The evolution of media relations

If you’ve been doing media work to promote your nonprofit’s mission for a while, you know already that newsrooms are dramatically smaller than they used to be; your contacts there are changing or may be disappearing altogether. But the shifting business model in the journalism world isn’t just about size. Here are a few considerations.

1. Names and faces. As many news organizations are making do with less, reporters don’t necessarily have the singular “beat” or desk that they used to have. Make sure your email list is up to date, and get used to the fact that the changes are constant. Sadly, “editor@” may be needed in addition to an individual’s email.

2. Online coverage. For both print and broadcast operations, there are multiple products now, i.e., not just the print newspaper or the newscast. An outlet’s web site is becoming increasingly important to complement their work. This means there is actually more demand for good content. If you deliver your information in a tone and form they can quickly use, you’ll be able to capitalize on this trend. Today a web-only story may not get the “eyeballs” that the 10 p.m. newscast gets, but the longer-range habits of readers and viewers will likely change that. It depends on who you’re trying to reach with your story, anyway—how many people under 35 do you know who get a newspaper delivered?

3. Video. It used to be that long, in-depth stories and analysis had to exist only in print, and visually appealing stories were a natural for TV. In fact, these distinctions are blurring too. We’re seeing career-seasoned print journalists who are having to learn how to quickly shoot video segments as part of their reporting. Don’t assume that you don’t need to appear on camera as part of a print interview.

4. “Deadlines.” Back in the day, we used to know what time of day or time of the week was best for certain news releases or media events. There are still some truisms here, of course, but for the most part, coverage is ongoing. Twitter is the obvious game-changer. Again, use this to your advantage. For example, if you have a great new photo of your impact in action, send it to a reporter who is active on Twitter with a brief explanation (and Tweet it yourself, of course).

5. Competition. Once upon a time, there were communities with more than one daily newspaper, and working with just one as an exclusive on a story was a time-honored practice. Today the competition for a “scoop” may be between the print and online editors within the same organization. Be aware of these tensions, at the least.

6. Not just a pitch, but a package. The more you can cue up sources and provide contact information of the people to be quoted, secure access to the location to visit and provide driving directions, summarize the latest third-party research, provide a professional and high-resolution infographic, etc., the more likely it is that your story will be covered. You almost need to act like an intern reporter yourself, or what they used to call a “stringer.”

7. Opposing points of view. If you’re thinking like a journalist, you even go so far as to identify spokespeople on both sides of an issue (i.e., even the side your organization may not agree with) because it is probable that the reporter will be tasked by his/her editor to go find this person. You have to trust that the reporter will work hard to present the facts, and confidant that your point of view will prevail amid the debate. (Now a cynic might suggest that you purposely steer a reporter to your least eloquent, less persuasive adversary—a strategy that could backfire if the person is so inarticulate or uninteresting, the story gets dropped.)

 8. Self-publish. Make sure you are using your own material effectively on your own web site, emailed newsletter and/or Twitter feed. That way when a “real” journalist is researching your organization, there is a wealth of information out there.

9. Sharable. Add a copy-and-paste Facebook post or Twitter-ready copy to every news release. Then ask your readers specifically to share in their own social media circles. This is especially effective when you’re sharing news with stakeholders, funders, board members, etc. Depending on the media outlet you’re sending things to, they might post your copy as a bulletin without generating any original content of their own. (They’re more likely to do this if they trust your organization and are assured that your content is useful and credible.)

10. Hashtags and electronic surveys. If you are reaching a social media-active audience that is fans of your impact, ask for their participation in something like #abcnonprofitrocks (inserting your name, of course) and then you will be able to see and repeat their comments and accolades. After a particular milestone event, ask for this with a certain time-sensitivity with a unique hashtag (“please tweet between now and March 25!”) and then use this material in your own PR. Meanwhile, if you have connections to a particular audience or demographic, a quick survey of their position may make great outbound media (“58% of the youth in our program took a pledge to resist distracted driving”).