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Media Relations/Publicity as a Marketing Tool

While many small and non-profit organizations have a great need to market their organizations in order to educate potential clientele, attract donors and share success stories, most do not have large marketing budgets. Publicity can be a cost-effective tool that can increase awareness of your agency, build credibility and reach varied audiences. Below are some tips on creating an effective media relations program for your organization:

  • Inventory your organization for potential news stories - do you have upcoming events or announcements?  Are there specific success stories you want to share? Have you conducted studies or needs assessments in your particular area of expertise that may be of interest to your community?  
  • Determine your key "news hook" or the most important/interesting aspect of your announcement.  Consider your news from the reporter's point of view (and the audience the outlet reaches) to make it as relevant as possible.
  • Create the proper press materials: (See attached templates):  For events, a media advisory is best in order to highlight the main details that a reporter needs to attend and cover the event including the basics of who, what, when, where and why.  For announcements or broader stories, use a press release in order to be able to highlight key points of the story, add quotes from key people and provide more detail.
  • Add appropriate contact information including phone numbers and email addresses on your press materials so that reporters can reach you for more information or to set up an interview.
  • Target appropriate media outlets, including daily or weekly newspapers, television news, radio news shows or news blogs/websites.
  • Research appropriate reporters, editors, or producers at those news outlets who are likely to cover your news. For print reporters, this may include the reporter who covers non-profit organizations, the City Desk or business reporters if appropriate. Some media outlets will include details about reporters and their particular "beats" and contact information on their website or you can call the newsroom directly and ask who might cover a particular topic. Local broadcast outlets usually request that you send information directly to the newsroom.
  • Email your press materials to appropriate reporters/media outlets. Feel free to send it to more than one reporter to ensure that your news gets noticed, but make sure the reporters targeted are likely to cover your news.
  • Follow up by phone a short time later or in advance of the event to ensure receipt and encourage coverage. Reporters get hundreds of emails a day so this will help you stand out and serve to begin developing a relationship with the reporter/news outlet. Use the opportunity to "pitch" your story and to inquire as to whether the news outlet plans to cover the announcement or event.
  • There are no guarantees! Just because you send a press release does not mean the media outlet will cover it.  A reporter may tell you that they intend to cover the news, but keep in mind that there reporters frequently have to change their plans depending on other "breaking news" that may arise.
  • Be accessible and accommodating to reporters: Offer to set up interviews or provide additional information to a reporter if he or she expresses interest in the story and be available at events to guide reporters to the appropriate people/potential photo opportunities.
  • Monitor the media outlet to see if a story appears and don't hesitate to send a thank you to the reporter for the story.
  • Share the media coverage link to your news item on your website, social media sites and in your e-mail newsletters to gain greater exposure for the news coverage.

Media Relations Do's & Don'ts

DO:

  • Communicate regularly with the media about your news including events, programs, successes, and other agency announcements by contacting reporters via press materials, phone calls and emails.  It may take some time for reporters to get to know you and your agency so consistent communication can be helpful!
  • Know the reporters "beat." Learn which reporters are likely to cover your news by checking the media website and by watching/reading the media outlet to get a better idea of the specific "beats" of reporters.  Don't bother reporters with your news if they do not cover anything related to your news.
  • Ask about deadlines and respond quickly. Understand that you may only have a very short time frame to provide information or you may lose the opportunity to be part of the story.
  • Be a resource. Reporters are always looking for new stories and people who can share information so don't hesitate to reach out to a reporter with information that can be helpful to them even if it is not directly about your agency.  Once a reporter sees you as a resource or expert, he or she may contact you for comment on other news stories.
  • Correct inaccurate information. If there are factual errors in a news story, contact the reporter to first thank them for the coverage, and then point out the error and supply the correct information. In the digital age, some media outlets will update online versions and/or may run a correction in a subsequent print edition. Please note however, that most reporters will only change clear-cut inaccuracies - most will not make changes on subjective information (the tone or slant of a story) or to change unflattering information or quotes or information gained from other sources. Since you may need to work with the reporter in the future, you will need to weigh the possibility of a revision against potentially alienating a key reporter.

DON'T:

  • Expect your news to be covered no matter what. Reporters are inundated with information so it may take several emails or calls to make sure the information has been received, and to determine the reporter's interest in covering. Even with follow up, some reporters will simply not cover your news.
  • Share confidential/unreleased information. Remember that there is no such thing as "off the record," so don't share information that should not be available to the public or that could be harmful, even if the conversation is not a formal interview.  Many "scoops" are the result of the conversation that happened after the formal interview!
  • Be a pest. While proactive follow up is often necessary, realize that if your calls and emails are not being returned, it is probably because the reporter is not interested in your story.
  • Expect to see the story before it is printed or airs. Most media outlets will not give you a chance to "approve" a story.
  • Get discouraged!  Not every story will be covered, but continuing to communicate with reporters and media outlets will help to raise your profile and provides a better chance of future media coverage.