Tag Archives: media relations

The 5 Ws & H of Getting Media Coverage

news conferenceWho, What, When, Where, Why  & How?
By Katherine Kerr, APR

Knowing the answers to those classic reporter’s questions about your nonprofit can determine whether or not you get media coverage. Just doing great work doesn’t guarantee you’ll get coverage. You need to present your agency’s story in a way that appeals to the media.

First, Who? Yes, the “who” is your organization AND, more importantly, the people your organization serves or affects. Remember Toby Keith’s song, “It’s All About Me?” The media doesn’t care about you and your organization; they want a story that talks about their viewers and readers. Every pitch you make to the media needs to focus on the folks—in their target market—whose lives are being transformed by your organization.

Be prepared to have the media ask to interview clients and volunteers. They aren’t interested in talking heads prattling on about what your organization does. The media will want to talk to clients and volunteers to get the impact story firsthand. That means you need to identify the best clients and volunteers for your organization and practice talking points with them before you make a pitch. Be ready to arrange the interviews or at least provide the media with contact information for your clients and volunteers.

If you need to protect the identities of clients, explain why and offer solutions, such as changing the names of the clients, or photographing clients from behind while they interact with volunteers or staff. Or, ask the media if they will take photos that obscure the clients’ faces with clothing, hair or props. If the interview is videotaped, ask if the photojournalist will direct the camera on the person’s hands.

What? As in what are you doing that is different and meaningful? Or, what you can prove you do better than anyone else? Now is not the time to trot out your 45-word aspirational mission statement that doesn’t mean anything to anyone except your board and staff.

You need to clearly and concisely say what you do:

  • We help kids in foster care by matching them with trained volunteers.
  • We help low-income elderly people stay in their homes by having volunteers do minor repairs.
  • We give ex-offenders second chances by providing them with job training.
  • We provide ESL classes to refugees fleeing war.
  • We help veterans recover from PTSD by matching them with trained dogs.

When? Is there a specific occasion you’re marking or is this not a timely event? For example, there is a month, a week and a day for almost everything. Think Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Child Abuse Prevention Month, Volunteer Appreciation Week. A resource like Chase’s Calendar of Events can help. If your organization can tie into something like that with a good story, hooray!

If you’re marking the grand opening of a building or addition of a program, that can be a media opportunity if you plan it right. Consider tying into a special anniversary or benchmark achievement.

Or, if you want to get coverage of your program because you want to build awareness with the hope of scoring more money and volunteers, let the media know that your great story is not time sensitive and that you can work with them to arrange a story at their convenience. They will appreciate your flexibility on a slow news day.

Where? Where is work being done? Are there good visuals? The media wants action, people and color. Forget about inviting them to take a photo or video of the ED sitting behind a desk.

Suggest an interesting location where your services are offered that might make a good background. If your volunteers do home repairs, that’s where you should plan an interview. If your provide ESL classes at a library, do a media event there. Dress up a media-opp with colorful banners, signs and t-shirts with your logo and stock or approved client photos. Add balloons, ribbons, toys or educational tools that, props that help tell the story of your agency’s work.

Why? Why do you do what you do? Why is your organization necessary? Do you address unmet needs or enrich your community in some other way? Why is your organization the best solution?

How? How do you do what you do? Do you depend on volunteers? If so, brag on a special volunteer or two (and don’t say you can’t pick just one volunteer). Do you use special equipment or operate on a special site?

Do you fulfill your mission with money raised in the community? If so, talk about impact of donations. For every $25 donated, we can:

  • Train a volunteer
  • Provide school supplies for a child
  • Feed a horse so military veterans can get equine therapy
  • Buy materials for a performing arts camp

Another How is to latch onto a breaking news event. For example, if your organization provides services to victims of domestic violence, during recent incidents involving major sports figures you could have called your local media and talked about how domestic violence is an issue in your community. You could talk about how your agency is addressing the problem in your community.

An example would be a natural disaster and your agency is collecting cleaning supplies to send to the affected area. You could invite reporters to interview volunteers packing supplies into boxes.

If there is a news report of a pit bull attacking someone and your organization is a rescue group for pit bulls, you could invite a reporter to come get acquainted with pit bulls who are loving and playful and are good around people.

Take some time to answer the 5Ws and H. Come up with a story angle that is different from what you’ve seen done before, then contact the assignments desk of your local media outlet to pitch the story. Getting the media to talk about your organization makes good business sense, it is free publicity and it’s like getting a seal of approval.

This Mother’s Day Be a Media Darling

Mother's Day messageBy Katherine Kerr, APR

Most nonprofits want the media to cover them. But, too often, they don’t have the story the media wants.

Your organization can change that by positioning itself as a resource and expert. You do that by hitching your wagon to holidays and breaking media events.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are coming up. The media is interested in stories that are more interesting than brunches and barbeques. If your organization works with children in foster care, you can talk about how your agency makes a difference for children whose parents are absent. Highlight a foster parent who serves as a surrogate parent for children in care. If you work with at-risk families, talk about how your organization keeps families intact.

May is Older American’s Month. If you have volunteers who are seniors, identify one or two who are making a second career out of giving back to their communities by tapping into their experience, skills and knowledge.

Look ahead on the calendar and figure out upcoming holidays, observances and community events that are logical story possibilities. Identify potential stories and prepare clients, volunteers and staff to put your spin on the stories.

The media also love to localize national and international breaking news stories. When problems with our education system make headlines, talk about how your mentoring organization helps kids with academics.

