For years, I immersed myself in nonprofit fundraising, paying relatively little attention to attracting the media to my projects. There never seemed to be enough time to do anything other than organize my campaigns, identify and solicit donors.
But as time moves forward, I have come to appreciate how media can help nonprofit organizations attract public attention to their good work, and lend credibility to their causes. Media coverage is something nonprofits can brag about. But one must consider how best to go about obtaining it.
When I moved to San Antonio in 2010, I became a regular attendee of Social Media Breakfast. There I met people from all walks of life attempting innovative approaches to advertising and to gaining media attention using social media. Everyone involved believed heartily that media attention was integral to the success of their ventures. And I learned a great deal (thank you, Jennifer Navarrete).
Karen Addis, APR wrote for GuideStar, “Breaking Through the Noise: How to Get Media Attention for Your Nonprofit” (July 8, 2013). She states the quandary well:
When it comes to pitching your organization to the media you are at a distinct advantage because everyone, including the media, loves a good story. That’s where nonprofits shine; they are never at a loss for powerful stories. The challenge, however, comes in getting a reporter’s attention for a story that often is not breaking news. In today’s competitive media market with fewer reporters to target that is becoming increasingly difficult.
I met Nancy Schwarz of Getting Attention! via NTEN: Nonprofit Technology Network. In her article, “Three Steps to Better Media Coverage” Nancy notes one can outsource media work, but the best is done “in house.”
Although media responsibilities are frequently outsourced to an agency or consultant(s), that’s not a must. …If possible, it’s best for a staff person to develop relationships with key media contacts. You and your colleagues are the subject experts and must be prepared to work directly with the press to ensure powerful, accurate coverage.
Nancy also provides helpful information you will want to read about crafting press releases.
Kathryn Hall discusses a contemporary approach to gaining media attention for npENGAGE in, “Five Way to Ensure Your Event Makes Headline News” (August 23, 2013).
The traditional press release has been eclipsed in the modern news cycle. Instead, we want to make it as easy as possible for journalists to see the news potential of your piece, and give a head start on writing the story you hope they will write. Include the following key items to make it easier for a reporter or blogger to develop your story into a feature, and increase the likelihood of it getting picked up.
Those items include direct quotes from “in the know” sources, original quotes that make your story read like news, and photos. “Great photos can help ensure your story gets picked up.”
Here in Austin, I have enjoyed attending a few gatherings of PR Over Coffee, a Meetup that focuses on how to gain the attention of media in an increasingly crowded and competitive market. Guest speakers include veterans of the media who disclose how they work (and they are not all alike, mind you), what they prefer in terms of communication, and other helpful tips for gaining attention.
A sometimes troublesome issue for nonprofits is the increasingly visual nature of communications combined with the failure of the email servers of the media outlets (barraged with email), to accept large image files as email attachments. One of the best ideas I have heard comes from Jan Buchholz of the Austin Business Journal: upload your images to a cloud storage platform, and provide a link to the image files in your email inquiry. Yes, reporters respond to visual imagery. Many of them are also confounded about how to develop meaningful stories without strong visual imagery.
Help A Reporter Out is a free online database that pairs media representatives with people who have information to share. I urge nonprofits to sign-up to become “subject matter experts.”
Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is the most popular sourcing service in the English-speaking world, connecting journalists with relevant expert sources to meet journalists’ demanding deadlines and enable brands to tell their stories. HARO distributes more than 50,000 journalist queries from highly respected media outlets each year.
I am on the HARO list and I have shared requests for information with my nonprofit colleagues, when I spot a reporter in need of an expertise the nonprofit can provide. I do hope the nonprofit sector as a whole will become more engaged with the media via the impressive HARO platform.
Kerri Karvetski wrote for Kivi’s Nonprofit Communications Blog a humorous but genuinely insightful way to gain attention for your nonprofit cause through “newsjacking,” “Nonprofits @ the Oscars: How to Photobomb, Newsjack and Steal the Spotlight at the Academy Awards” (February 11, 2016).
Think you can’t connect with the Oscars? Let’s look at the issues explored in this year’s nominees: The Big Short -Financial reform; Bridge of Spies – Right to fair trial; Brooklyn – Immigration; Mad Max: Fury Road – Women’s rights (click to read for more ideas)
Yes, I have been known to “newsjack” for a good cause. You might consider polite “newsjacking” for other highly visible events with a strong online presence.
Before closing, here are a few thoughts about what I call “media stewardship.”
When you secure media coverage, do you thank the reporter by contacting them directly, and by following them on social media? Why not create a separate media coverage page on your website where you can thank the media for its attention to your good work, and list links to their individual stories – whether they be video interviews or write-ups – so your nonprofit website is linked to theirs, and they are recognized for their coverage. To create your media page and manage it over time, consider creating your own Google news alert. You will sometimes discover news stories have appeared, but the staff of your nonprofit may be unaware of them. The regular alerts help you keep track, so you never miss another one!
This post was written in 2016. As I find more recent information that could be helpful, I will continue to share it here. Most recent articles are posted first.
- Shannon Cherry for TechSoup, “Types of Stories That Reporters Love and How You Can Get Their Attention” (April 30, 2020).
- Joanne Fritz for The Balance Small Business, “9 Ways to Get the Local Media Interested in Your Nonprofit Story” (November 30, 2019).