Help a Reporter — Get Free Media Exposure

Lori Halley 20 May 2008 4 comments

When your spokesperson is interviewed on the TV evening news, that's air time worth far more than most nonprofits could hope to afford as an advertising purchase. And when your organization is quoted in the press, that lends an air of credibility that you just can't buy at any price.

Advertising is telling your own story. Publicity is when someone else tells your story for you. And there's no question which type of communication packs the biggest public relations punch.

As PR for Non-Profits lays it out:

"Publicity is one of the most effective — and inexpensive — ways to generate awareness about an organization. Plus editorial coverage is three times more credible than an advertisement and therefore, more effective than other forms of communication" including advertising, direct mail, and so on.

How do you tap into this free media exposure? By helping a reporter to do his or her job — by positioning your organization as an expert source for reporters.

Give, as the saying goes, and you will receive.

It can be a refreshing change for reporters who are more accustomed to organizations trying to "sell" them a story — often more productive than the kind of adversarial relationship that can develop if reporters sense they're being used for advertising purposes!

As well as opening the door to cost-effective media attention, you may see added benefits in volunteer recruitment and retention, by offering some of your most knowledgeable and capable volunteers a chance to be a media spokesperson for the cause. Many volunteers will already have experience in dealing with the media or in public speaking, but do consider a media training workshop if your budget can stretch to it.  At the very least, an in-house training session will help to ensure that a consistent message goes out to the media, too, if several people in your organization may be called on to speak with reporters at different times or on different aspects of an issue.

Be prepared. 

"The media typically work very quickly and once they become interested in a story, they will want information and interviews immediately.... Many nonprofit organizations now feature 'virtual press kits'," PR for Non-Profits notes, "but an effective online press room is more than just a media kit."

  • A press room is the area on your site expressly for the media, although other audiences may be interested in the content. Most of the content here is on the organizational level, rather than specific to a single program, service, location or event.
  • A media kit is a set of essential, easy-to-use and downloadable information focused on your organization, or a program, product, leader, service or event.

Nancy Schwartz suggests 10 Ways to Make Your Online Press Room Perform for Your Nonprofit  — a comprehensive guide to fostering the kind of mutually beneficial relationships that can help budget-strapped nonprofits get their message to the media.

Here's the key: make it easy for reporters to do their jobs by giving them a reliable source of information and useful resources, delivered without hassle and in a timely manner.

When reporters need information, they need it fast!

Backgrounders and fact sheets can help reporters in a hurry to find the information they need, to put breaking news into context, and to get the details right. Don't assume that a reporter or editor is necessarily "up to speed" on the history of your cause or even on the most recent news and developments: give them the basics in bite-sized pieces.

Internet business coach Donna Fontenot concurs:

"The more information you give reporters and bloggers in a simple, easy-to-get format, the better.... you want to make it EASY for a reporter to choose you when they are looking for comments and quotes from an expert in whatever topic they are writing about today. "

And when your online press kit is ready to go, Fontenot advises, be proactive about getting the word out about it.& "Contact editors of relevant newspapers and magazines, or your local news editors, and let them know that you are available in the future as an expert source" in your organization's area of specialization.

"You can also register as an expert source at either ProfNet (a service of PRWeb) or ExpertClick," Fontenot says. "These services connect journalists with expert sources (such as yourself), so they are great places to network, but the services are somewhat expensive."

One free alternative to the paid networking services is HelpAReporter.com. It's a moderated email list conceived by Peter Shankman as a way to connect his many reporter friends with the information they needed, without having to go through his own contacts list each time an information request came in. Journalists looking for sources can post their query through a form at the website. Questions go directly to Shankman, who then posts authentic media inquiries to the email list up to three times a day.

"If you see a query you can answer, go for it! HelpAReporter.com really is that simple." Shankman donates his time to run this free service, but suggests a small donation to an animal hospital or animal rescue group for those who feel the need to give back: "That'll keep the good Karma flowing."

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Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Posted by Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

Published Tuesday, 20 May 2008 at 2:08 PM

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Comments

  • Mitchell Allen said:

    Tuesday, 20 May 2008 at 1:06 PM

    This is food for thought.

    I have a question, though.

    Where does this leave the "About" page?

    Is it the case that a press kit is to a résumé as an About page is to a cover letter?

    Regards,

    Mitch

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Wednesday, 21 May 2008 at 4:18 PM

    @Mitch, I'd say that you've got a good analogy there! A website's About page gives a quick introduction, but the media area/kit will be far more extensive and (ideally) would include "assets" like hi-res images, audio/video clips, factsheets, press releases, contact lists, etc. Fortunately an online press kit can be built up over time, unlike the old mad rush to get it all to the printers on time!

  • Digidave said:

    Wednesday, 21 May 2008 at 8:47 PM

    Excellent article. As a journalist - I've been following HelpAReporter. It's an excellent service.

    It's a bit early - but in the future I hope Spot.Us becomes a resource for nonprofits as well. Although it won't be used for PR - it can be a tool that enables nonprofits to hire reporters to cover issues that they are passionate about. Thus - getting the word out on an important issue that would otherwise go uncovered.

  • Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot]

    Lori Halley [Engaging Apricot] said:

    Thursday, 22 May 2008 at 11:46 AM

    @Digidave, I'm really intrigued by the concept behind Spot.Us:  sounds like the democratisation of journalism! Please do keep in touch as your site moves toward its launch date.

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