10 Ways to Make Your Online Press Room Perform for Your Nonprofit

To capture a journalist’s attention and answer her questions, a repository of press releases plus some bios and head shots (which comprises the entirety of most nonprofit press rooms), just isn’t enough.

How to ensure you’re providing the timely, meaty information and insight journalists crave, enough to engage and motivate a call or email for a conversation? Every media pro worth her paycheck knows a great online media room means the difference between multiple column inches and a mere mention, if that.

Here’s how to do it:

Online Press Room vs. Media Kit

Online media rooms, and journalists’ expectations of them, have evolved. Many nonprofit organizations now feature “virtual press kits,” but an effective online press room is more than just a media kit.

The last thing you want is for a journalist to hit a wall, and become frustrated or annoyed, when trying to dig into your nonprofit or program online. Here’s the construct to follow to avoid that ugly scenario:

  • A press room is the area on your site expressly for the media, although other audiences may be interested in the content. Most of the content here is on the organizational level, rather than specific to a single program, service, location or event.
  • A media kit is a set of essential, easy-to-use and downloadable information focused on your organization, or a program, product, leader, service or event.

What to Include in Your Online Press Room

Your online press room should provide what you used to include in your hard-copy press kit, and then some:

  1. The absolute latest news. Journalists who’ve come to expect the most up-to-the-minute information from your site will seek out your virtual press kit; it’s a matter of consistently fulfilling expectations. Planned Parenthood makes its latest news accessible by topic and by date.
  2. Downloadable photos and graphics to accompany stories. Think leaders and staff, programs in action, product shots and more. Include several versions of your logo, and provide all downloads in high, medium and low resolution. Take a cue from the American Red Cross which provides clear terms of use and specs for its downloadable images.
  3. A directory of your organization’s experts. Make it easy for journalists to get to the expert on the particular subject they are covering. The directory should be searchable by name and topic.The National Resources Defense Council does a great job with its Expert Finder.
  4. Succinct backgrounders and fact sheets. Make sure the information in your backgrounders is relevant to the latest news you’re pitching, or responding too. Frequently, backgrounders are too generic to fill journalists’ needs.
    • The Non-Profit Housing Corporation of Northern California provides a pithy snapshot on Bay Area affordable housing issues as a download, plus an experts directory and list of hot stories.
    • Here’s a multi-page version from the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
  5. Up-to-the-minute event calendars and timelines, updated daily if necessary. Make it easy for journalists to get the latest. Nothing is less impressive than an outdated listing. Keep your listing up to date like this one from Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE).
  6. Guidelines on writing and reporting on your organization’s key topics or issue areas. The UCP’s (formerly United Cerebral Palsy) online press room offers useful interaction and etiquette tips for writing on people with disabilities.
  7. Audio and/or video clips. Definitely include multimedia if possible, and transcripts for time-starved reporters. The Sierra Club’s online press room offers audio and video clips of the org’s radio and television ads.
  8. Awards and Recognition Let your successes speak for your organization, rather than saying it yourself. ACCION does a good job of this.
  9. Recent Clips Clips add credibility, and give the media an idea of what’s already been done (and the gaps they can fill). Make sure your clips are up-to-date, unlike those in this online pressroom (from 2008 and prior).
  10. News Feed for Automatic Receipt of Press Room Updates Make it easy for those who are interested to get press releases and other news hot off the press via an RSS reader. The American Cancer Society makes this very easy.

Of course, the more relevant information, the better. Resist flooding the press room with useless content. Above all, avoid going overboard with hype or flash. Hyperbole gets you nowhere.

What to Include in Your Program-Specific (or Product, Location, or Event) Media Kit

Pretty much the same big 10 outlined above, sans awards.

Consider adding any or all of these elements:

  • Milestones
  • History
  • Relevant statistics (impact or change generated)

Most importantly, make sure content is current. These kits need to be updated weekly if not daily.

