In this webinar, Antionette Kerr, Co-Author of the book Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits, goes over five simple ways to boost coverage for your nonprofit.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Antionette. My watch just struck 2:00 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?

Antionette: That sounds great.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the East Coast. I could say good morning if you were on the West Coast. Thanks so much for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, 5 Simple Ways to Boost your Nonprofit’s Media Relations Strategy. My name is Steven Shattuck and I am the chief engagement officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and we’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon. So if you have to maybe leave early or have to step away from your computer for some reason, no worries, we’ll get that recording into your hands this afternoon. I’ll email that out, I promise. Just be on the lookout for an email from Steven.

And most importantly, if you’re listening along today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A, so don’t be shy. Send in your questions and comments throughout the hour and we’ll try to answer them before we adjourn at 3:00. You can also do the same on Twitter. We’ll both be keeping an eye on the Twitter feed for questions as well, so you can fire away your tweets there.

And one last bit of housekeeping, if you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better than through the computer. So if you can dial in, if you have phone nearby, if that’ll be comfortable for you, try that before you totally give up on us. There is a phone number that you can dial in the email from ReadyTalk that went out just an hour or so today, so check that out if you have any trouble.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want say an extra special welcome to all of you folks. We love doing these webinars. We do it every single Thursday just about. We skip a couple weeks for holidays throughout the year or if I need a break. One of our favorite things we do here at Bloomerang. We’ve been doing it for almost seven years, this webinar series.

But our core business, our core offering, is donor management software. So if you are in the market for that or maybe just kind of want to learn about what Bloomerang has to offer, check out our website later on. You can download a quick video demo and see the software in action if you want to. So check that out later.

Don’t do that now because I’m really excited for this session. This is the one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. The media relations or media is definitely a subject near and dear to my heart. So when Antionette Kerr said that she would join us for the session, I was so happy. Antionette, I’m just so happy to have you here. It’s really awesome. How’s it going? Are you doing okay? Thanks so much.

Antionette: I’m great. Thank you for having me. I really appreciate that, and glad that you’re excited to talk about this. I feel like it’s something I’ve been talking about for a while, so I am always excited when other people want to talk about media relations.

Steven: Absolutely, and you’re the best person to do it. You’re my go-to for this now. I just want to brag on you really quickly. And by the way, Antionette is kind of on a working vacation, maybe a little bit more of a vacation, so this is a really special thing that she’s doing here for us. So thank you.

If you folks don’t know Antionette, you guys check her out. She does a lot. She’s a media correspondent, she’s a consultant, she’s an author, she’s a publisher, she owns her own publishing company. She has been in your shoes, which is the most important thing to me whenever I bring out guests. She spent over 10 years as a non-profit ED, but has recently kind of returned to that world of writing, consulting, publishing. Does a lot of really awesome work through her agency, Bold & Bright Media. Check them out. They put out really, really good books. One of my favorite publishers in the nonprofit sector.

Also a writer, like I said. She is the co-author of a great book. You all got to pick it up, “Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits,” some of which contain some of the information you’re going to hear today. She is definitely an expert on all things media relations. So she’s going to tell you how to get the attention of all those outlets, publications, newscasters in your area. They’re really important for nonprofits, and like she says, not enough people talking about it. But she’s here to talk about it. I’ve already taken up way too much for your time, Antionette, so take it away, my friend. Give us these five tips.

Antionette: Thank you for that lovely introduction. I’m glad you put public radio nerd because I really am a public radio nerd. That’s probably my favorite part of the intro. And so, today, we’ll talk about five simple ways to boost your nonprofit’s media relations strategy.

And as Steven said before in the introduction, I came to this conversation because of working in the nonprofit world and realizing that we have wonderful important stories to tell. For the most part, we’re not thinking about the media and journalism when we do our work every day. Most of us did not get into the work that we do for accolades and we would rather be behind the scenes if we can, but those important stories need to be told and journalists are always looking for good stories. So I started to think about, “How can I help nonprofits understand what journalists are looking for, and how can journalists give some really great feedback on what they’ve encountered when they try to work with nonprofits?”

Steven, hello?

Steven: Yeah, I’m here.

Antionette: Okay, just making sure. I heard a noise and I just wanted to make sure I didn’t get disconnected.

As I have talked to journalists, I realized that, you know, there are some common things that, in particular, nonprofits do that make our jobs a little more challenging. So after having worked as a nonprofit leader through boards and as an executive director and doing communications work, I really thought, you know, it would be great to put this all down on paper, and that’s how I came to interview people for the book that Steven mentioned before, “Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits.”

My co-author is Peter Panepento and I have to give him a shout-out because he had a lot of advice. He worked for years as the “Chronicle of Philanthropy” managing editor and has 20 years of journalism. He also does training and media relations work for nonprofits through Turn Two Communications. So I like to give him credit because we discovered a lot of this information together and a lot of what I will share here today came from what we discovered.

In preparing for the book, we interviewed a combined 50-plus journalists and a combined 50-plus nonprofits. So we kind of brought all of that together to bring this to you.

