I’m a news guy. I work in small market radio in Iowa, and I’m on the boards of several non-profits. Knowing about both worlds gives me some insight into how to best get your non-profit into the news. I receive approximately 200 pitches a day, and most of them don’t work. You have a great cause, do great work, and I’m here to help. How am I different from other nonprofit blogs? I’m the guy who decides what to use.
Occasionally a great PR effort hits it out of the park. I’m on a local hospice board, and the state organization not only hit one PR effort out of the park–but two–all within a couple of weeks. One great story–the wedding of a hospice patient, hit all the major television stations in Des Moines, and then the Des Moines Register with a feature story. As the Register is a Gannett paper, staff at USA today saw it, and put it in the USA national edition. It was a sticky story–so sticky everyone that saw it wanted to use it.
A couple of weeks later the son of a patient wrote a story about how the hospice staffed worked with his mom on her birthday. The New York Times picked up the story. It too was sticky.
While I haven’t spoken with them yet, I’m sure the PR people on staff worked hard to get these stories told. Yet, what really drove the decision for first the local media and then the national media to use it?
With each case, it was a great story. A sticky story. With a sticky story, some hard work and good relationships, you can hit it out of the park!
I recently interviewed an author about her new book. The book is fiction, and an interesting blend of history, science, and romance. I don’t think I’ve ever read a romance before, but I don’t have anything against them. I certainly enjoyed this one. Regardless, the author told me that she was excited to be doing a reading at a bookstore in a major market.
We were a couple of weeks out, and I asked her what was being done about publicity for her event. She seemed puzzled at the question. I asked her if she had notified any media in the area, or if the bookstore had. She told me she hadn’t contacted anyone, and wasn’t sure what the bookstore was doing.
In other words, she just assumed that the publicity would just fall into place, and that either the media and the book buying public would just magically “know” that the event was happening. Or that the bookstore was handling publicity.
She has spent years working on her book. She wants the world to read it. Yet, she assumed that the publicity would somehow just happen. We spent some time talking about how she should approach publicizing the event, and she was very grateful for my suggestions.
It was clear to me that she was fully capable of doing all of the PR work needed to make her event (and future events) a success, she just didn’t know that it was largely her responsibility to make it happen. She also didn’t know how to go about it.
She reminded me of most of the staff at nonprofits I work with. They do good work, but don’t know how to get the word out. PR just doesn’t happen. You have to take control.
For some reason a director of the foundation of a health care non-profit declined an interview request I made over the weekend. “I’ll pass this time,” he said in an email. He’s a great guy who is very good at what he does, and I’ve interviewed him before. The prior interviews have gone well. One time his boss told me that he thought we did a great job. I’m hoping it isn’t me that’s the problem, and I don’t think it is. I interview people in his organization regularly and I think the non-profit likes working with me in general. Too much exposure? Nah.
Maybe he’s busy? Tired? Has other things on his mind? Perhaps, but he lost an opportunity. Never turn down an opportunity to tell your story to the media. I assure you that it will be awhile before I ask again. And who knows? Maybe I won’t ever ask again.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency just released some new rules and regulations that many hope will help clean up our waterways. Living in Iowa, I’m seeing lots of opposition from farm groups, but no one has yet reached out to me directly, so I haven’t done a news story on it yet. Why not? Well, the big media is doing a fairly good job of reporting on it, and I pretty much know what the farm groups are going to say. They don’t like it.
I received a press release on the subject the other day from the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, along with dozens of other media outlets. I glanced at the email, and I was tempted to contact them, but for my news I really need a local angle.
Would I have used the story if I had someone local representing the Sierra Club’s perspective ready to talk? Absolutely. Would I have if the big city office had given me a follow up phone call? Maybe. It’s hard to say no in person, or over the phone.
Yet, it’s easy to hit the delete button. So, if an emailed press release “falls in the forest” and no one listening, did it make a sound? The answer is no.
So far, I haven’t used it. Has anyone else? A Google news search shows one news source quoted one sentence. While that’s better than nothing, I doubt that’s satisfactory.
Follow up, use local voices. Don’t just send out a press release and think you have done your job.
I’m on the board of a great nonprofit that has lost its fundraiser, volunteer coordinator, and director in the past year. These people made everything fun, and I’m not exactly sure what led to all of the resignations. One of the people retired, and the other two made what appear to be lateral moves into other organizations. I suspect that there were some problems with the relationships with new centralized management upstairs. Regardless, the transition has taken several months, and much of the energy has gone out of the organization.
So, what to do? I can’t do much, except show up and try to bring as much energy as I can. And when the new staff all arrives, and I hope that it is sooner than later, and that the board, the staff, and the community welcomes them with open arms. I’m just a board member, but I know a loss of enthusiasm when I see it. If you have major staff changes–strategize, and do what you can to transition fast and well.