More Tips for Your Online Press Room

  • Feature a highly-visible link to your press room on your home page, and on every page throughout the site. Include it in your site’s main menu bar. Press kits on current topics or programs should be highlighted on the home page.
  • Include clear contact information for your organization’s primary media contact, and the back- up.
  • Offer brief bios of your organization’s leaders and experts, to provide a context for quotes or coverage.

Online Press Rooms that Work

Review these nonprofits’ online press rooms for ways to strengthen your own:


American Cancer Society


University of Missouri

But my best advice for what to include in your nonprofit’s online press room? Ask the press you work with most frequently what they want. They’re your customers and it’s all about meeting their needs.

5 Steps to Op-Eds that Change Minds

Opinion journalism (a.k.a. op-eds) is an unmatched opportunity for your organization to speak through the news media directly to policy makers, your constituents and other target audiences.

This rare opportunity for you to frame the messages offers the potential to change minds, albeit usually over the course of time, with a series of op-eds. It’s an opportunity not to be missed!

But so many of you have told me that you’re intimidated by entering this realm, that I knew it was a must to provide guidance on getting there:

Five Steps to Op-Eds that Change Minds

1. Identify your expertise and stick to it

Carefully think through the issue areas or topics in which your organization’s experts (program staff, leadership or volunteers) shine. You can cover several issue arenas but have to be able to clearly assert why that expert is an expert in a specific topic.

2. Stay informed

It’s a must that you follow the general news as well as news related to your organization’s focus or issue arena to understand all points of view. If you write about women’s health, read the medical and alternative medicine press and online content. If you write about Libya, read regional media.

Bonus: As you read news for context, you’re likely to find relevant news hooks (stories you can piggyback on) for your op-eds and other content.

3. Pinpoint your message

Be focused and clear. What is your goal? Do you want legislators to do something or increase public understanding of an issue? Regardless of the goal, you need to be able to state your opinion in one concise sentence.

4. Back it up with facts

When your organization conveys that opinion, back it up with facts.

For example, if your message is that legislators should not cut family planning services from the health care budget because it will be detrimental to women’s health, then you need to supply examples. How many women use those services in your region/community now?

5. Write for the reader

The standard way to make an argument is to state your main point, present evidence to support that opinion, and then offer a recommendation or conclusion. The more direct, clear and conversational you can make the writing, the better.

Explain why your position is better than the opposition. You’re the expert, not your reader, so you’ll need to capture his attention and convince him of your argument.

More Op-Ed Musts

  • Prioritize media outlets and the order in which you want to approach them—many will insist that you pitch to one at a time, a.k.a. an exclusive.
  • Check your target paper’s requirements for submission. Most will specify word length and other formatting requirements.
    • Strong Lead: Op-eds need to grab a reader’s attention quickly, so make sure your first paragraph is a strong one.
    • Concise Writing: Op-eds are generally 500-900 words long. Use short sentences and paragraphs to get your point across.
  • Frame the issue quickly. Within the first three paragraphs, in accessible and compelling language.
  • Communicate your message. Clearly state the main message of your op-ed early in the piece.
  • Conclude with your message. End the piece by reiterating your key message.
  • Pitch it! Pitch your op-ed to the Opinion or Editorial Page editor at your target newspaper. Call first to gauge their interest level, then fax or e-mail the op-ed with a cover letter, and follow up to make sure they received it.

Don’t submit the op-ed to another outlet unless your first target decides not to run it, since most outlets only exclusive op-eds. If at first you don’t succeed, consider other outlets or re-writing the piece.