So here we are, and I’d like to start just kind of with the question “Why media relations matters.” And I feel like I have to remind us as nonprofits why media relations is even important. It is often an afterthought, and if it is for your organization, you are not alone. And we found in our research that, you know, a lot of people, media relations would be added on to your job or role. Most nonprofits, especially small nonprofits, don’t have a dedicated PR staff or public relations person. If you are that person, then wonderful and go you.

And so, what I tried to do is kind of pull together some things that are for the newbies, for people who are just now thinking about a media relations strategy and why they should have one. And then later on, we’ll talk about some things that could be more advanced for those of you out there who might already have a media relations strategy in place.

Throughout this time as we’re talking, if you want to, again, share your questions, we’ll answer some of those that we can get to in the end. I shared with Steven that I am available on Twitter, and I love when people, after sessions, have these really great thought-provoking questions. It helps me know what people are thinking about and what is really interesting and relevant in the nonprofit sector. So please tweet at me and I will get back to you.

So just to start, let’s talk about why media relations matters. It will amplify your earned and paid media strategies, and we’re going to talk about what that means in a minute, but having a media relations plan really is important. And we’re not going to focus on that today because we want to keep it simple, but really it is important to talk about your earned and paid media strategies, not just as an afterthought but as a goal for your organization.

Media relations can also be used to challenge stereotypes or unwanted images about your work and mission. I’ve seen this a lot for people who are working, in particular, in domestic violence communities and there are images out, for example, that men don’t experience domestic violence. And so, there have been some media relations campaigns that I’ve worked on that really helped challenge people’s idea about who you serve and why.

And the next thing is it can help reach potential donors, volunteers, and advocates. And I love having that conversation with EDs and board members and fundraisers because a lot of people don’t necessarily tie their media relations strategy with their fundraising strategies. So that’s another important reason to be thinking about your media relations strategy.

And then we’ve also found that demonstrating thought leadership, having that media relation strategy is really important. So you all want to be the people that are called when something comes up or a topic related to your area comes up. You want to be the spokesperson. It’s a great time for you to use the media to provide education about a topic and to reach people who might not hear your message because maybe they’re not your friend on Facebook yet or maybe they’re not following you on Twitter, but you can reach a larger audience through your media relations strategy.

And then the last one is just what I think we all want to do in the world, which is create change, and the media is good for that. We’ll talk about how the media can be a struggle for that, but definitely, we want to talk about creating change through the media.

So let’s talk a little bit and quickly about how the media has changed. So if you haven’t figured that out, the media world is very different from how it was even in 2000. So in the 2000s, in the media world, we had beefy reporting staffs, entire newsrooms filled with people. Typically, people are dedicated to a beat. You might have even had someone in a newsroom that was a non-profit reporter and they would get to know causes and people and organizations, but that doesn’t exist anymore.

There were large news holes, and when we say news holes, that’s just journalism jargon for just . . . now, we have a lot of news deserts. And basically, there was more coverage out there for local and regional issues. You had captive subscribers and viewers. There was a time when traditional media, print, radio, that was the way people received information, but in the world of social media, and in particular Facebook is becoming one of the best sources for news information according to people.

Now, journalists will tell you they don’t think that’s the best source, but it is what people are using, and so the media is really trying to figure out how to use those social media outlets to communicate messaging. But in the 2000s, there was still a very captive audience.

Trust and accountability. I know you all have probably heard the term fake news, so it’s becoming more and more challenging for people to figure out who they can trust in the media.

And then again, more attention. There was more attention on nonprofits in their work, and now, a lot of the attention on nonprofits . . . you know, the most known nonprofit stories sometimes tend to be more of the negative ones, and the media, the traditional media, had a greater influence.

This is kind of what we’ve learned through our research and through conversations with journalists. And there’s some really great research out there from organizations that do polling in this area.

So the media world today, I’ve talked a little bit about this, we have gutted reporting staffs, smaller news holes, we have news deserts, intense competition for audience and attention. And for those of us working in the journalism world, we’re having to feed a 24-hour beast and in a way that we didn’t have to.

And for me, I don’t want to date myself, but when I went to school to be a journalist, we had photographers. Now, when I do a story, I’m the journalist, the photographer, the producer, and I record the radio audio. So we’re having to do it all, and some of us are really just looking for a way to be fast and effective and accurate at the same time.

So we talked about fake news and reporters have less expertise on topics. They could be covering topics . . . for example, I did a series of stories while I’m on North Carolina’s coast about seismic drilling. I do not pretend to be an expert in climate change or in conservation issues, and so I really had to rely on nonprofits and sources to not only help me tell a 2-minute and 40-second story but to really help understand the issue from a deeper perspective.

And our audiences are a little more fragmented, and we talked about the influence of social media on the news world.

So now that we kind of got through why is it important and why is it different, the approach that Peter and I recommend through the book is a great approach, and that stands for something. We’re not going to go in-depth. Each of these has their own chapter in the book, but to keep it simple, I’ve pulled out simple ways out of each of those approaches. As you can see, it’s five.

So we’re still recommending the goal-oriented, responses, empowered, appealing, and targeted as part of your media relations strategy, but what I hope you’ll take here today is at least something from these strategies, each of these areas, that you can plug and play into your media relations strategy.

