March 28, 2011

10 media relations tips for your nonprofit

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Follow these do’s and don’ts to get a better shot at press coverage for your event

Guest post by Cherie Louise Turner

Events benefit from media coverage. And seeing a story about your hard efforts or seeing photos of your fundraising event receiving coverage in social media and traditional media is satisfying and exciting.

Getting good media coverage is a challenge. But It can become much more rewarding, for you and your chosen media outlets, if you develop good relationships with their editors. Having been on the editorial side of the equation for more than a decade, I have dealt with a huge variety of approaches from those seeking my attention. Here are my top five dos and don’ts to creating great relationships with editors.

DO follow these steps

  1. Know the publication
    It’s amazing how few people follow this simple rule. Consider: why would an editor be interested in working with someone who doesn’t take the time to know what her publication is about? It’s both a matter or respect as well as efficiency: if you know the publication, you’ll know what type of story about your event to pitch. A well thought-out and appropriate story idea is far more likely to be of interest to an editor.
  3. Be mindful of an editor’s lack of time
    Editors are often on deadline or juggling multiple projects; they’re busy just like everyone else, and it’s easy to catch them at a stressful time. So be efficient in your dealings. Yes, your event is important; it may be your top priority. But it’s only one of dozens of other things the editor is dealing with. Be mindful of her side of the situation, too.
  5. Know what you’re looking for
    There are three basic ways events get coverage: a calendar listing, post-event coverage/a story about the event itself, a story about someone or something linked to the event. Know what you’re looking for before you call or e-mail a publication. If you’re looking for story coverage, present some compelling storylines to follow. What’s inspiring, unique or newsworthy about your event? Give an editor something to work with, and you’re more likely to get in the publication.
  6. Be politely persistent
    It’s a good idea to make sure your materials reach the right person. Start the process by sending your materials via e-mail. If you haven’t

    What’s inspiring, unique or newsworthy about your event? Give an editor something to work with.

    received some sort of response within a couple of days, a polite follow-up e-mail is completely appropriate. E-mail gets lost or sometimes accidentally passed over; it’s OK to just ensure that yours actually got seen. If that second attempt doesn’t get a response, phone the editor. If you’re still not getting any response, make one last attempt and then move on. Editors are always looking for content; if you know they’ve seen your materials and they’re not responding to you, it’s safe to assume they’re not interested. Put your efforts into finding another outlet that is.

  8. Get materials in on or before deadlines
    This applies both to your original press releases as well as any requested materials. Know when a publication starts planning its issues; know that some magazines plan months in advance. Time your submissions accordingly. If you are working with an editor who’s interested in covering your event, make sure she has everything she requests when she requests it. If you show yourself to be a reliable resource, you’ll be top on that editor’s list of people to work with again.

DON’T make these mistakes

  1. Don’t insist that your event or story idea is perfect for the publication
    That’s the editor’s job; she knows her publication and decides what will work and what won’t. Offer the information, and share what you honestly believe will be of interest to the readers (and not just serve to be self-promotional). If there’s still no interest, move on.
  2. Don’t pull rank
    If you’re unhappy with a decision or something that ran in the publication, talk to the editor you dealt with. Do not go over her head. There’s no faster way to ensure that you’ll never be called on by that media person again than if you undermine her authority or go bothering her boss about something you should be calling on her to handle.
  4. Don’t pitch the same story to everyone
    If you have a great story idea, send it to the publication you think it would fit best. There are multiple ways your event could be talked about; find a unique angle for each publication you approach — focus your efforts. No editor wants to see the same story you pitched her in someone else’s publication. The same can be said of photo submissions; send different images from your event to different publications. Everyone likes exclusives!
  6. Don’t ask to approve a story
    I know it’s tough because this is your big moment to shine and you want to make sure that everything is exactly how you think it should be, but the fact is, the story isn’t yours, it belongs to the publication. Go ahead and offer to check facts or make yourself available to answer questions, but in the end, you have to trust the abilities and talents of the editors and writers working on your piece. They’re the professionals, let them do their job.
  8. Don’t flip out over an error
    It happens — mistakes occasionally slip through. Be sure of this: the editor responsible for the mistake feels worse about it than you. It’s the biggest fear in publishing, getting something wrong. Knowing that, your best approach is to put it past you and move forward. Let the editor know the mistake occurred and what she can do to amend the situation. If it’s online, it can be corrected. If it’s in print, a correction in the next issue can run. Also, if you want error-free copies of the print version — for archiving purposes or to send to sponsors, friends, etc. — some publications may be able to correct the original digital file and create a PDF for you of your story that you can print out.

What about you?  Do you have any stories to share about working with the media in relationship to a charitable event? Let us know in the Comments section below!

Chérie Turner is a freelance writer and editor who writes on a number of subjects, including the visual arts in the Bay Area as well as philanthropic topics. She also serves as editor-in-chief of the SF–based society/philanthropic lifestyle publication, the Nob Hill Gazette. Away from words, she is an avid runner. This article originally appeared at Vivanista.
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