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Tips on Cost Effective Media Relations

Resource Center - Foundation

(Nov. 17, 2009) Having a media relations program at your organization is essential for growth and success. If you don't have a thriving media program yet, the good news is that you don't have to spend a fortune. You do, however, need to invest your time and some good old fashioned TLC.

Media relations is important to your nonprofit for the following reasons:

  • It is a cost-effective way to establish and enhance your brand
  • It helps your cause and demonstrates impact
  • It positions your organization as a leader
  • It can be a good stewardship tool for fundraising

Furthermore, once you become established as a voice in the media, more requests for comment and coverage will follow, making your job of marketing and communicating to donors and the public that much easier.

But perhaps the best part about media relations is that the press is not that far removed from fundraising. As with donors, you need to cultivate relationships with the media over time. Instead of waiting for coverage, you need to seek it out, have a plan and stick with your key messages. Like in fundraising, good media relations involves establishing connections and nurturing relationships, skills that you can draw on from your fundraising work. Remember, you don't have to be a public relations expert to have a good program for media outreach.

The bottom line? Media relations can be done by organizations of any size with any budget.

Starting from Scratch

The basics of a media relations program involve always having a point of contact for the press, having resources at the ready, and lining up spokespersons for your organization before you even get a call from a reporter.

Once you have those elements in place and begin to reach out to reporters, it is very important not to waste their time. Reporters are looking for news, not meeting announcements, and so when you speak with or follow up with a reporter, make sure to have something important and tangible that you want them to write about.

Furthermore, build relationships with reporters (as you should with donors) even when you do not have a particular story to pitch. Reporters are interested in learning new things and new people in the community they cover. Offer insight into your charity's work, trends in the nonprofit community and other relevant information. Find out what the reporter is interested in covering.

The trick is to contact reporters at the right time in the right manner. Always use email when first making contact. The phone should be used when following up on a press release or if you have an established relationship with a reporter. Try to make contact in the morning, as the afternoon is when reporters are writing stories and typically on deadline.

More Media 101

Remember these tips when working with the media.

  • The media are ALWAYS on deadline--It may be one hour, one day or one month, but they are on deadline and they need you to respond quickly. Be prepared to do that.
  • There is ALWAYS breaking news--The news may be about your organization directly or about something that affects your organization. Be prepared to respond, and keep in mind that more pressing news may come, requiring you to stop and switch gears on a moment's notice.
  • ALWAYS keep your word--Call them back and get them information in a timely manner. Let them know that you are a resource on which they can depend.
  • The media NEVER forget--If you do not return calls or provide requested information, you will likely fall off of the reporter's radar screen. After that, it is tough to get back on that radar.

Think Like a Reporter

When working with the media it is important to consider how a reporter approaches stories. Think about news value, the timeliness and relevancy of your information and make it clear who will be affected, offering a local angle whenever possible. Incorporate visual components, provide background when possible and point them toward other experts on the topic.

Perhaps the most important issue to address when thinking like a reporter is trends and big picture. If there is any one thing that can save a typical, mundane story (say about a recent gift or campaign), it is placing it in the right context with trends and big picture ideas. Put your announcement of a major gift into context with the larger giving environment, or with other gifts you have received in the past. Use AFP's State of Fundraising Survey data to compare your fundraising success with that of others over the past year.

Another example of using the big picture is to share compelling stories of philanthropy happening at your organization and tying that into the celebration of National Philanthropy Day®.

Finally, in addition to these basic tips on working with the media, remember to follow up with reporters, checking in with them to make sure they got what they needed and if they need anything else. This and the other elements listed above do not require a large investment of cash, but rather taking the time to sustain a program over the long term and do a thorough job. At the end of the day, your media relations program hinges on the relationships you build with members of the press--the same as with fundraising.

This story is based on an AFP Web/Audioconference presentation called Getting Your Message to the Media on a Dime, presented on Oct. 28, 2009, by Kathy Compton, AFP's chief marketing officer, and Michael Nilsen, senior director, public affairs at AFP. This presentation and its handouts can be purchased as a compact disc or online download from the AFP Web/Audioconference On-Demand Collection. To view the schedule of 2010 Web/Audioconferences click here.

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