So let’s start with being goal-oriented. So a typical media relations strategy, here’s what we found when we talked to nonprofits. It’s very tactical. It’s very reactive, so, “Oh, we’re having a fundraiser. I guess we better get a news release going.” At the end of the day, it’s the end of the process, so it’s, again, “I guess we’re having a fundraiser, so we better get a news release going.”

And spray-and-pray, this is something that Peter and I talk about a lot. It’s not targeted. I know, for example, as a freelancer, I get pitches for things that have nothing to do with anything I would ever write about, like food and wine tourism and things like that. So, you know, people are coming and asking me to cover stories that really aren’t within the realm of the work that I do. I realize that they don’t know me and they probably haven’t read anything that I’ve produced. And so, it’s always helpful when people come and say, “Oh, I’ve noticed that you write stories in this area.”

How many of you out there have like a blanket list of organizations and media outlets that you send things to? And in that, if you think about that strategy, what we hear back is that people are not getting responses from just sending it out to 200 stations or 200 newspapers. And what might be helpful is just . . . and we’ll talk about this in the surgical side. Actually, I’ll wait until we get to surgical.

So the spray-and-pray is just you’re sending out to as many people as possible hoping somebody’s going to be interested and pick up your story.

And the typical media relations approach for nonprofits measures placement. So you consider it a victory if, you know, three or four publications run your story. Yay, that’s awesome. And so, you’re measuring placement, but on the other side of that, let’s talk about what we think a great strategy should do.

So the great strategy is strategic. It is not just thinking about, “Oh, we’ve got something coming up, let’s promote it.” It’s more of planning for your year as you would your editorial calendars for any other social media source or site. So if you have an editorial calendar for your social media, for example, why not create a similar and mirroring calendar for media relations and media relations strategy?

This should be embedded in your planning rather than the end of your process. So if you know you have an event coming up or if you have a speaker or if you’re releasing data, for example . . . which a lot of journalists kind of roll their eyes. I’ve gotten excited about data releases lately, and part of that is because I feel like that is just, you know, golden information for me as a reporter. But a lot of times, the way that nonprofits push it out, journalists can’t see that. They see it as, you know, maybe a boring study or report unless you make it relevant. Then it’s hard for people to really digest what they need to tell the public about your newest however-many-number-page report.

So try to be surgical in your outreach, and this is something that we encourage people to do as far as pick five journalists to maybe follow and make friends with online and Facebook. And that might not always mean pitching, which is when you send a story their way, but it could mean just kind of really building that relationship. And we’ll talk more about that.

And then the other thing in the goal-oriented is instead of measuring placement, how about measuring influence? And I have an example of that later on about how people are finding that five good media relationships can really change how people perceive you in a community versus sending out, you know, hundreds of press releases to people who you really don’t know.

So this is another thing. Engage your editorial calendar, which I talked about. Please put your media relation strategy in your editorial calendar.

And I like to put some vocabulary up front because I use it a lot and I want to make sure we’re all on the same page. When people think about their media relations strategy, most people just think about earned media, just think about how reporters tell your story, and they don’t coordinate their owned or paid media.

So in a goal-oriented strategy, one of the simplest things that you can do is to kind of put all these three things together, and a good example of that . . .

Before I go to the example, let’s just make sure we know earned media is journalists in its purest form. So it’s what most of you probably thought about when you signed up for this webinar. You were thinking, “Okay, we’re going to talk about how to get earned media,” and we are, but it’s not effective if you don’t think about what you own and what you control.

This is your perfect opportunity. This includes your website, this includes Facebook, this even includes your newsletter. People don’t see their newsletters as media sources, but they completely are, even your email outreach. So as someone who has had, and still does in many ways as a board member, one foot in the nonprofit world and one foot in the journalism world, I get newsletters from nonprofits that have turned into stories for me. And a lot of reporters are signed on, especially if they have a beat or an area of interest. Then they will be following newsletters. So that’s your chance. That’s your media.

Also, your social media, obviously, is your media, and annual reports. So anything you’re producing or in control of, that’s really part of your media relations strategy. And if you don’t see it that way, I hope this will be helpful in really kind of looking at it in that sense.

The last thing is paid media. Paid media is probably the least trusted by most audiences, but you’ve got to do it sometimes. So in the paid media, we’re talking about advertising outside of the free independent journalism. You’re controlling the message and that’s why people might look at that differently. But a lot of people are getting really crafty about sponsored content. We’ve started rebranding it in the journalism world, calling it sponsored content.

And you can make ads that don’t feel like ads. You can make ads that are informative and that actually share information. For example, if you’re a nonprofit and you’re working with . . . you know, if you’re a humane society out there, why not give people tips about animal care and self-care and then insert your information? “And here’s what we do.”

And so, that really kind of helps people maybe think about and be open differently. It doesn’t have to necessarily be your traditional ad. It could be providing people information about their day-to-day lives and what they need and then mentioning here is the work that you do. I think the American Heart Association does a lot of this in our community. They give a lot of self-care and self-help tips and then remind people that “here we are and here’s what we do.”

