Prize publicity

By Rachel Findlay 18 December 2012

In my third and final blog about the Stone Prize, I want to reflect on the importance of publicity.

For us, one of the most thrilling aspects of running the Prize scheme was the scope it gave us to uncover organisations that we wouldn’t normally come across in our search for grantees. To attract the right applicants, the Prize had to be well publicised from the start.

Advertising the Prize back in early 2012 took a great deal of time—something we underestimated. We thought we knew a lot of people in the sector who would be only too willing to share the news of our scheme with others. Don’t get me wrong, they were, but we soon realised we needed to expand our reach beyond the usual suspects.  We set about creating a list of 50 plus organisations to help, which we split roughly into three groups:

  • ‘Active partners’: about 20 major networks/key players in the water and sanitation (WASH) sector, including WSSCC and the Acumen Fund. We maintained a very hands-on relationship with these organisations, keeping them up to date with the Prize every step of the way. As well as regular dissemination to their networks, they displayed information on their websites and put it across during events and conferences.
  • ‘Secondary partners’: approximately 30 regional networks, INGOs and existing grantees, including ANEW and Plan International. For these contacts, we developed a slightly lower level relationship, sending an initial e-mail to explain the prize and asking for assistance with dissemination.
  • ‘Information partners’: including  These were organisations that agreed to post blogs about the Foundation and the Prize, and more generally spread the news.

Looking back, it would have been interesting to record how much time we spent on publicity. For this is my one word of caution to anyone thinking of setting up a Prize: be aware of the time you have available. If time is yours, then publicity can yield some really positive results. In the weeks following our PR push we had over 2,000 visitors to the Foundation’s website! And in the end, a staggering 179 applications from 39 countries.

That said, it was during a meeting with other Prize schemes at NESTA’s new Centre for Challenge Prizes that we grasped just how crucial publicity is for the actual Prize winner. Not only is the Prize money important—but the publicity the winner gains is a real game-changer too. Some very well known Prize schemes give relatively small financial Prizes; the real value is in the boost to the organisation’s reputation and profile through PR.

We were able to more or less replicate our original list of contacts to help us publicise the Prize winner and their approach. We focused on writing blogs and articles that highlighted the winner, but also the approaches of four other ‘highly commended’ applications, in the hope that these might attract other WASH funders.

Throughout this process, one of the greatest benefits to us has been all that we’ve learnt about innovation in the sector. We found out about a remarkable 179 different approaches to the provision of clean drinking water in the developing world. In March 2013, we are hosting a webinar (with the support of Global Water Challenge) to share some of this learning with both charities and funders in the WASH sector, and hopefully open up some of the fascinating work that’s out there.

The importance of publicity throughout the process cannot be underestimated, and I hope the Prize winner and the highly commended candidates will find that PR has helped to attract further funding. One of our greatest lessons from running the Prize scheme (and something we hadn’t really previously considered) is that publicity is probably the fundamental difference between a Prize scheme and a reactive grants programme.