How to Get Your Nonprofit in the News
If you are pitching to a reporter, yet you have never taken the time to read anything he or she has written, you may want to rethink your priorities. While you don’t have to be a complete news junkie to have a successful media-relations effort, you do need to know and do a few basic things related to the art of working with journalists.
Get and stay in tune with the news. Watch the news. Read the newspaper. If your nonprofit’s focus is national, then read and watch the national news. If it is local…well, you get the idea. Set up Google news alerts on key terms related to your organization’s mission. The only way to get in the news is to be newsworthy, and the only way to know what is newsworthy is to make news consumption a daily habit. With all of the new ways to stay in the know, there really is no excuse.
Read before you pitch. To get a local newspaper to cover an upcoming event or issue related to your nonprofit, one of the best ways to prepare is simply to read the paper you plan to pitch. More specifically, read the reporter you are going to pitch. If you don’t take the time and interest to know what they cover and how they write their stories, you are at a disadvantage. Reach out to reporters even when you aren’t planning to pitch them (for example, a short email saying “great article on the re-opening of the arts center last week, thank you for covering such an important community asset”). If you are responsible for public relations for your nonprofit, part of your daily duties should be reading the newspaper (at the very least, scan the local headlines). This will prevent the embarrassment of pitching a reporter a story idea they just covered last week.
Get your head in the game. Don’t write a press release or pitch a story idea until your organization is ready to divulge the details, and show its expertise in the area. Reporters are going to do their own interviews and their own research, so make sure you are ready for primetime. If your pitch gets a reporter’s interest, they will want to write something right away. Be ready or lose the opportunity.
Think before you speak. If you are pitching a story, make sure you have people available, and prepared, to speak with the media. Interview him or her yourself to make sure they are well spoken and represent the organization well. Detailed talking points should be provided, as well as guidelines on what questions they should and shouldn’t answer. The person you offer up to the media also should be aware of any past negative media coverage as well as any contentious issues related to your nonprofits. Some of the best people to have ready for interviews are not always representatives of your nonprofit. People or organizations that benefit from your work make the best interviewees. As a rule, always get permission before you give away anyone’s contact information, and make sure to check their availability. Reporters work quickly and will move to the next story if the article is going nowhere.
Hand pick who you pitch. Don’t send a press release about an arts event to a government reporter and don’t send a hard news release to an op-ed columnist. Know who is on your media list. As easy as it is to simply prepare a release and send to a distribution list, it is a big no-no. Make sure the media contacts are the right ones geographically as well as topic-wise. There is nothing more annoying to a journalist or editor to continue to get releases from an organization outside its realm of coverage. Better yet, send a press release to a select few media outlets, giving them “first dibs” on your story.
Don’t distribute a press release. This may seem counter intuitive, but the truth is the best feature stories in the newspaper and on the air were most likely not the result of a press release. Pick up the phone and give a hand-selected reporter a chance to be the only one to report on your story. Make sure you have everything in order before you make the call though. This would include a fact sheet ready to email and pre-screened interviewees waiting in the wings.
Write like a journalist. If you do end up writing and distributing a press release, make sure it is written as a journalist would write it. If it sounds like copy in your organization’s brochure, you are missing the mark. Press releases should be written as if they are news articles already published in a news paper. They should be in third person and written in Associated Press style. While not every nonprofit has a full-time staff person handling public relations, the person who is responsible should take the time and effort to know the basics of writing a press release. Keep in mind that because you represent a nonprofit, you often are a breath of fresh air to reporters who are constantly bombarded by press releases from for-profits. You have great stories that they need and want, and a change in your delivery could make all the difference.