@PRDaily is a great source of information about public relations. I always find something of value in what they have to say. This morning I read an article titled “The Do’s and Don’ts of Social Media Pitching,” by Jim Dougherty. It was well written, with thoughtful citations about how to pitch media, in a variety of social media settings.
To get to the point, they recommend to pitch via email, or on LinkedIn, and have more detailed descriptions about using other social media that I encourage you to read at http://bit.ly/1MoPLQk.
Among the most surprising recommendations to me is that while they suggest making pitches on Linked-in, they discourage it on Facebook.
My experience, however, is that in small markets, hardly anyone is on LinkedIn, and everyone uses Facebook. This advice simply wouldn’t work in any of our five small markets.
Here they bolster their opinion with a quote:
Facebook is for friends, and friends don’t pitch friends. — Zoe Fox, Mashable
First, as a newsperson, I don’t care where the pitch comes from. I just want it before my competition has it. I think most good newspeople are that way. And, if my friend doesn’t pitch me, who do I want him/her to pitch? The competition? I don’t think so. This quote doesn’t make any sense to me. Of course friends pitch friends.
Facebook is an incredible source of information. I consider every post a possible pitch. Every scheduled event is also extremely valuable. By the guest list I can tell who is going, and can judge general community interest. And, I can contact the source right there! I don’t have to find an email or phone number! How easy is that?
Maybe what @PRDaily is telling you works in large markets. I have no reason to doubt it. However, if you follow this advice in small markets, you aren’t helping anyone out.
It’s Friday night, and it’s been a tough week. Tomorrow isn’t going to be much easier, as my wife is volunteer President of the local Chamber of Commerce, and the Chamber, the Library, and other organizations are commemorating a historical event tomorrow. The kids will pitch in too, as they are 13 and 10, and old enough to help–and learn the importance of volunteering. It should be a great event, if the weather holds, and the community shows up.
Right now, as my wife and kids are collecting pies for tomorrow’s pie auction, I’m at home, and I’ve popped a well-deserved beer, and have started going through the mail.
Early this week, I spent a couple of hours talking with the new fundraiser for a nonprofit in town. We chatted over coffee about who good contacts for her might be, a little about the social structure of the community, and a little history of giving here.
I love brainstorming, and helping people, so it really wasn’t much work at all for me. Honestly, it was fun, and I look forward to working with her in the future.
At the bottom of my pile of mail–I’m looking at it now–was a hand-written note thanking me, and telling me how much she appreciated me taking the time to talk with her. Did she need to send me that hand-written note? Of course not. I’ll still help her organization any time I can, with or without the note.
But it sure made me feel appreciated…
It’s still chilly here in Iowa, but officially spring. I’m looking for stories that relate somehow to spring. Plants, nature, farming–anything related to spring. We are so tired of winter, we want to think about spring, and enlighten our listers with your good nonprofit stories.
Are you a FFA group, a garden club, a nonprofit farming organization? How about a nature club? If so, media want your stories. Anything related to spring. Make your pitch.
Ideally, you should consider if anything your nonprofit does relates to the seasons. If so, pitch them every season.
As a member of the press, I’m very busy, and occasionally tired. News happens 24/7/365 in even small markets–not best for one’s sleep schedule. I won’t say I’m overworked, because I love my job. I also love to spend time with my family. Regardless, I do everything that I can to help our community. One thing I do is serve on several nonprofit boards.
I like to think that I was invited to serve on the boards because of the valuable insights I might have for the organizations.
While I hope that I do offer valuable input, I just think that it is a very good idea to have members of the media on your board. They can help with pitches, strategies and tactics, and they are more likely to help you find a spot for their stories in their newscasts or publications.
One board that I am on has both myself and the publisher of the local newspaper helping out. Suffice it to say the organization gets the media coverage it deserves. Some of you in larger markets might think that this is a conflict of interest. In the grand scheme of things, perhaps it is. However, in small markets, with only a limited number of people working to make the community work, at one level or another, everything is either a conflict of interest, or it’s not.
Up to you. But my advice is to let them help. Why not?
In addition to supervising news at five radio stations, I also serve on several nonprofit boards. Probably one two many, as a matter of fact. I say one to many because I probably don’t have enough free time to help that cause as much as I would like.
Regardless, serving on many boards I’ve noticed that only about 50% of the people on boards do any work. While what they do might not be visible to me, I know that we have board members who apparently only come for lunch. Or dinner, or the reception, whatever. I’ve sat on one board for over five years, and several board members have never provided input even at one single meeting. All they do is vote!
Good board members are very valuable. Why waste a seat? Board members should provide information, contacts, connections, and importantly–access to people who are willing to give.
So consider each board member carefully before they are appointed. And if you have one who isn’t working, maybe all they need is to be asked to do something! And if you do give them an assignment, find something they love to do. Don’t miss-match a board member and job. Use us and find our strengths.
Every board member should make a difference for your cause.