So just an idea for something simple. You don’t have to have a fancy, complicated editorial calendar. You can just start by saying, “Okay, and we’re focusing on our April 30 event and here’s what we do,” not necessarily in these times, but thinking about what you want to do from your owned media, what you control, your paid media.

And then when you start reaching out to your earned media and what you offer . . . so in this sense, we could be talking about, for your owned media, creating web banners, a blog post that kind of ties into your event, having Facebook posts throughout the month of March related to it. And then for paid media, public service announcements are always fun and great. Print ads. And in your paid media strategy, you want to think about Facebook and LinkedIn ads as part of that.

And then coordinating your earned media strategy would be, you know, how do you start your media outreach in January? When do you send out your newsletters in February or your news releases in February? And then in March, you might want to offer . . . which is one thing I think people don’t do enough. If you’re having an event or if you have data, give people exclusive access to speakers. Journalists love that. And we’re always looking for that thing that nobody else has. So an exclusive interview with reporters or an exclusive interview with a speaker is something that is a lot better than just sending the canned press release quote. So that is something to add into your toolkit.

I’ll skip over these. I think this key question to answer is something that you really want to go back to your organization in general, and it’s just something we found helpful when people want to start thinking about a yearlong, or maybe just start with six months because maybe sometimes a year is daunting, but start thinking about a goal-oriented strategy. Start with your mission and, you know, what are the priorities? What do you want to convey to people this year?

One of the big things that I tell people when they contact me about doing a story, for example, for a fundraiser that they’ve done every year, I’m always saying, “What’s different about this fundraiser? What makes this unique and newsworthy?”

The next part of the great strategy is being responsive, and responsive for us in our interviews led to a couple different conversations. So the first thing is what reporters want. They want our stories to be newsworthy. They don’t necessarily need to cover your same golf tournament every year or your same event that you do as outreach every year, but they want to know what the public needs to know about this now.

So in the newsworthy world, what makes it timely? What makes it significant? How can it be localized? So a lot of people out there might be a part of national campaigns and they go, “Okay, hey, this is the time we celebrate.” You know, I’ll go back to intimate partner violence that is celebrated in . . . not celebrated, I’m sorry. Awareness of intimate partner violence is acknowledged in October. And so, that’s happening on a national level. What your media sources on a local level, if you are a local nonprofit, they want to know why does that matter to them?

And in the same way, if you are a national nonprofit, if you can have local contacts . . . so as a freelancer, I’ve received things from large organizations, like the American Heart Association, that will have North Carolina contacts for me and Tennessee contacts for some of my other colleagues.

So we can really take this very important national month of whatever, there’s a month for most of most of the issues and areas that we work in, and give it a localized voice.

Prominence, and that’s always a challenge for me, but people want to hear from top people, top experts. They want to hear from people that are now perceived as thought leaders, which is why I go back to saying making sure you’re included in that list is so important.

And human interest, which I cannot say enough about. When you’re sending out, for example, press releases, one thing that’s often missing . . . we get the ED. Sometimes we might get a quote from a speaker, but it’s very rare that we get a press release with a person who was impacted or as has on-the-ground experience. And I feel like the media is so desperate for that. If you can, put people in contact and have them prepared. I mean, obviously, you don’t want to share people’s phone numbers if they haven’t given you permission to have reporters calling, but it’s always great to not just have your ED in a press release but sharing that human interest.

So the other part of responsive that we, you know, had feedback on is people were really successful in things that we like to hear, maybe like going viral in a good way. When they do things like newsjack . . . and that’s a term that basically is just saying there’s something fresh and relevant in the media that’s related to your cause and you take that opportunity to really talk about it not in self-promotion just for your organization but maybe to educate people during that time.

A perfect example here for an organization that I’ve worked with is the North Carolina Bear Festival and it’s a 30,000, small festival. It’s a nonprofit, and they have a museum in North Carolina. And in our conversation, I was like, “Okay, well, what happens often in your community that people would want to talk about?”

Well, black bears have been an issue in our state as far as being on the highways. And so, the other day, which sadly when a black bear was involved in an automobile accident, the festival was able to talk a little bit about bear safety tips and bear safety driving tips, and to really encourage people, you know, if you see this image, here’s what you do. They were able to get traffic back. Their post went viral, and it was shocking to all of us. We were like, “Wow.” And at least six different news stations did radio and television stories about bear and travel in what they call Bearlina.

So that’s just an example of newsjacking. And it doesn’t have to be a tragedy. It could be something that’s happening like on a national scale and you offer yourselves as local experts in that area and also promote any type of educational opportunities that you have.

So also be available and be newsworthy, which we talked about before. So don’t just pitch stories and don’t just wait to say, “Here’s our fundraiser,” or, “Here’s our event.” Be sure to make sure that you’re looking for opportunities to hop in the conversation.

And we talked about putting focus on relations. So one of the biggest ways people pitch now, you don’t have to just send a press release. Have one ready, but you could contact journalist on Twitter. If they’re using their handle, their company’s handle, it’s okay to reach out to them through a direct message or even to ask them about stories that you think their organization might be interested in, but also share their stuff.