Recommended Op-Ed Structure

  • Lead (Around a news hook)
  • Thesis (Statement of argument – either explicit or implied)
  • Argument: Based on evidence (such as stats, news, reports from credible organizations, expert quotes, scholarship, history, first-hand experience)
    • 1st Point
      • evidence
      • evidence
      • conclusion
    • 2nd Point
      • evidence
      • evidence
      • conclusion
    • 3rd Point
      • evidence
      • evidence
      • conclusion

Note: In a simple, declarative op-ed (“policy X is bad; here’s why”) , this may be straightforward. In a more complex commentary, the 3rd point may expand on the bigger picture—historical context, global/geographic picture, mythological underpinnings, etc.—or may offer an explanation for a mystery that underpins the argument–e.g., why a bad policy continues, in spite of its failures.

  • “To Be Sure” paragraph (in which you pre-empt your potential critics by acknowledging any flaws in your argument, and address any obvious counter-arguments.)
  • Conclusion (circling back to your lead)

Outline source: The Op-Ed Project

Op-Eds that Have Changed Minds

These op-eds are among those cited by the Op-Ed Project as strong examples of opinion journalism that have changed minds:

Additional Op-Ed Guidance

  • The Op-Ed Project was launched to help increase the number of female opinion journalists but offers lots of useful no-charge guidance to all op-ed writers.

How are you using Op-Eds? If you’re not, what’s getting in your way?

Please share your op-ed success stories, how-tos and/or the barriers that are keeping you from placing op-eds that change minds. Thank you.

Get National Press Release Exposure for the Cost of a Local Announcement

Are you using a wire service to extend your press release distribution? Your organization should be capitalizing on this well-priced means of transmitting your press releases directly into newsrooms, news and information databases, and to other newshounds.

Journalists use the wire services night and day to find other perspectives, locate experts in a particular field, and catch up on key issues. By using a wire service, you make it easy for reporters and other media professionals to find your news. You’re going to where they are, every day. Many journalists rely greatly on web access to the wire services to scan releases.

When you’re selecting a wire service, make sure to check on rate structures. Take a look at BusinessWire, PR Newswire, and Ascribe. BusinessWire and PR Newswire price according to geographic distribution. Ascribe prices distribution at a flat fee of $375 for national distribution, discounted if you’re a member and purchase a distribution package for five or more releases.

Most wire service distribution fees are lower when you opt for multiple release distribution or become a member. Make sure that you are comparing like services when you evaluate release distribution pricing.

One inexpensive way to get wide distribution for your release is through a local distribution of your release on BusinessWire or PR Newswire. A nationally distributed release, for instance, through Business Wire is $476. But a local distribution, such as Dallas, costs $96. For that $96, you reach local TV, radio, and newspapers, and you get full web distribution. That means that when you pay for the cheapest local distribution, your release still appears immediately on AOL, Yahoo, FT.com, CBSMarketWatch, Hoovers, Lycos, and NewsAlert, in addition to going to the region’s TV and radio stations and newspapers.

(NOTE: Prices quoted above are for distribution of a single release with Business Wire’s 20% discount for nonprofit organizations. BusinessWire users must pay an annual membership fee of $100.)


How to Build Media Relationships That Stick – Treat Them Like a First Date (Case Study)

When I received a call last month from Andrea Gardner, reporter for Marketplace, I was thrilled. Marketplace reaches 8 million listeners, and I’m one of them. Couldn’t be a better venue as far as I’m concerned.

I knew this was a rare opportunity, and I wanted to make the most of it. And I realized that in doing so, I’d carve a path for nonprofit organizations to follow.

All the nonprofits I know – client orgs and others – are perennially hungry for media attention. After all, media coverage is “free” and the net it casts tends to be.

But we all know nothing is for free. Although media coverage doesn’t take dollars, it does take effort. Very much like a first date when you’re willing to do practically anything to make a good impression.

But your focus on here goes beyond charming and disarming. Your strategy should begin from the moment you identify a journalist as a media priority (she covers your issue or geo area, and is read, listened to, or watched by your key target audiences) or receive an incoming query (lucky you, these are real gifts). But what are the key steps to building and strengthening your relationship, leading to a second date and beyond?

Simply follow these four rules of first dates to ensure your flirtation flickers and flares into a close, long-term relationship with the media who can extend your organization’s reach and impact.

