certainly, there is a more of a focus on community, because that's kind of what works rather than just messaging at the people who already follow you. And I wonder is there, or do you leverage any opportunities to create a community of people who are just trying to support each other on a journey of more sensible and appropriate alcohol use?


Sheena: Do you know, it's a really interesting question and concept, and community is something that we are very interested in. It will be down to having the resources, to really put the time and effort into creating and nurturing those communities. So, we have them quite organically as opposed to ones that we would manage better. But it is certainly something that we would like to, there's certainly mileage in it. In particular, it's quite timely at this moment in time for us as a charity organization because there is a movement around mindful drinking.


There is this whole sober curiosity trend that is really taking off across the world, actually, but particularly in Ireland and in Western markets. So, you know, with that sober curious, that is a community, that's people sharing their stories and engaging. So, we would certainly try and tap into that as much as we can. We do look at communities, in other regards.


So, we have an alcohol education program, which is delivered by (school) teachers. So, we look at the teaching community, and how can we build up and support and tap into that peer-to-peer piece that they have. So, it's trying to strike the balance between what's organic and what can be managed and supported. But certainly, there's more work for us to do in that area when we have the bandwidth to do it.


Will: Yeah, it's...just curious, because, of course, you know, just the very fact that the social algorithms prefer group content and personal content, and they almost completely hide content from pages. So, organic reach has gone way down into the lower single digits in terms of percentages.


So, yeah. I suppose that's why one of the reasons that has become more of a thing recently, but, no, just curious to know how you kind of, yeah, manage that internally just, in general, and preaching to the converted. Okay. Well, just thinking a nice, neat way to cap this off.

Let's imagine that I'm gonna start doing some marketing for a not-for-profit next week or I've got a new job. Give me five power tips you're gonna arm me with so if I turn up on Monday much better prepared for that role.


Sheena: Okay. Instead of giving you five, I'll give you three.


Will: Okay. I'll take them.


Sheena: Yeah, you're probably thinking, I'm gonna say 10, but 3. Because it's a bit, like, there's something very powerful about the number three, and it is in terms of what people retain. So, I'll give you three, and the first one has to be impact, has to be, has to be, has to be impact. If you're working for a not-for-profit, you are only as good as the impact you're making, or the journey towards the impact that you want to make.


So, the first thing is to really take the time to define and understand the impact that you want to make, to dig into the weeds of it, dissect it, analyze it. Is it an impact somebody else is doing or is it just your organization? So, really to define and understand that impact. If you define it and wrap your arms around it and really own it, then you should also fully understand who your audience is because that ties into the impact. And also the sustainability of it. Because as a charity, you're not just looking for a quick fix. It invariably has that more medium, longer-term impact. So, first is impact. Absolutely.


The second, and we've touched on this already, will be brand. Think of your organization as a brand. So, apply all of the good brand principles and thinking to it. So, what is that personality? What is that values? What do you want people to think and to feel when they engage, see or interact with your brand? So, the branding piece and taking a brand approach to it will be really, really beneficial.


And the third would be, and it's something I suppose I've always been conscious of throughout my career, but it has really come to the fore in my four years at Drinkaware, the importance of it, is to collaborate, to look to collaborations. And they could be formal or informal.


And there's huge benefits in the informal collaborations as well. But as a charity, it is generally that some of the parts, the impact you can make, how that can be leveraged to support your brand and everything else, is about collaboration, cooperation, and communication. So, certainly, look to collaborate with other organizations, other like-minded, and mission-aligned, and values-aligned organizations, but also choose them wisely.


Will: How have you done that, an example of that?


Sheena: Well, we do lots of, kind of small and disparate collaborations. There is a wonderful pub called the Virgin Mary Pub in Ireland in Dublin, which is a non-alcohol pub. So, we've done lots of socializing, mocktails, especially on social media, I actually did a couple of Facebook Lives with them. So, that's just one really, really simple one. We also looked at the likes of, say, World Cancer Day or National Cancer Awareness Month.


We will look to charities in that space and make sure that our messaging ties in with theirs because there is a cancer issue with regards to alcohol consumption, especially excessive alcohol consumption. So, we'll tie in with them. We'll cross-sense-check our materials and say, "We're saying this, does it tie in with what you do?" We'll also push out some of their materials, and do vice versa on the day.

So, it's those kind of simple ones, as well as bigger ones. Like, we have festivals coming up, and Galway Races, and international days and events, and we will seek to collaborate on those, who can we partner, what stand could we share, you know, where would it help us to reach audiences we might not otherwise reach? So, it's lots of small, formal and informal ways that you can do it.


And it's about finding the right organization. But also thinking, naturally, it doesn't have to be an obvious one in that space. So, collaboration, I think is key. And collaboration is something certainly in the health space and charity space, the World Health Organization, all the best practice guidelines will talk to you about collaboration, the sum of the parts, look at the determinants of your organization and the issue you're trying to address. There are multiple people, multiple actors, and it's that collective approach that will create the impact that you're looking for.


Will: And you find people are generally pretty goodwill, you know, they're pretty willing participants in those collaborations because you're a charity, right?


Sheena: Well, I wouldn't assume that just because you're a charity, people would be willing to collaborate. And certainly, you know, dealing with corporates, you would assume, you would like to think, I'm working for a charity, so you're going to be willing to collaborate. But it's still all the usual things about any type of partnership applied. There has to be a good fit.