So I can’t tell you how many nonprofits that I’ve written stories about and they don’t share our information on their social media. I hate to admit that journalists do have egos and most of us got into this work because we wanted to be heard and to share stories. But if you write a story about a nonprofit and take so much time, especially if you’re like me, in trying to get it right, then what you need to do to maintain that relationship is share. Find out what they need, check in on stories, provide background.

And remember, this is honestly a two-way relationship, so sometimes it might be you giving them information but not necessarily pitching your story. I know people might think that’s time consuming, but one or two or up to five of those relationships have really seemed to be effective for people.

And then what happens when things go wrong? We also need to think about the fact that in being responsive, some things might happen that we didn’t plan for. You know, always have a crisis plan. Have a crisis media plan, and that could be as simple as if a reporter calls, here’s who’s authorized to talk, or if someone asks, these are our talking points.

And that is important for you to share with staff as well as with board members. I mean, I’ve caught board members off message and I know what that means. I’m not a “gotcha” reporter, but as a reporter, I’ll go to the ED and say, “You know, you might want to let your board members know how to talk about this person leaving, for example.” That’s happened quite a bit, like a new ED comes in to town and the conversation. So just think about that.

And then also ask for corrections. You have every right. Journalists should want to get it right, and newspapers have a responsibility in particular, and other media outlets, to offer corrections when they get it wrong. So I would say ask nicely. Don’t make enemies with people who buy ink by the barrel, but you do have the right, if something is wrong, to ask for a correction.

But I tell people to go one step further and say . . . I mean, once it’s been put out there wrong, people have already heard it and it’s incorrect. I would ask for a follow-up story. And a lot of people will feel bad if it’s a really bad mistake and they’ll say, “Yeah, let’s get another story. It might need to be different. It might need to wait a couple of weeks,” but definitely feel free to ask for your corrections.

Plant a bug for the future. And then if you really feel like the media is not getting it and that happens, then write a letter or an op-ed, or have one of your best supporters and most avid supporters write a letter or an op-ed.

Then moving forward to empowered, I like to talk about empowered because all press isn’t good press, and that’s a mistake that people make. I’ve heard people say, “All press is good press,” and I’m like, “No, it’s not.” So I’m trying to help people think about, in this technique, how you can have media relations and media stories that you’re really proud of, that you want to share.

I don’t know how many of you out there have had this, but as an ED, I have had stories that were written about our organization that I was even quoted in that I’m so embarrassed about how they refer to a particular population that we’re working with. There’s no way we’re going to share that on our Facebook page. In particular, stories that don’t use person-centered language or other things.

So all press isn’t good press. It could have factual errors, misleading headlines. It could misquote your CEO. That’s happened to me before. Everybody likes to talk about salaries and nonprofits, and I think people in the media are really obsessed with that. I can’t explain that. People have asked me why.

And then they focus on the wrong information. So no matter how many times you might tell someone that your rally, for example, is about this one particular issue, the media person might not get it and they might pick it up and just keep focusing on one thing.

So an earned media relationship, this is how you know you’ve got a good earned media relationship. It draws attention, it earns more resources, it changes minds and influences policy, and it engages your supporters to share and spread the word. That’s what you should look for.

And we’ve talked about this, so I’ll skip over.

People ask how to have an empowered strategy, and to me, the most important tips for empowered strategies are to create those relationships where you can talk to reporters and say, “We don’t call people the homeless in our community. You know, that’s not a term that we use. So is there any way when you write the story that you talk about people from a perspective and not label them in that way?”

When you have relationships, you can do that. I would say do it even if you don’t, but only you as an expert know this. The reporter might not . . . they’re trying to use as few words as possible to describe, so sometimes that creates stereotypes, and for most images, we don’t feel like that’s empowered stories for us.

The other thing that I say about empowered is don’t forget citizen journalism has changed the world from . . . if you think about from, you know, Wall Street to Black Lives Matter, these are things that started because people were taking pictures on the scene, on the site, they were reporting. And then the rest of the media fell into place.

So if you’re looking for people . . . and I call them citizen journalists. Journalists have a hard time with that because most have training or some, you know, press card that we’re holding in our back pockets, but they’re really changing the way journalism happens, and journalism sometimes ends up following that. So if you have someone, like a great supporter, a media darling out there who’s on the scene and able to help share these stories, then support their work.

I know a podcast, for example, one of our interviewees works in historic preservation of houses. And she had worked with an entire marketing firm to create a marketing strategy and pay money for that, and then ended up connecting with the podcast just as an aside who’s completely related to historic preservation. They received so much volunteer support and donor support through that podcast, so much more than any investment that they had done with a marketing firm or their PR strategy.

And so, think about those untraditional ways that you can share these empowered stories and people who support your work already. And you’ll be surprised, because if you really go viral, then journalists will start asking for you.

The next area is appealing. Appealing is one of my favorites, because sometimes I feel like, as nonprofits, we put out things because we have to, or we’re all doing so much and we have so little time. And honestly, on the other side of that, as a journalist, it looks like that.

So I tell people if you don’t want to read your press release, I don’t either. I’ve been working with press releases since I was 16 and my first intern job was to get press releases off the fax machine, and I can tell you that nonprofit press releases haven’t changed since 1995. And in some cases, I get press releases that still have . . . I know that they didn’t even change it because they forgot to change the date of the fundraiser. So if you don’t want people to read your press release, then go ahead and send the same thing.

