3 min Read
February 24, 2010

Jamie Oliver: for Better or for Worse?

Big Duck

If you don’t already know who Jamie Oliver is, chances are you soon will (for better or worse…)

Jamie‘s a British celebrity chef on a crusade against the obesity epidemic. He wants everyone – from British school kids to ‘ordinary’ British people, and now, all of America – to ditch junk food and learn to cook healthy, happy, sustainable meals. On February 10, he won the 2010 TED prize for “transforming the way we feed our children” and at the end of March he has a new show starting on ABC about bringing his “food revolution” to America.

Being a Brit, I’ve known about Jamie Oliver for about 10 years, and have seen him change from a lone cheeky (read: annoying) TV chef into a global brand and powerful healthy food advocate (it’s widely accepted that his 2004 school lunch campaign was the catalyst for the UK government’s overhaul of school food spending and standards over the past five years).

He now not only has 10 cookbooks in print, a magazine in his own name and an MBE (that’s a shiny badge awarded by the Queen for services to her country), but he also has a foundation that helps disadvantaged young people learn a trade in the restaurant industry, and three ongoing campaigns to get healthy food to more and more people.

“That’s all well and good,” I hear you say, “but what’s it got to do with nonprofit communication?” Three things, that’s what:

1. Consistent messaging across multiple campaigns

Since he started out, Jamie’s message has been the same: good food should be accessible to everyone. All of his cookbooks and his recent social benefit campaigns have that message at their heart, even though they’re addressed to very different audiences. Because of this consistency, Jamie’s been able to make a ‘good food’ name for himself and draw public and government attention to the issues that he cares about. Consistent messaging across all the things you do is essential if you want to be heard and understood.

2. Personality

OK, it’s not only consistent messaging that’s got Jamie Oliver where he is today. He also has plenty of personality (maybe even too much for some people?). His ‘cheeky cockney’ shtick doesn’t appeal to everyone, but that doesn’t matter – it appeals to the people he needs it to appeal to, whether they’re a TV audience looking for entertainment or school children looking for… well, entertainment. Jamie Oliver’s personality sets him apart from all the other celebrity chefs out there and draws people to his cause more than just the facts about the dangers of junk food could. Does your organization know what its personality is, and how it can use that to engage more supporters? If not, that might be something worth thinking about.

3. Keeping communications going

On the one hand, Jamie’s multiple campaigns are great, because he’s reaching more and more people. On the other though, when a new campaign starts, communication about his previous campaigns seems to slow down or stop. Sure, he still has all of his campaigns listed on his website, with background information, facts and figures and actions to be taken, but there’s not much information on the progress each campaign is making or on how urgent further action might be. Having watched the original Jamie’s School Dinners series in 2005, I’m genuinely interested in the impact that the campaign has had, its success stories, and how much work there still is to be done. That information doesn’t seem to be available though, which is frustrating. Just because you’ve started a new program or campaign doesn’t mean you can stop communicating about the old ones – there are still people out there who are interested in them, and who might well be disappointed if you seem to have forgotten about your old programs in favor of your newest and shiniest endeavor.

So there you have it: three lessons in nonprofit communication from a celebrity chef. Who’d have thought it? And if that’s not enough for you, check out Jamie’s basic risotto recipe; it’s unfailingly yummy.