Catch your intended’s eye and make a good impression

If they don’t come to you, go to them. Once in a long while, a journalist will knock on your door. But don’t sit around twiddling your thumbs and waiting.

Instead, research those who cover like orgs and issues, digest their perspective, study their audiences, and pinpoint ten or fewer folks who are the best fit. Make sure you let them know – in the way they like to be contacted – when your org’s expert is the right commentator for a story, or your program team has a relevant slant on a current news story.

Whether they call you or you call them, make it easy for them (in this case, it’s the opposite of playing hard to get). Be a good listener so you pick up on how they’re looking for you to contribute to a story. Speak when and how its right for them, first researching the issue and venue in question so you can put your best foot forward.

Caution though – Don’t come on too strong with a pitch. Remember, it’s all about them, not about your organization. Your value is in making it easier for them to do a good job.

Just be yourself and show them how much you have to offer; calmly and with quiet confidence.

Prep thoroughly for that critical first date so it’s not the one and only

Once you’ve introduced yourself and get that longed-for call requesting a comment or interview, it’s time to get ready for your first date. And I don’t mean clothes and make up.

Schedule the conversation at the journalist’s convenience (make it easy should become your mantra). Make sure you dig deep for exactly what she’s most interested in (her slant) and how you can contribute. Then do your homework. The ball’s in your court.

I asked Andrea Gardner what she was interested in re: Goodwill’s DC fashionista enterprise, and how I could help. After we scheduled an interview appointment in the studio, I researched Goodwill’s initiative – read the blog, looked at the players behind it, learned more about the core mission of Goodwill than I ever knew before and worked through what I saw as the benefits and challenges of the fashionista campaign.

Once I finished my research and thinking through, I summarized my take in an outline, and then edited that to key message points. After all, Andrea had advised me that the segment would run no more than three minutes, so I knew that my contribution would be very brief. I wanted to be interested but respectful of her interests and needs; and didn’t want to appear over-eager.

I crafted a few pithy statements to throw into the interview as “quotable” outakes, then I ran through my lines, out loud, a few times.

As I tell clients on a daily basis, you can launch only once.

Shape the big date to be a boom, not bust

When it’s time to talk (or email), make sure you’re ready. Here’s how I prepared for my studio interview with Andrea:

  • Wore comfortable but professional clothes, so I looked and felt good
  • Arrived early, just in case
  • Brought my water, Kleenex and throat lozenges (I was just finishing up with a cold)
  • Had my summary notes, and print outs of the blog, Goodwill DC’s Web page and a few other backgrounders – just in case the conversation went in another direction (my back-up plan)
  • Relaxed – Just as you don’t want to convey your nervousness (via sweaty palms or a shaky voice) to your heartthrob, you want to sound cool and confident, even if your voice won’t be played back to 8 million listeners. Do what works for you. For me, it’s deep breathing and a little stretching.

When Andrea rang the bell (ok, called; she’s in LA, I was in the NYC studio), I took a deep breath and plunged in.

Harkening back to my dating days, I made sure to be a good listener, taking Andrea’s lead as she guided our conversation through the topic at hand. BTW, Andrea was a great date, making me feel relaxed, knowledgeable and that I had something very valuable to add.

Don’t forget to smile and enjoy the date. I had a wonderful time speaking with Andrea. My enjoyment went well beyond having a good story to tell about this experience, and serving as a commentator on the radio.

Andrea’s query was an intellectual and creative challenge. I enjoyed the process of thinking through Goodwill DC’s case study, and sharing my take on it. Since I was having such a good time, I sounded relaxed and confident. Listeners say they almost heard me smiling. And I was.

Here’s the interview for your listening pleasure.

Follow up for a second date

The first date is like a toe in the water. When you want to step on in, you have to take a deeper plunge.