When we talk about appealing, let’s start with press releases. I am a firm believer that the press release is not dead. It is so helpful to receive that electronically and to be able to cut and paste names and dates and locations without misspelling them. It helps me with user error all the time.

But what is unappealing, press releases are the same announcement every year. It just speaks to not even being newsworthy versus a fresh timely hook. So at the top of your press release, you know, this might be the seventh annual event that you’re doing, but tell me why this one’s special. Give us a way to engage with this.

The next thing is that they’re too long. They really do need to be one page if possible. Your website is a wonderful landing spot for you to put all of that great information, including your mission. If you can’t fit that on your press release, it’s okay. You can simply refer people to your website. That’s what a good website is for.

Canned artificial quotes versus real quotes that add content. So in the news world, when we look for quotes in a press release, we’re not looking for numbers or stats or data from your ED, for example, if that’s who you’re quoting. We’re looking for “this is why this is important” or “this is why we really have to take time and stop and consider . . .” You know, you’re adding exclamation to the story, not necessarily putting quotes in that context. So just think about that when you’re pulling quotes, and again, really think about how you can pull that human-interest story in.

Again, to be appealing, one unappealing thing is when people don’t provide key after-hours contact info. So you will be surprised how many events I went to on a Saturday that I couldn’t find or I couldn’t find anybody to talk to at the 5K who was in charge. Everybody working there was a volunteer or said, “It’s not me.” So just really think about that.

I just actually saw a note over to the side that I get a lot. Do people recommend cut and paste or attachment? It’s Karen. Thanks for that question. I tell people put it in the body of email. That’s what I recommend. I was on a panel with six other journalists talking to nonprofits at a conference last year that said the same thing, because sometimes we can’t open people’s attachments and that creates a little layer of us having to email you back.

So websites. Unappealing websites, rendering poorly on mobile devices, which you’ve probably heard about this at every nonprofit conference, but I’ll just say it again, for journalists to make sure that your websites work on all mobile devices not just an iPhone.

Accessible, again, that it showcases your work rather relying completely on stock photography. I know that might be a challenge for some you, especially if you’re working with youth and children, but it really is nice to be able to have that photography. And if you can include high-resolution images with photos and captions in an online newsroom, then journalists will love you forever.

Newsletter language that reads like a grant application. If you go through your newsletter and you just cut and paste the way you describe a program that you would use in a grant application, it is really unappealing.

Jargon-free text is so wonderful because it is hard for us even to understand what some people actually do because there’s so much industry jargon. So really think about that especially in social services organizations. There are acronyms for days that we have no idea what they mean.

If the information is dated on a website, just make sure you’re updating your website and it looks like somebody actually lived there and that somebody’s home.

And then a pressroom with contact information for not just your ED but maybe a program expert or an expert who . . . you know, I’ve seen websites with great, “Here’s the media contact for this topic,” and it’s wonderful because that’s not always the executive director.

Obviously, having no pressroom or no newsroom on your website is completely unappealing and it really makes you have to do extra work. If you have it there and you can say when you are being interviewed, “And we have more about this topic on our website and we include high resolution images,” it’ll keep you from having to email people these things.

So here we are, an example of online pressrooms or newsrooms. I’ve had people ask me, “What is that?” Someone’s asking that now, Shannon. I see your message here. So the online newsroom or pressroom is basically a page on your website that contains distributable information about the corporation or organization. And there are some examples here that I’ve added in the slides that you can see.

There are some sophisticated ones here with video and high-quality video and images. You can start with the basics. Photos, fact sheets, updated staff bios, statements on public events. A statement is different from a press release. So you can do a press release, but you can also do a statement. Someone’s asking about blogs. Yes, absolutely. I would absolutely include a blog in your online newsroom. It just makes it easier.

Some people put these behind a locked section, and unless you have embargoed content . . . when I say embargoed content, some people will release a report and they give the media access to it before they let the public see it, just so when they release it and announce it, it’s fresh and the media is ready to run the stories, because we all want to be feeding the 24-hour news beast. Other than that, don’t lock your online newsroom. It just is a frustrating thing for a journalist to have to go through another layer to get to it.

So newsletters, you want to include that on your website as well. And we receive newsletters electronically, but I’ll just tell you that there are some unappealing versus appealing. What’s unappealing a lot about newsletters is if it lacks purpose. If your newsletter is something you have to do every month and it reads like you had to do it every month, that can come across as being like you don’t have a very clear call to action or you don’t have any real interesting stories to tell.

Also, when you’re doing online newsletters, for example, why not go ahead and include hyperlinks in your emails? A lot of people will talk about something or they’ll talk about a reporter or a study and then there’s no hyperlink to it. So again, it just adds another layer for journalists to not be able to get to it fast enough.

The last area before we really get to taking some questions is targeted, and that goes back to what we talked about before. Really looking at your goals and who you want to reach, and remembering that . . . for example, if you’re trying to promote a program but you just think, “I’m going to blanket it by sending it out to our daily publication,” well, is the population that you’re trying to reach subscribing to this daily publication?

