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Making Public Relations Work for You

Resource Center - Foundation

(Nov. 17, 2009) Public relations is always happening. Your organization is always sending a message, whether or not you are making announcements or talking to the media. Therefore, shaping and leading the dialogue happening between you and the community you serve is extremely important.

In an interview this week with eWire, veteran public relations adviser Robyn Perlman of CoreStrategies for Nonprofits Inc. urged fundraisers and nonprofits to sit down and carefully develop the message that your organization wants to convey in 2010. What do you want people to know about you? The first step to being heard is having something to say.

Then, you should identify the various groups that will receive your message, and tailor your message according to their interests. Not only must you convey the value of your organization, you must also translate that message for each audience. To be heard, consider who's listening.

Target Your Audience

"When reaching out to your various constituent groups, you must consider what's in it for them," Perlman explains. "What are their priorities, what are their motives? What are the facts that will be most persuasive for that audience?" A one-size-fits-all approach will not fit well with any one unique group.

Perlman cites the example of local businesses, which (like donors, government officials and members of the press) are important constituents for your nonprofit. A business leader interested in the bottom line wants to know what your organization does to help save or make money. What is the best approach to creating a dialogue with that audience? Perlman suggests, as an example, explaining how your healthcare organization saves money for their company by keeping its workers healthy and productive with adequate healthcare coverage.

"So often the nonprofit sector is all about ‘I' when it should be about ‘community,'" Perlman says. "We always need to be making that link to our role in the community--and building a relationship with these various interests with their varied needs." She explains that doing good work for the community and making the people aware of it can be two different things.

When working with the media, the trick is to invest in your relationships with individual reporters--not unlike the way you invest in donors, Perlman says. You shouldn't expect the media to run an in-depth feature with rich coverage of your nonprofit (or for that matter call you for a quote at all) if you haven't cultivated a relationship ahead of time--no more than you would expect a brand new donor to suddenly make a legacy planned gift to your organization.

"It's about moving your relationships with key reporters and media forward bit by bit," says Perlman, explaining that you begin at the incubation stage, then move into the growth stage, and then at the maturation stage, a reporter calls you regularly for comment and runs in-depth pieces when you have an important message to communicate.

Media Tips

Perlman offered three pieces of advice for successful media cultivation.

Ask for the editorial calendar. Many publications have a plan for the topics they will cover through the year, giving you the opportunity to supply content in a timely manner for an upcoming issue.

Call simply to brainstorm. Editors and reporters are accustomed to getting calls asking them to cover the latest special happening or event by XYZ nonprofit. However, they are likely to be far more receptive to a preliminary conversation wherein the nonprofit simply asks: What kinds of stories are you working on now or for the future? That question can open the door for your organization to supply perspective or content for stories that you didn't even know were in the works.

Consider all outlets. There are many, many communication vehicles in use today, well beyond traditional print and broadcast. Contact trade publications, bloggers and utilize social media. These days, says Perlman, the media are not creating the story, they are chasing it across the different mediums people use to express themselves. Want an absolutely free and easy PR tip? Have your organization post a comment to a major news story online about a relevant topic--you'll have your name next to major public figures and pressing issues with just a click of the mouse.

Robyn Perlman is a principal of CoreStrategies for Nonprofits Inc. She has served as senior in-house public relations director, senior corporate public relations liaison and independent consultant for companies such as Warner Bros. Music Group, Lucent Technologies, Urban Land Institute, Broward Center for the Performing Arts and North Broward Hospital District.

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