I thanked Andrea at the end of our interview, and offered my time and expertise should she have further questions as she crafted her segment. I told her how much I enjoyed the experience, and looked forward to next time.

Andrea had promised to email me the segment’s air date. When I heard from her, I reiterated my enjoyment of our work together and volunteered my services as a commentator on nonprofit and marketing stories, or as a source of referrals to those with expertise in other arenas. She thanked me, and promised to take me up on it.

I plan to keep up my marketplace listening (and track Andrea’s stories online, and send her my take when I have something to say. In addition, I’m likely to throw her a story idea every once in a while. Not too much to overwhelm her; just enough so she remembers my value as a source of insight or referrals.

I want to make it easy for her to use me as a source. I want a second date.

How To Get a Reporter’s Attention

In last month’s Getting Attention, we talked about how to get better media coverage. Among the speakers I heard at the Communications Network conference was Mark O’Keefe, Newhouse News Service’s values and philanthropy correspondent. Mark provided these very concrete tips on how to get a reporter’s attention:

  1. Know the stories the reporter writes and make a pitch that fits with those subjects. Do the work to find out what s/he’s interested in.Before you call the journalist for the first time, do your research on his or her recent stories, then send an email with your comments and a very soft and respectful pitch (i.e. “I thought you might be interested in…”).
  2. Respect news judgment (what runs) and the reporter’s time management.
  3. Aim for a long-term working relationship with the journalist, instead of quick-hit story coverage.
  4. Invite the reporter to lunch or a cup of coffee. The best way to get him or her to your news conference may be to precede or follow it with lunch. But don’t be offended if the journalist insists on paying his or her own way, even if it’s a spread you put on at your place. Some news organizations don’t allow freebies, not even a sandwich.
  5. Look for the “teachable moment” with one eye trained on today’s breaking news and, better yet, what will be in tomorrow’s news.Target your story on what your organization is doing that impacts breaking news (even sports), rather than simply reporting on activities.

What NOT to do? Mark advises:

  1. Don’t leave long voicemails.
  2. Don’t focus on why the story is important to you, rather than to the reporter and to his or her readers.
  3. Don’t think there’s only one right story about your organization – instead of many.
  4. Don’t get annoyed or act rudely if the story on your organization is cut or doesn’t run.

Definitely words to the wise. Thanks so much Mark!


How to Write a Letter to the Editor that Gets Published and Read (Case Study)

We’ve all read bang-up letters to the editor focused on a recent event or issue covered by a publication or TV or radio coverage. More recently, I’ve seen letters crafted in response to websites and e-newsletters. It’s much more likely that your organization’s letter will run than it is to place an op-ed piece or get your nonprofit covered in a feature article.

Unlike news stories, letters to the editor enable your nonprofit or foundation to state an opinion, offer an alternative viewpoint, heap praise, or move someone to action, in your own words. That means there’s a much smaller chance that the facts will be wrong or that your message will be twisted or diluted as it might be in a news or feature story written by a reporter.

The benefits for your nonprofit include:

  • Keeping its name in front of the public.
  • Raising its profile.
  • Getting your share of news ink.

But writing an opinion letter that gets published and has the desired impact is both an art and a science. Here are 10 practical tips for writing a letter to the editor that gets published and read:

