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Five essential media tips for NFPs

4 min read

Trying to gain media exposure for your organisation’s work is not always easy.

First you need to find a journalist who sees a potential story in what your organisation is achieving, and that can be a challenge in itself. Or perhaps you need to hire a PR agency to get your story in the right hands, but that is no guarantee of coverage.

However, taking a leaf from the corporate world, an NFP can actually plan a media strategy. This involves using a diary of relevant events and occasions that tie in with your organisation’s work, and using these as a springboard for stories.

Here are five essential media tips for non-profits…

  • Get it on camera

Over the years, vets at Lort Smith in Melbourne have performed surgery on pet goldfish to no great acclaim. Then along came George, a 10-year-old goldfish with a head tumour. His surgery in 2014 was documented in a detailed series of photos and videos by a communications staff member at the veterinary clinic. Suddenly, George became a phenomenon, gaining attention from media outlets around Australia, the UK, the US and the world. On social media, Lort Smith’s post on his surgery received more than 3000 likes, 2000 shares and attracted 570 comments.

Two years later, the same vet performed similar surgery on another goldfish, nine-year-old Bubbles, and the story again attracted significant media coverage, albeit not quite as much as George.

The best news is fresh and exciting, and within reach, particularly if you have great photos and/or video.

Ensure someone on your team is responsible for documenting your organisation’s activities and projects. Not only is this useful for promoting your cause, and as an in-house record, but it may be interesting enough to attract interest on your social-media outlets and possibly be picked up by the media.

  1. Encourage journalists to take up the cause, not just cover the story

Journalists as people have their share of life experiences and beliefs, which means some causes may be close to their hearts.

Ask your personal and professional contacts and any media people you do interact with if they know any journalists who might be likely supporters for your particular organisation.

Journalists’ personal stories, if they choose to tell them, can be powerful. For example, The Age’s social affairs reporter, Miki Perkins, gave a moving personalised account last year of postnatal depression. Also, broadcaster Andrew Denton’s experience of his father’s death prompted him to establish pro-euthanasia group Go Gentle Australia.

However, it’s not just personal experience that can prompt journalists to become advocates. In the aftermath of the murder of sex worker Tracy Connelly in Melbourne, journalist Jane Gilmore took to the streets to ask women what could make them safer. One reply was to have St Kilda Gatehouse drop-in centre open longer hours. That comment led Gilmore and fellow journalist Wendy Squires to create a comedy event to raise funds for longer hours at the centre. This subsequently became an annual event.

When the Pesel & Carr team was working on publicising last year’s event, a call to Squires led to an offer of coverage in her national Fairfax column based on fresh research and information we were able to offer.

  1. Focus, plan and measure

All too often, non-profit organisations are reactive when it comes to media opportunities, or proactive only at the last minute. As a result, they fail to quantify the impact of their communication initiatives.

Strategy, planning and follow-up measurement/assessment pay off in non-profits just as they do in the corporate world.

Use your communications content calendar to diarise the seasonal, evergreen stories – footy finals, cold and flu season, Christmas gift guides and the like – and consider how your organisation might leverage these. Take note of upcoming conferences where your organisation might be able to arrange for a speaker to be included.

However, it is important to focus your attention where it is most valuable, rather than trying to take up every remote chance of publicity in a half-baked manner.

Measurements should focus on outcomes, not outputs. For example, it’s not helpful to say six media releases were created in a certain time period. It is far more useful to measure the quality of coverage. Check whether the messages you crafted for the media releases were reflected in the coverage. Was your spokesperson quoted? Was a picture included? How many Facebook posts were generated?

  1. Don’t waste time trying to promote “news” that isn’t newsworthy

It is easy to be so wrapped up in your own world that you lose perspective on what is and isn’t newsworthy. And remember what is newsworthy to an industry publication or local newspaper is not necessarily newsworthy for a larger mainstream media platform.

For example, if you win an award, great, well done… but if it’s not the Nobel Prize, don’t expect to see it in the mainstream media. So you have a “day” for your cause? In the eyes of mainstream media, so does everybody else. That means yours needs to be pretty special or different. Maybe rope in a celebrity if you want to cut through.

  1. There is valuable publicity beyond “general news” if you look, and write it yourself

With print advertising revenues shrinking, mainstream newsrooms are more stretched than ever with fewer staff working under incredible pressure – producing text for use online and in print, and accompanying images.

Gaining media attention for your news in the time-honoured way is a challenge, but having an opinion piece or letter to the editor published is far more achievable, and has the advantage that your message will not be misreported.

Pesel & Carr organised an event to announce that a group of private supporters was coming to the rescue of the Melbourne Boomers WNBL team, and was appointing retired basketball superstar Lauren Jackson as commercial operations manager. But while the media covered the story, we felt that one of the key messages – that Melburnians needed to support the team for its long-term success – had not shone through as clearly as we would have liked. We suggested that Jackson write a short letter to the editor of The Age making the point. It was published the next day under the headline Support our Boomers.

Other opportunities you can create with your keyboard include guest blogging, or creating guest articles that are not sales orientated for relevant publications (just as I’m doing here). And if a piece by someone else is gaining traction, there is nothing to stop your organisation from contributing to the conversation with a comment? Keep your eyes and ears open.

For the right cause, your organisation could even target slightly less competitive mainstream media opportunities. For example, Lort Smith could have put forward the goldfish veterinarian for a “My Career” piece in the employment pages.

It’s just a matter of being alert to opportunities and thinking beyond the news columns for exposure.

Barbara Pesel, MD, strategic communications consultancy Pesel & Carr, and chair of Lort Smith.

This article originally appeared in Third Sector’s December print edition- more info here. 

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