Ever feel like there is a secret behind getting your organization’s press releases published in local media outlets? Are you often frustrated when your press releases seem to fall into a black hole? Lots of nonprofits feel this way. Still, it’s frustrating. You have an important heartfelt story to tell and can’t figure out why the media don't seem to notice.
Good news: You are about to learn the secret. There are three parts to getting your nonprofit’s message published — the story, the relationships and self-promotion.
It’s All About the Story
News organizations are hungry for good content. But don’t make the mistake of pitching them your organization. Instead, pitch them a good story — show them rather than tell them. Find a way to localize a national trend by telling a story involving local people. Journalists are looking for compelling stories about people — stories that involve drama or life-changing events. So, put a human face on your story.
Send a good photo with your pitch to help make your case. If you are pitching TV, make sure yours is a visual story. Use Twitter, Facebook, email and the phone. Most journalists prefer email to phone, but not all. If you send your pitch by email, the reporter can forward it to his or her colleagues. When pitching a story about your organization’s work, clearly show how your group is different from other similar causes. Differentiation is the key to gaining greater support.
Pay attention to what’s happening — read your local newspapers, watch the local TV news, listen to local radio and monitor local Facebook pages. Know what’s happening on a national and state level, too. If something big happens in the news, ask yourself if there is an angle for your organization to fit into the story. For example, our local Foodbank is helping readers understand how the big news about the California drought affects people in our community.
Don't assume that if a media organization is a sponsor of your special event that it will cover the event. In fact, many media outlets will not unless you make a special agreement with them. Avoid using your industry jargon. When pitching a story, be persistent and be tenacious. But don't be annoying. And never misinform a journalist. If you do, you run the risk of them never covering your organization again. Ask the journalist to include a link to your website in his or her story.
Relationship Building Wins the Day
Ask not what the reporter can do for you, but what you can do for the reporter. Knowing what reporters need requires you to understand their industry and to continuously build relationships with them. Invest time in getting to know local journalists — not just when you are pitching a story but, even better, when you are not. Invite them to lunch. Invest in long-term relationships. Send them an email congratulating them when they write a good story, whether it’s about your organization or not.
Timing is everything. Be prepared when news happens, not the day after. Media outlets are moving targets, and you must act quickly and be responsive to events and requests. If a journalist contacts you, respond immediately. Give them what they need quickly. They are always on a deadline. If you are consistently responsive and available, they will come to trust you and contact you more often. Look for ways to be a source, not just about your organization and cause, but for stories and causes beyond your own.
Know who you are pitching to. Watch, listen and read the work of the journalists you are pitching. Do your homework. Get to know the interests of individual reporters. Take the time to find out the reporters’ preferred method of communication. If you call them, ask if it’s a good time to talk. Many prefer a concise email to a press release. Put the information in the body of the email in addition to including it as an attachment. Be sure to use the headline as the email subject line. You have less than a second to get a reporter to open your email. Note that local TV stations usually prefer to get information early in the day.
Self-Promotion Can Be Powerful
In addition to news and feature stories, consider writing an op-ed piece. Many local outlets accept op-eds or guest blogs. Do your homework to find out which types of topics the various outlets prefer. For example, Chronicle of Philanthropy is interested in how nonprofits are dealing with the economy, changing trends in fundraising, how organizations are using social media and how nonprofits make data more accessible.
Consider writing for online outlets such as Noozhawk. Also post or share articles and blogs on sites such as LinkedIn or NPRN, Santa Barbara’s nonprofit resource network. Learn about each outlet’s policies regarding opinion pieces — types of topics, length of article, timing and method of submission, etc.
Find out about upcoming expert panels focusing on topics related to your organization’s mission. Contact the convener and offer to participate as a panelist. You can even convene an expert panel yourself and invite other experts in your industry to participate. Be sure to publicize it in the various media outlets.
By finding ways to promote your own organization in ways that are helpful to others, you will soon be known as an industry expert. This will increase your credibility with supporters and attract more donors. You will also find that journalists are more likely to contact you for comments on their stories since you are now perceived as a local expert.
So you don’t need to feel like there is a mystery surrounding how to get your nonprofit’s story published. You just need to follow these three simple steps — pitching the story, building relationships and promoting your organization. It takes time and intention and sometimes it’s not easy, but it will be well worth your effort.