  • Identify your target publications and programs. Select five to 10 venues to focus your opinion letter placement efforts on. Don’t forget trade publications, and community and weekly newspapers. Depending on your audience, those venues can have greater influence than an opinion letter in the NYT. And it’s easier to get letters to the editor published in these smaller publications. Once you have your target list, you’re ready to respond when an opportunity surfaces.
  • Research the letters policy for each venue on for your target list. Most publications and programs publicize what they want in a letter to the editor, and how and to whom to send it. Examples include: Asheville (NC) Citizen Times – conditions for rejection, Chronicle of Philanthropy – via snail or email, The New York Times – maximum of 150 words and The Washington Post – letters must be exclusive to the Post.
  • Reference a recent print or broadcast article. Write your organization’s letter as a direct response to recent coverage, building on the focus presented or emphasizing how your organization’s perspective wasn’t presented (and presenting it clearly).
  • Respond as quickly as you can. If there’s an issue or news story that’s getting a lot of attention in the press, draft a letter or at least key message points so your nonprofit is prepared to finalize and submit your letter pronto.
  • Hone your opinion letter writing style, before you’re on deadline to submit it. Read letters in your target venues on a regular basis to learn how to write the most effective letter.
  • Be Concise. Include a maximum of 200 words. The publication will shorten your letter to fit its format. The more it has to edit, the less control you have of what gets printed.Include two to three paragraphs, each with no more than three sentences.
  • State Your Point Early and Clearly. Use the inverted pyramid scheme, leading with (and maintaining focus on) your most important point.
  • Include Your Contact Information. Your contact information is a prerequisite for most publications to print your letter. Include your full name, title, organization name, address, phone number and email at the top of the page and sign the letter at the bottom.
  • Don’ts
    • Don’t write too often. Once every three months is as often as you should write.
    • Avoid being abusive or strident.
  • Follow Up
    Make a follow-up phone call to the editor in question to make sure your letter has been received. It’s best to keep calling until you get through, rather than leaving a voice mail message.

How to Write a Letter to the Editor that Gets Published and Read – Part Two – Letter to the Editor Tips from an Expert (Case Study)

Mila Rosenthal, Amnesty International USA’s (AISUA) Director, Business and Human Rights Program, is a Letter to the Editor expert. She has succeeded in placing letters in national publications vital to AIUSA’s advocacy efforts. Today, we look at two letters published by Rosenthal — one in the New York Times and the second in the Christian Science Monitor. Read on to review these strong examples of concise, pointed Letters to the Editor, and Rosenthal’s tips for your own efforts.

  • Letter One: Explaining Wal-Mart’s Global Mistreatment of Workers
    One of Rosenthal’s most powerful missives was to the editor of the New York Times after reading reporter Cathy Horyn’s tongue-in-cheek article on shopping at Wal-Mart. Rosenthal took the opportunity to build on Horyn’s passing mention that her style bargains may have come at the expense of child laborers. At a time when Wal-Mart’s unfair labor practices were relatively unknown, Rosenthal’s letter raised the broader advocacy point about Wal-Mart’s poor treatment of its workforce worldwide. Here goes:

    Shopping at Wal-Mart
    (NYT, September 2, 2002)

    To the Editor:

    “Unabashed Wal-Mart Shopper Speaks” urges the company to be more concerned about child labor in the countries where its products are made.

    In the United States, Wal-Mart has helped drive down wages in the retail sector and has faced numerous lawsuits by employees alleging anti-union policies, sex discrimination and unfair wage practices. As for its production overseas, Wal-Mart’s policy of sourcing from the cheapest, least regulated labor markets has spurred the global growth of sweatshops.

    Some other companies, as a result of targeting by activists, have at least sought to investigate working conditions. Wal-Mart has refused even to disclose the locations of the factories it uses, let alone support any independent monitoring or investigation of those factories.

    Mila Rosenthal
    New York, Aug. 28, 2002

    The writer is director, Workers Rights Program, Lawyers Committee for Human Rights.

    The letter’s impact has been “positive but only anecdotal,” reports Rosenthal. She recalls that “the letter did draw attention to the Lawyers Committee (her previous employer) and brought another perspective to the Times’ coverage of the workers rights issue.”

    She stresses that, “The impact of letters is seldom measurable. Your nonprofit must believe in the strategy of public advocacy to pursue writing letters. And, it’s our only opportunity for unaltered messaging.”