If your organization works on social justice issues, talk about how your agency is working to solve problems in your community that are similar to those receiving national attention. In the wake of police shootings around the country, organizations in various communities are exploring how to avoid “becoming another Ferguson.” Share what you are doing to address racism in your town and build relations with law enforcement.

When there is an international disaster, such as the Nepal earthquake, notify the media if your organization is collecting funds to aid those affected by the disaster. Make sure that what your organization does is appropriate and doesn’t cause problems for aid agencies, such as sending truckloads of toys and used clothing overseas when funds for food, water and shelter are more practical.

Don’t manufacture a program or project just to get coverage. To win the media’s trust, your story pitch needs to be genuine, a real part of what your agency does.

What are you doing to get the word out about your organization?

Crises can be scary if you’re not prepared

halloween-clip-artAs we approach Halloween, stores are decked out in all manner of decorations and costumes designed to scare, terrify and horrify you.

As a professional public relations professional, nothing frightens me more than an organization that does not have a viable crisis communications plan.

And, yet, too few do.

Oh, they might have a giant binder with pages and pages of scenarios and prescriptions for what to do if X happens. But in the midst of a crisis, who has time to locate the binder and find the appropriate scenario? And, who will you call if some or all of the people listed in the precious binder are no longer with the organization?

Every crisis is different and there is no way to predict every possible scenario that could strike an organization. Let’s start with the official definition of a crisis: anything that can harm the operations and/or reputation of an organization.

That leaves a lot of leeway.

A crisis can include natural and human-caused disasters, ranging from floods, tornadoes and hurricanes to embezzlement, client injury or death or someone hacking into your computer system and stealing or destroying data.

Note: not every crisis will become a media story. But by having a plan in place you can better address the impact of a crisis on your employees, clients and other stakeholders.

Rather than wasting time on developing unwieldy documents that are likely to be useless and outdated before you finish printing and distributing them, develop a one-page plan and keep it handy.

When I worked for a faith-based social service agency with multiple facilities and services lines throughout two states, I produced such a document on hot pink paper and sent it to all the managers. Regardless of how they filed, stacked or dumped their paperwork, that hot pink paper was going to stand out when they needed it.

Here are the basics of a viable crisis communications plan:

  • Know who you need to get to the table.
  • Develop the talking points.
  • Designate a spokesperson.

Who is at the table and who should be the spokesperson depends on the crisis. If the CEO of a company has done something wrong, he or she should not be at the table and certainly not talking to the media and stakeholders. If a pastor’s child has been injured during a church mission trip, the pastor should not be expected to carry the burden of going to the meeting and making public statements.

Those at the table should be a small, thoughtful, informed group of your stakeholders. They could include your executive team, the chair or president of your board and a professional with communications expertise.

The crisis communications team’s charge is to gather the following information:

  • what happened,
  • who is involved,
  • who is likely to be involved,
  • who do we need to inform,
  • what are we doing to address the event, and, if possible,
  • what are we doing to prevent this from happening again?

The answers to those questions will determine your talking points. In most situations, attorneys are going to join the fray and will advise your organization to say nothing so you avoid admitting liability.

That is the absolute worst thing to do.

When you hear that an organization has refused to comment or could not be reached for comment, the default assumption is that the organization has done something wrong. People will remember and hold onto that assumption long after the crisis has abated.

It is imperative and possible to say SOMETHING, while not assigning blame. Saying something makes your organization more human and humane. That goes a long way toward building or rebuilding your reputation when you need it the most.

The final important step is to designate a single spokesperson for your organization. The reasons are simple: you make sure an approved, single message goes out. Your organization needs to instruct all internal and external constituents that all questions are to be directed toward the designated spokesperson, who will use the agreed-upon talking points to respond to questions. All stakeholders must get the same information to avoid conflicting messages.

If the crisis rises to the level of a media story and your spokesperson is not media savvy, he or she can contact a public relations/media relations professional for help and practice on delivering the message and responding to questions. (Identify that person when you develop your plan.) Your spokesperson needs to be genuine, not slick, when delivering the message and able to stick to the agreed-upon talking points.

Using the talking points, your spokesperson can say:

“This happened. We deeply regret that it happened. We are doing everything possible to address this situation. Our thoughts and prayers are with those who are affected.”

The spokesperson can read it as a prepared statement or distribute it electronically. If he or she is comfortable taking questions, he or she can respond, but must stick to the talking points. Stick to the facts. Avoid speculation and giving a rambling response. Keep it short and sweet.

Above all, there are two rules to follow when answering questions from the media to avoid damaging (or further damaging) your organization’s reputation:

  1. Don’t lie.
  2. Acknowledge when you don’t know the answer to a question and that you will get the information to the questioner as soon as possible (and do it).

Once your organization has developed the skeleton of its crisis communications plan, it is incumbent upon the organization’s leadership to practice it regularly. Brainstorm with your staff and stakeholders about possible scenarios, even ones that make you uncomfortable. Check the headlines and do “what if this happened to us?” Walk through the steps of who would be called to action, what the talking points are and who will be the spokesperson in each scenario.

During such practices, encourage participants to think way outside the box about what could go wrong and affect your organization. You might even head off a potential crisis.

If you make it a regular practice to discuss and test your crisis communications plan, your organization is more likely to come out of a terrifying situation whole.

Katherine Kerr holds an Accreditation in Public Relations and has worked in public relations and news for more than 30 years. She is the president of Polaris Non-Profit Solutions, LLC, and can be reached at kkerr@polarisnps.com or (512) 705-7696.

For a downloadable version of this post, please click Crisis Communications_Polaris NPS10.14.