Posts Tagged ‘Non-profit communication’

Media Relations 101

February 29, 2008

At a recent CNW Group breakfast meeting, David Akin, Parliamentary correspondent for CTV News National News Ottawa, revealed his four biggest complaints about PR. Jill from the inmedia Public Relations blog was at the meeting and posted a summary of what David said. He made some great points and they motivated me to share some of my own tips about basic media relations practice.

When I began my career in non-profit PR about a decade ago, a trusted resource was a book by John Longhurst, called Making the News: The Essential Guide for Effective Media Relations. The book, updated in 2006, provides great, basic step-by step advice with a focus on non-profits and religious groups wanting to increase their media coverage.

Most small to medium non-profits don’t have a communications/PR professional on staff but with a basic understanding of how media work and what journalists need from you to cover your non-profit, you can increase the chances of getting media attention considerably.

For a complete grasp of good media relations practice, read John’s book. For my top four tips, read on:

1. Understand what makes a story news – Your non-profit might be very excited about a new program or service but unless you know how to “package” that story in a way that makes it newsworthy, it will not get the attention you want. On the other side, many non-profits have great stories to tell but they don’t recognize that they are newsworthy so they miss out on some great media coverage.

Start tracking non-profit news stories in your local paper to see what’s getting coverage. When you’re thinking of making a pitch, be sure that you have the people directly affected by the program or service available to speak to the media about it. This was the subject of another post I wrote if you want to learn why this is important.

2. Learn how to write a good media release – There are lots of resources out there (including John’s book) to help you out. Learn how to make your release compelling, concise and in a format that makes it easy for journalists to quickly understand how great your story is.

There has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere about revamping the format of the traditional media release to reflect the Web 2.0 landscape but for your average non-profit looking for local news coverage, learning good writing technique for the traditional media release is the place to start.

3. Be prepared for media coverage – Don’t send out a media release the day before your designated spokesperson is away at a conference or day long meeting. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve had the experience of sending out a release only to learn that the person who agreed to be the spokesperson on the story was scheduled to be away, or tied up in a big meeting the day the release was going out.

Media releases have a short shelf life. If you’re not prepared to respond to media requests right away, journalists will quickly move on to another story. You also risk frustrating them–making them less likely to take your next pitch seriously.

Along the same lines, if you get an unsolicited media call, make sure someone gets back to the reporter as soon as possible (i.e. at maximum within a couple of hours). Even if you know what the journalist is calling about and you don’t have all the facts and figures prepared, call back to say that you received the call and are working on pulling together the details. Find out what the reporter’s deadline is so that you can try to get him/her what’s needed within that time frame.

Reporters are under huge time pressures and if you don’t respond quickly you risk missing out on a chance to clarify the information. Even worse, you could be labeled in the media story as “unavailable for comment”, which always hints at being evasive.

4. Have background materials ready to go and accessible – This was mentioned by Akin but to expand on it a bit—make it easy for reporters to find out what they need regarding the issue or program you want them to cover. Reporters have to know a little bit about many things. Chances are, they won’t have comprehensive knowledge of your issue.

Have easy, point-form backgrounders that provide the detail that isn’t in the media release. Provide other outside resources (e.g. related websites, articles, fact sheets) that will offer a compatible but different perspective on the story. In short, make it easy for the reporter to get it right.

John’s Tip
I asked John Longhurst for his top tip and he replied, “Send news. If your press release contains information that is relevant to readers, viewers and listeners, reporters will gladly consider using it.” Good advice. Media relations is mutually beneficial. Media need good stories to tell and non-profits have lots of great stories that need telling.

Are you working at a non-profit with questions about media relations? Send me your question in a comment and I’ll endeavour to answer it in an upcoming blog post.

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How to do a blog search

February 26, 2008

As mentioned in a previous post, I think the best way to begin to get more comfortable with social media is to “stick a toe ” into the blogosphere by searching for topics that relate to your cause. Searching for your organization’s name is also a must.

Thanks to the Social Media University, Global (SMUG) blog for a great post entitled, Blogging 102: Blog Search Engines that explains how to use the most popular, free blog searching tools. Check out this post to learn everything you need know to get started. It’s easy—give it a try.

Maybe social networking isn’t right for your organization

February 8, 2008

With so much written about social networking and its myriad benefits, it’s good to see some discussion that examines the question of whether every organization should jump on this bandwagon. Brett Bonfield of IdealWare shared his thoughts on this subject in a piece that appears on the TechSoup site.

Brett lists six signs that social networking isn’t for you and then goes on to discuss the opportunities that social networking can provide.

A couple of points Brett makes stand out for me. He cautions that jumping into social networking takes a considerable investment in time, both in terms of learning the culture and functionality of social networking, as well as to maintain the activity. Slapping up a group page on Facebook without examining your goals and how this platform best works is not going to result in a successful outcome. Organizations need to invest the time to immerse themselves in the social networking space to see what others are doing and how they are doing it.