  • Letter Two: Clarifying a Misinterpreted Judgment on the Right to Sue Corporations for Human Rights Abuses
    Another of Rosenthal’s Letters to the Editor was motivated by national media coverage of a Supreme Court decision to uphold the core principles of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). “Because of the complicated way in which this act (enabling human rights victims to sue individuals or companies involved in the abuses) was written,” says Rosenthal, “it was widely misunderstood as a victory for corporations and a defeat for human rights.”Rosenthal sought to clarify that companies could still be sued under this act. She reviewed key national newspapers to pinpoint those that had misinterpreted the ruling, since these offered the greatest opportunity to correct the record. Her Letter to the Editor of the Christian Science Monitor confirms that victims of human rights violations can indeed sue perpetrators, be they individuals or corporations, and goes on to emphasize the importance of corporate responsibility for US multinationals.Here is Rosenthal’s letter:

    Foreign victims can still seek US justice
    (Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2004)

    Regarding your June 30 article “Ruling Makes it Harder for Foreigners to Sue in US Courts”: Rebuffing efforts by the Bush administration and business associations, the Supreme Court recently upheld the core principles of the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA). Rather than viewing the decision as a “setback for international human rights activists” and a “victory for US-based corporations,” the decision should be seen as a victory for victims of human rights abuses seeking justice in US courts.

    The Supreme Court ruled that the ATCA still allows foreign victims of serious human rights violations – including torture, genocide, and slavery – to sue individuals or companies involved in the abuses.

    US multinationals have an important role to play abroad in upholding international standards through developing and implementing comprehensive global human rights policies for businesses. No US company should behave worse abroad than it does at home.

    Mila Rosenthal
    New York
    Director, Business, Environment and Human Rights Program, Amnesty International USA

Rosenthal’s Tips for Letter to the Editor Success

Clearly, Rosenthal is a letter to the editor artist. Here are some of the tips she shared in a recent interview.

  • Identify which type of Letter to the Editor you are writing. Rosenthal distinguishes between the letter to correct the public record and the advocacy letter, crafted to get your message out on an issue. The “correction” letter is motivated by your nonprofit being misquoted or an issue area in which you work is misrepresented. This letter is pretty straightforward. Follow the basic guidelines outlined in Part One of the How to write a Letter to the Editor series. The advocacy letter, of which Rosenthal’s letters on Wal-Mart workers and the Supreme Court decision are great examples, is motivated by your interest in getting your organization’s perspective out on an issue recently covered, or a broader, yet connected issue.Rosenthal offers the following tips:
    • Focus on enhancing or spinning off article or editorial content. Make sure to reference a published article as your jumping off point.
    • Position the publication as your ally. Attack the problem or the villain, rather than the publication. Don’t use phrases such as “you failed to mention” or “you missed the point.”
    • Begin your letter by acknowledging the reporter for covering an important topic.
  • Ensure that your letter is reviewed by your organization’s media expert. Rosenthal stresses the importance of the right program (in a large organization) submitting its Letter to the Editor, on the right issue at the right time. “Remember that an organization is likely to have a letter placed only once or twice a year,” she cautions. Rosenthal initiates the process by pitching her letter concept to AIUSA’s media department, framing it with an explanation of the motivating article and why she wants to respond. When given the okay, she drafts the letter which is then edited by the media relations staff.End product? Strong and consistent organizational voice and a targeted Letter to the Editor campaign over the course of a year and the course of coverage of relevant issues.
  • Encourage local offices or activists to submit Letters to the Editor in local papers. National or international organizations have a lot to gain from local and regional coverage, says Rosenthal. Local media will surely reach key audiences.AIUSA equips its local activists to do so with an organizational media training kit supplemented by issue-specific kits. “Many people lack confidence when dealing with the media,” says Rosenthal, noting limited success to date with this strategy. “But our student activists, who tend to be bolder, have been very successful in placing Letters to the Editor.”
  • Self-publish your nonprofit’s Letter to the Editor. Rosenthal makes the most of the content in her Letters to the Editor. Whether or not they are published in target vehicles, they’re broadly re-purposed broadly — on the organizational website, the volunteer activist listserv (who then push content out to their networks), and in online information clearinghouses used by activists, investors, government officials and others in the field of business and human rights.