There has to be a win-win. You know, everybody has to have skin in the game and everybody has to get something from it. So, all of those things still apply. I would make no assumptions as to which collaborations, you know, are easy to get. And just because you're a charity, doesn't necessarily make it easier. But it gives you one angle to go in on.


Will: Just to unpack the impact bit. I mean, look, if I was starting a charity next week, you know, I'm a sort of a, got a creative background, I suppose. So, I'd be thinking, I could easily see how I'd gravitate towards shock tactic kind of creative, you know, like, really kind of to really open people's minds and “red pill them” as the terminology goes into kind of, you know, having these massive epiphanies.

It's a bit like we saw with the drink driving commercials in the UK and Ireland and awful gory scenes of people being, you know, marmalized by their own cars. Is that just a cheap, short-term hit? Do you think... It sounds like you are advocating maybe a bit more of a softer approach?


Sheena: Do you know, it depends. It's not that I'd advocate a softer approach because you can not shy away from harms and risks. And as a charity, you have a moral duty to make sure you encapsulate and communicate those risks and harms that are involved with whatever area that you're in. Shock tactics will wake people up. They'll get people's attention, for sure.


Will they change people's behavior over time in a sustainable way? That's kind of the arguable piece, but they will absolutely grab attention. So, going back to, it depends on what impact you're looking for. If attention is all you're seeking, if you wanna raise awareness about something, then, yes, go with your shock tactics. But if you want to change behavior, if you want people to really think about what they're doing, then that thing that's different.


I think the driving ones, and especially actually speed driving, are particularly interesting cases, in point, because certainly, what I know from both Ireland and the UK, it is the same type of offenders. It is a particular cohort who is continuously offending.


And there's other cohorts that message has resonated and moved on. But certainly, the best practice data and case studies would suggest that fear-mongering doesn't always work. But as a marketing and comms person over the years, absolutely: I know shock tactics will get attention if attention is what you want. So, you've gotta come back to your purpose.


Will: That's a very good point, though, isn't it? I mean, maybe I'm just making it all fit retrospectively. But now that makes me think, well, there was a massive national epiphany that needed to happen with drink driving. And we just needed all to be made aware of the fact that it's a fairly deadly behavior by any measure. But once that awareness became, you know, general, then that ongoing work needed to continue.


And you can't just keep at it. So, yes, For that top of funnel, let's bring it back to marketing terms, that top of funnel kind of just making everybody kind of, get it in people's heads, shock tactics. Yes, getting people to really engage, really change the way they live their lives in a meaningful way that's better for society than perhaps not.


Sheena: It's stories, to be honest. I mean, marketers understand stories, but humans understand and buy in to stories. And it is the story that they might see through an ad or a story they might read in the paper. Or if you think of some of the awful atrocities that have happened in the world around, there will be one or two stories or images that will drive home an awareness to people.


And that's what they retain. And everything else that happens is built up around that story, that image that we have in our minds. So, there is a purpose that can be served, but the really hard work comes after that. Awareness is one thing. The hard work is the change, the motivation, the reward and benefit, the engagement, and the sustainable call to action, and the continuous call to action.


Will: And it feels like the foundation for that is really understanding the audience, what's gonna motivate them, right?


Sheena: Absolutely. And understanding the audience comes back to the point about data, and how you utilize data and really understand it. And from a charity point of view, especially in, say, the health sector, it's about having context and you need context. You can't make assumptions. You can't go on a single set of data that puts you down one path. You really need to step back and look at the overall context and the environment in which you are operating in.


Arguably, I suppose, as a brand, a corporate brand, or a consumer brand, you know, I'd argue, you need to do that anyway, consumer brand doesn't exist in a vacuum. It exists in an environment, and a culture, and a society, and a context. It's the very same for charity, which is where those...there are similar principles to both. And if you work in the corporate sector and make the move to the charity sector and not-for-profit sector, you know, take those learnings, take those really good best practice habits from the corporate and commercial and private sector and apply them in a not-for-profit setting.


Will: Yeah. Yeah. Good advice. Well, I can see the time. Is Drinkaware, you know, to what extent does it answer to drinks companies?


Sheena: Well, we certainly don't answer to drinks companies or arguably to our funders, in that regard. Like so many charities, we are funded by corporate organizations. And for us, it's probably about 98%, 99% of our funding comes from the alcohol industry, the retail industry, so distributors, manufacturers, and retailers.


But we have very clear agreements, which are arms-length agreements. So, we have a completely independent board. And the work that I do and the team do is the same work that we would do, whether it was state or private sector that was funding us. It is very much comes down to what our purpose is and our mission is, and what is needed to achieve that.


Will: Right. Well, look, I've got one last question I have to ask all guests. Just tell our listeners where they can find and connect with you online.


Sheena: Very easy, And all of our social media channels, if you put in Drinkaware Ireland, it will pop up on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and hopefully, coming soon, TikTok.


Will: Well, we will stay tuned, no doubt. Well, thanks so much. I really appreciate your time and insight there. Sheena, thanks so much.


Sheena: No problem. Happy to do it.


Will: Bye. If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to Thanks for listening.

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Sheena Horgan
Sheena Horgan

Sheena is CEO of Drinkaware, an Irish advocacy group focusing on reducing alcohol misuse.

An independent consultant for over 20 years, Sheena has worked with a broad range of not-for-profit, governmental and commercial organisations in both Ireland and the UK, where she founded the PR agency Eulogy! She has appeared regularly in the media, as a journalist and also advocate for campaigns dealing with sport, children’s issues, and internet literacy and safety.

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