So this is something that people really need to think about as far as, you know, what are you investing your time and energy when it comes to your media relations strategy? Maybe you can research reporters that actually you could build that relationship and have a more quality pitch when you send that to them.

So again, when you’re talking about your pitches, start with your highest priority outlets. Know what they cover. Try to find an exclusive angle. So if you know that it’s a . . . I don’t know if anybody’s needing to reach out to business journals out there, but if you are reaching out to a business journal or a living and lifestyles magazine, make sure that the story is relevant for the type of things that they cover or would cover.

And also, be flexible with journalists and be a reliable source. I did see someone had a question out there about previewing stories. Just so you know, that is a no-no in the journalism world. A journalist can get fired from certain publications for letting someone read the story.

I have something I like to do called fact-checking, and I will call the source if I have time. I don’t always have time because of deadlines, but I’ll call the source and just kind of go over some areas where I think might be a question and I like to read people their quotes back. I would encourage people to ask the reporter, “Could you read that back to me?”

And one of the challenges that I found is that people don’t like their quotes because we don’t speak the way that we write, and it doesn’t always look great when you’re talking and someone’s recording it and then it goes over to paper. So if you ask them to read the quote back, then you can hear where you might say something in a way. You could clean it up in a better way.

But I personally tell people don’t ask reporters to read their stories because it’s always insulting to me. It blurs the line between independent journalism and advertorials. You get to read ads because you pay for those. So yes, you can see an ad before it goes out, but you don’t get to change a story. So that’s kind of what I say to people for that one.

And before I get into all of these other questions, I would just ask people to really think about the slide before, about putting everything together and taking these five ways . . . I mean, I could just give you five random things to do, but I thought about, you know, really kind of creating this picture, like we’ve tried to do with modern media relations, and just giving you the tip of what we would say is a great way to start your media relation strategy, which shouldn’t cost you a lot of time or money.

So with that being said, I will ask Steven if you can take us away and lead us through questions. I’ve tried to answer a couple as we went through, but I know we have some good ones. So, Steven, are you there?

Steven: I’m here. That was awesome. So first, thank you. Thank you so much for sharing all that knowledge. So many good tidbits and takeaways. I hope all of you listening in enjoyed as much as I did.

And it looks like we do have a lot of questions. So if you haven’t already asked a question, now is the time. We’ve probably got maybe seven or eight minutes before we have to wrap things up, so now is the time.

I’m just going to kind of roll through some interesting ones in here, Antionette. Here’s one from Liza. Liza is wondering, “How do you overcome the obstacle of gaining media attention here in the States when they’re doing work abroad?” So they’re actually doing work in Africa, but they want people here in the States to care about it. So do you have any tips for her or anyone else that maybe does international work, Antionette?

Antionette: I would say going back to publications and reporters, finding people who have that as a personal interest, for example. Outreach on Facebook or Twitter is nice because once you can reach someone from a personal perspective, there are times where they will make that angle work for the publication. They can pitch it. Reporters can pitch to their publications for you.

And then also maybe finding an organization that has . . . for example, if you’re working in one particular community in Africa and you know that there’s a strong representative of that population in a community that could be impacted by reading it in that publication or maybe even, you know, move to do something because of that, you could go to a publication and say, “Hey we noticed that you have a large community here from the Maasai tribe and that might be a good opportunity and connection to tell the story.” So I just try to find publications that you could make a connection with, if that makes sense.

Steven: It makes sense. Here’s one from Michelle. So let’s say you do everything that you’ve recommended here, Antionette, and you get that coverage. Michelle’s wondering what’s the best way to leverage the coverage that you get beyond just maybe, you know, sharing that news story on maybe social media or in your newsletter? Or is that good? Is that enough? What do you think about leveraging the coverage you get?

Antionette: I think that social media has changed the journalism game so much. Before, when we had advertising, we didn’t know in the journalism world . . . advertisers couldn’t tell you who was looking at the material. They couldn’t tell you if someone actually read the ad or saw the ad. And, you know, unfortunately, with the scary nature of social media but good, in particular Facebook, you can have all of that data and analytics.

The media is a business and they’re competing. And so, if you get a lot of coverage on Facebook, that not only benefits you, but it benefits the source. And it makes you someone that they would want to work with in the future because, again, the media is selling stories pretty much. So as much as you can participate in that, it benefits both of you.

So I think that from what I’ve seen as news outlets go, they’re looking for people who are viral. I’ll just tell you as a freelancer, I have media outlets that have asked me how many followers I have on social media before they even see my writing sample. That scares me, Steven. It really does, but it just goes to show how focused they are on competing in this digital and viral world.

Steven: That’s interesting. Here is one from . . . it looks like Cali. Cali, I hope I’m pronouncing that right. If you have an audience that maybe lives in a rural area and doesn’t have a lot of access to internet or cell phone service, what kind of advice would you have for maybe reaching that constituency? Does that come down to . . . it seems like it’s an owned media or a paid media conversation at that point, right? Which I think speaks to your really good advice of having a really even distribution between earned, owned, and paid. I mean, is that the case for her situation?