Somewhat related is the point Brett makes about the culture of social networking—it’s very open, participatory and egalitarian. Using this tool is different than traditional communication vehicles. Brett states,

“People who use social networking tools are not interested in promoting your brand or following your message guidelines. When you get involved with these sites, it’s hard to control the context in which your organization shows up. “

So organizations need to be prepared to give up some control. Those in your social network might not talk about your organization using the terms you’d prefer or they might have opinions that don’t exactly align with your organization’s mission. To me, this is what makes social media so exciting. It provides an opportunity for the free flow exchange of ideas and a more genuine experience between organizations and its supporters. Where some see a threat, others see an opportunity.

While social networking might not be right for every organization, there are significant potential benefits that warrant exploring the medium. The biggest mistake is to discount social media/networking out of hand. It’s worth every organization’s time to evaluate this tool and reading Brett’s article is a good place to start.

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Will your annual report hit the recycling bin before it gets read?

January 31, 2008


Is your non-profit in planning mode for this year’s annual report? Will anyone read it? For many organizations, the annual report represents a significant investment of time and money but so many of them end up being bland and destined for the recycling bin before they even get read.

Over the years, I’ve been responsible for creating many annual reports. The early ones were pretty boring and I’d be surprised if anyone read more than their first couple of pages. I knew I needed to do something different, so I started reading every annual report I could get my hands on. As I became more confident in my role, I began to challenge the agencies I worked for to break out of the standard annual report format.

The standard format comprises a chronological review of all of the organization’s activities for the year divided by department or service area. It also includes the obligatory pie/bar graph illustrating service statistics, the entire audited financial statement and the donor thank you list. Ho hum.

You can turn the annual report into an effective vehicle to communicate with stakeholders while including the above information, but if you don’t treat it like the creative, branding opportunity it is, it’s a waste of money. Here are a few of my ideas for moving beyond the standard annual report. I’d love to hear tips and suggestions from others in the blogosphere who have experience pulling together this often most dreaded annual publication. Please share your ideas by leaving a comment.

Remember your audience
Like any other publication (e.g.newsletter, website), start your planning with identifying the audience you are trying to reach. Is your primary audience government funders, the clients you serve, those who make referrals to your organization, donors? List them in priority and keep them in mind as you consider format and the kind of information that will interest them. Also think of a goal for your audience. What do you want to motivate your stakeholder to do upon reading your report?

Keep your mission in mind
Avoid reducing your report to an endless account of all of the year’s activities. Focus on the ones that significantly advance your mission. You might leave out the fact that you reorganized the offices of your administrative staff, for example. Although this might have made the office more functional—the direct tie to your mission is a bit of a stretch.

Choose a unifying theme
Choosing a theme for your report will help you to focus the content and graphics. Reflect on the past year, the main activities/issues that dominated it, and how they related to your mission. A couple of examples of unifying themes might be:

  • Domestic violence services: “Courage” – how the many ordinary clients the agency serves demonstrate extraordinary courage every day by leaving abusive relationships. You can extend this to the courage of staff and volunteers who walk the journey alongside those clients, the courage of board members to make bold decisions to improve service etc.
  • Child welfare/treatment centre: “Dreams” – Focus on the dreams of the kids you serve, how your agency helps them to acheive those dreams, the dreams of your agency for future/more comprehensive services etc.

Once you’ve chosen a theme, make sure that all of the content reflects that theme in some way.

Focus on people
Make your report more compelling by telling the stories of the people involved with your non-profit (i.e. clients, staff, volunteers, board members). Use these stories to reinforce your theme, illustrate your service stats and the accomplishments of your organization. Readers relate to people stories.

Photos and headlines
Most of your audience will only read portions of your report so use as many photos or illustrations as possible to convey your message. Use headlines to draw your audience into the rest of the text or at least give them the gist of what the body copy says. If they read nothing but your headline or the enlarged quote you pulled from the body copy, will they get your message?

Use one voice and keep it short
Good editing is vital. Your audience is not going to read long, uninterrupted pages of text. Keep paragraphs short and make sure you have lots of white space around your text.

If you have several people contributing to the report, have one editor who will harmonize all those different writing styles. Be ruthless about cutting redundant words, sentences and paragraphs. This, along with an active, clean writing style will increase the likelihood that your report will get read.

Pare down financial report
Does a funding or regulatory body compel you to include your full financial statement in the annual report? If not, consider including just the summary page with a paragraph of explanation for those not accustomed to reading financial documents. Make a note that the full financial statement is available on your website or by request. This will save you space and money. Few people read this section.

Consider non-traditional design formats
I’ve seen great reports designed as a poster or a mini-newspaper. People notice reports that are smaller than usual or have a different shape so they’re less likely to end up on the bottom of a desk’s paper pile.

Allow enough time
If you start your annual report planning a month before you need to publish it, your ability to pay attention to all of the above, and leave time for design and printing, goes out the window. Use the standard formula of counting back from the due date while considering how much time you will need for each stage of planning and production to arrive at the date you should begin the process.

Tell me about the last annual report you actually read. What compelled you to read it? Can you share examples of creative formats or themes?

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