Media Coverage: Ink, Air and Cyberspace

Whether your nonprofit is involved in a neighborhood program or is doing work that is part of an international trend, the media is a powerful tool to communicate your mission. And although the delivery channels are changing rapidly from the world of media we knew a few years ago, there are fundamentals of media relations that remain essential.

If working with reporters isn’t your strong suit or if you have neglected this important tool in your communications/outreach toolbox, consider these tips to re-energize your outbound media work:

1. Done well, media coverage doesn’t just accomplish a single goal (attracting attendees to an event, for example). A story about your mission, your programs, and the difference you make may be seen by prospective funders, corporate sponsors and partners, prospective donors and board members, and volunteers. It gives you credibility and reinforces your brand over time.

2.  Inviting a local reporter for a short visit over coffee (20-30 minutes) is a great way to get acquainted. Be ready to talk about trends and ideas, not just ‘the story’ you want to pitch. In fact, checking in with a reporter now and then when you don’t have an ulterior motive can spark conversation that leads to better coverage than you imagine.

3.  Do your homework with a journalist’s work. Research what notable stories a particular reporter has done in the past year–even those unrelated to your industry–and mention them. This isn’t flattery, but rather, a demonstration that you value the work he/she is doing and respect the power of mass messaging. Many journalists have blogs, too: read them, and, when you can, post your own thoughts to join the conversation and position your organization as “in the know.”

4.  Be prepared–whether in writing, in conversation, or at an event–to weave compelling anecdotes with data. Choose two or three facts that you want to embed consistently into your outbound messaging, just as you coach your board members to be better community ambassadors, i.e., “Two-thirds of the teens in our program have experienced violence at home in the past year.”

5.  When you know that a particular reporter is passionate about a certain subject, be sure to send them links to related material you come across with an email introduction, “Wanted to make sure you saw this.” Again, you are demonstrating that you care about their work year-round, not just when you are trying to get your organization promoted.

6.  Make sure you are easy to reach and very responsive. Respect that web writers have deadlines just as broadcast and print journalists do. Perhaps the best way to reinforce your value as a resource is to offer to quickly find data, to help find a subject for an interview, or to create access to a location for photography or video.

7.  Whenever you can, involve your clients in your media messaging. Involve board members or lead volunteers, too. Give your program staff the credit and, as appropriate, let your management team experience the spokesperson role.

8.  Keep news releases short. If you need to include additional fact sheets or even a written Q&A, then develop separate documents.

9.  It’s about relationships. Just as you cultivate a major donor, your connection to a journalist should be long-term. One of the reasons for this is that in the unfortunate event that your organization experiences a scandal or news that puts you in a potentially negative light, you’ve got a least a foundation of familiarity and trust, and lines of communication, to help you navigate the crisis.

10.  Send a thank-you note for coverage after it happens. Note the outcomes, not just the output. When possible, tell the reporter that your event was a sell-out or that you recruited the volunteers you were seeking. Reporters need to know that their work makes a difference, too.

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