Antionette: Yeah. I don’t know if the community has that one paper, and it might not be a daily, maybe it’s a weekly, but that one paper. I feel like, at least in North Carolina, a lot of rural communities are still dependent on that daily/weekly because people aren’t telling their stories otherwise. And those papers are surviving in a lot of cases because of that hyper-local, hyper-focused way of reaching people.

And then the other thing is, again, going back to Facebook, which blurs the line into a social media conversation, but Facebook videos and things like that can be very helpful. I found in even in rural communities, people are still getting online on their cell phones a lot. And I’ve seen some research and data about cell phone access being the great equalizer now and becoming the great equalizer in reaching people across income levels, because people might not have money for a newspaper or a subscription, but a lot of people are still able to access content on their cell phones.

Steven: That makes sense. I’ve got time for a couple more, so if you’ve been shy, now’s the time.

Here’s one from Alexandra. Alexandra’s got a specialist specific story in mind she thinks has news value. It has to do with a member of their organization going on a trip overseas, but it’s already happened, I’m assuming, and the question is, “How do you make something seem more timely if it’s already happened and has happened in the past?” Is there, in general, Antionette, maybe like a time window that journalists stop caring about things, like if it was last month or last week? What’s been your experience with getting a story to people very soon after it happens or while it’s happening?

Antionette: Yeah, I think depending on the editor . . . most editors say to me the first question when pitching a story should be, “Why do we care about this now?” So when you’re thinking about newsworthy and relevance, why should people care about this now? You know, the fact that they went a couple weeks ago or they’ve been back for a month, maybe they’re doing a session on it and that’s why people care about it now.

I know a lot of times when people go on trips, they’ll come back and they’ll do a video presentation or slideshow. Them doing that video presentation or slideshow makes it newsworthy if they’re doing that now, but otherwise, “Why do people care about it now?” would be the question.

And ideally, for something like that, you either want to do a preview story, which means to do a story about it before she goes or the person goes, and then doing a story about it when the person returns right after that. I mean, it would need to be probably within a week for that alone to make it newsworthy.

Steven: That’s cool. Along similar lines, Michelle is wondering how much leeway you need to give a reporter about an upcoming event. So maybe they’re having, you know, a gala or some sort of interesting thing is happening. Should they let them know a month ahead of time, a week, the day it happens? Is there a strong rule of thumb there for a future event?

Antionette: Yeah, I think that it depends on the publication, but not too far. Within the month, I would say, depending on the publication so that they could get it on the calendar and they can, you know, plan for it and what we call “budget” for it. And then you definitely don’t want to be like a lot of our nonprofit friends who this is an afterthought and the week of the event . . . I mean, if you’re contacting the reporter the week of your event, it should be to remind them about something that you’ve already communicated. So that’s too close to the event.

But, you know, I think that within the month of the event based on the publication would be great. And you don’t want to, again, do it too far in advance because I think people tend to get overwhelmed with that and forget. But if you’re contacted, I would do a follow-up . . . the week before would be a good time to follow up on what you’ve said to see, “Hey, are you coming? Are you doing a preview story? What can we do to help you get the story going? Do you have the sources you need?” That would be helpful.

Steven: Cool. That’s makes a lot of sense. Awesome. Well, we’re about two minutes before 3:00. I know there are a lot of questions we haven’t gotten to, but Antionette, would you be willing to maybe take questions by Twitter or email? What’s the best way to get in touch with you after this session ends?

Antionette: Yes. I can do any of those, email, Twitter. You can also direct message me on Twitter if you don’t want to put it out there, but I find that a lot of people have questions that other people are thinking about. I get questions about press releases a lot and I think other people are trying to navigate this world of “How do we get our information picked up from the press release?”

And again, I don’t recommend that being the only way and the only strategy to reach out to reporters. I think that social media has created this wonderful platform to do that, at least to start the informal conversation and then follow up with the press release.

Steven: I love it. Wow. This was really fun. I loved hearing all your advice. I was so excited about this presentation. It did not disappoint at least on my end. So thank you so much, Antionette, for doing this. I know you’re super busy. You’re kind of on vacation right now, so I really appreciate you hanging out with us for an hour or so today.

Antionette: I am happy to be here and I look forward to everybody’s questions and to being in contact in the future. Thank you.

Steven: Cool. I just sent Antionette’s Twitter handle out there. If you’re not a Twitter person, you can still get to her website from that. So hopefully, you will keep the conversation going.

And speaking of conversations, we’ve got another webinar coming up, like I said, every single Thursday. I love it. One of our favorites, Vanessa Chase, is going to be joining us, one of my go-tos for storytelling. Good dovetail off from this session. I didn’t necessarily plan it that way, but I’m so happy it worked out that way. Donor Stewardship That Tells a Story, next week, same time, same place. Hopefully, we’ll see you again.

We have a lot of webinars coming up on our webinar page. Just visit our webinar page. You can see the link there. Lots of really cool sessions coming up. We’re scheduled all the way out into fall. I can hardly believe it. But hopefully, you’ll see a topic there that strikes your fancy and we’ll see you again on another Thursday session.

So we will call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the slides and the recording. I’ll get that out this afternoon, I promise. And hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday. Have a safe weekend, and we will talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.