Blog / Nonprofits

Top 10 Media Relations Tips for Nonprofits

by Nate Hoekstra
Top 10 Media Relations Tips for Nonprofits

Media is all around us. It influences the way we work, what we buy, and what we say about products, brands, and companies. For many nonprofit organizations, breaking into the world of media exposure can be intimidating, or appear to only be possible by purchasing paid advertising.

The truth is, in a changing media landscape it’s easier than ever to share the message of your organization — you just have to know how to help the media tell your story.

It’s not a secret that news organizations, especially print media, are being forced to do more with less. Fewer reporters and resources are available, but the stories still have to be produced. If you can help a reporter tell your story, you’re helping them and accomplishing the goal of spreading the message of your organization.

Determine a goal.
When you’re working with the media, determine what your goals are. Be realistic. Spend your time working to get exposure with outlets that are the most likely to share your story instead of wasting your time trying to pitch stories to media outlets with no interest in your organization. Be sure to work for coverage that your target audience will see and share.

Make it news.
If you want news coverage, you’ll have to earn it. That means providing reporters and editors a reason to talk about you. A news release that doesn’t contain news will quickly reach the circular file. For example, an organization that provides healthy lunches to school-age children putting out a release about what they do every day is not news. If they put out a release stating a goal of doubling the number of meals provided over the next year, that becomes more newsworthy. A business-oriented example: A rake company sending a release about their new line of rakes will not get coverage. That same company organizing a fall event to try to set a world record for creating the largest leaf pile (using their new rakes, of course) becomes more interesting. Give them a reason to talk about you.

Know your audience.
If you earn media mentions in a trade journal or local business publication, but your target audience doesn’t read them, you’re missing the boat. Social media can help you share, but help your advocates find and share on their own – earn mentions in media where they can be found.

It’s not always about you.
Be aware of opportunities to showcase your expertise. Stay abreast of the news in general. If you’re an organization that provides job training to adults, follow news of legislation intended to boost or cut funding for adult vocational training programs. When there’s news, solicit your expert opinion as a source. If you establish yourself as an expert, reporters will come to you, and provide space for your organization, in the future.

Meet a deadline.
News is an online medium more now than ever, but the news business still has deadlines. Know that most local TV stations have morning and afternoon editorial meetings where stories are assigned. Want a better shot at coverage? Try calling the assignment desk at 8 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., and realize that if you have a 6 p.m. event, your keynote speaker won’t be on the 6 p.m. news unless you plan to make them available to media before the event. Time makes a difference.

Keep it simple.
Most TV news stories average about 25 seconds each. If there’s a sound bite, a producer might stretch it to 45. If you get a package, one of a few stories of the day that a reporter handles, that’ll get you roughly two and a half minutes on air. Keep your message on point, short, and simple. Memorize key points in sound bite format. The same goes for print and online. Keep headlines to seven words or less. If a producer or editor doesn’t understand your pitch or story in the first paragraph, they’re much less likely to cover the story than if the presentation is easy, informative, and obviously newsworthy.

Practice makes perfect.
Giving interviews is not something just anyone can do well. Speak clearly, don’t use jargon, dress to impress (not just for TV — a nice outfit can help your confidence, and it reflects in your presentation), and don’t ramble. Practice your message, and if you have time, prepare for the interview. Anticipate questions, and know how to answer them. Be honest, clear, and digestible. Smile, relax, and show people what you and your nonprofit organization can do!

A picture is worth a thousand words.
With shrinking budgets and lower staffing levels, news organizations are more pressed than ever to physically attend your event. If your story is a visual one, provide a photo, or a video. Focus on quality. Remember that 30 seconds of good video is better than five minutes of mediocre. Keep videos short and shareable, no longer than a minute or two. Stories with visuals, much like trends in social media, are much more likely to get traction.

Be the message.
Get to know the reporters who do stories on your area of focus, and let them know you’re a source and part of an organization that’s credible, worth lots of coverage, and relevant in larger conversations. Tell difference-makers about your organization, and help them spread good messages about your organization. Staying on message and providing sound opinions and quality content will help your message float above the noise.

Accept reality.
Understand how media works. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, a scheduled interview will be called off because of a bigger story or breaking news situation. Be understanding, and follow up to reschedule. News happens — be flexible.

Navigating media relations and earning media through traditional channels can be a challenge, but working through some of the basics and following some established best practices can help you put your organization’s name in lights.

Nate Hoekstra
Associate Director of Digital Content, University Communications
Nate is responsible for Grand Valley State University's digital content strategy and management, media relations and writes for GVNow, Forum, and Grand Valley Magazine.