I’m looking forward to Rosenthal’s next published Letter to the Editor. I know it will be a powerful one. Thanks Mila.

Three Steps to Better Media Coverage (Case Study)

Question: How do we write a strong press release? What are the standards, if they exist? How do we put it to use most effectively? Should a professional be hired?

– Candace Roeder, Executive Director
Seniors First

Dear Candace,

Your question is a great one. Many of us nonprofit communicators see media coverage (a.k.a. earned media, vs. advertising or paid media) as a cost-effective means of marketing. Here’s what it takes to make your press releases really work for you:

  1. Press releases are just one part of your earned media work. Press releases are important but remember, the release is just one step in your campaign to secure media coverage. Most important is that your media efforts are fully integrated into your marketing and communications plan, timetable, and budget.Media strategies should be selected only when they will help reach a specified communications objective for one or more target audiences. Messages and ‘look and feel’ should be consistent for EACH AUDIENCE throughout all strategies and campaigns, including media.The success of your media campaign comes from media relations – your cultivation of strong relationships with the carefully-selected journalists and editors you want to cover your organization. Your goal is to create an ongoing dialogue between a news outlet and your spokespeople in an effort to have your organization discussed in a positive manner in a publication or broadcast.

    First developed a brief but potent press list, begin by identifying the top ten media (including both traditional and online) outlets that you’d like to see cover your news. Make sure you identify the right person in each outlet and introduce yourself and your organization, inviting reporters for a site visit or special event or arranging interviews with leaders.

    Follow these folks closely to learn what kind of stories they’re looking for and shape your news to provide them with what they need. Although relationship-building is a long and labor intensive process, media relations is the only way to get good media coverage.

  2. Shape press releases that grab reporters’ attention Once relationship building is underway, how do you shape releases that engage reporters? Here are some musts:
    • Be judicious about when you craft a release, doing so only for significant developments. Make sure that you’re covering hard news for the most part as soft news items or features don’t have the same urgency. Send hard news releases to news editors;features releases to feature editors.
    • Establish your organization and leadership as experts in your field. Your goal is to generate incoming press calls seeking insights on the field and issues, as well as to place your stories. Consider listing your experts with HARO (100% free) or ProfNet, services that help you connect your expert sources with the media who are seeking them for stories.
    • Sharpen your messages. Develop three or four core points that you want to communicate and stick to these in the release and interviews. Also, make sure you hone a brief (four-twelve words) description of your organization and use it consistently throughout all of your marketing and communications materials.

    Remember to make it easy for the press:

    • Structure releases so that they can be digested at a glance, printed on a recognizable letterhead, including a clear headline, a one-sentence sub-head that clarifies its importance (if necessary), and crisp, succinct copy with quotes from relevant leaders and experts.
    • Write releases so that the copy can be cut-and- pasted by interested journalists (and more likely that your news will be picked up). Style should be fairly standard for easy extraction.
    • In every release, include a release date and clear contact information at top and an ‘About’ paragraph (following the release body) detailing key information about your organization.
    • Make sure that you know how each recipient prefers to receive releases (email, fax, carrier pigeon) and stick to that preference. Nothing is more frustrating than a huge release distribution that generates no interest.
    • Join the right wire service(s) to supplement your distribution and ensure that your releases get into news retrieval databases. Options include PR Newswire and Ascribe.
  3. Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up.There is nothing more important than following up on your press releases. Journalists receive stacks of releases and contacts from folks wanting to place news. It’s your relationships and your follow-up calls that generate interviews and story placement. Ideally, you’ll work with your press contacts to shape feature releases to their needs prior to distribution.

In-house or outsource?
Although media responsibilities are frequently outsourced to an agency or consultant(s), that’s not a must. If you’re just initiating your media effort, you might want to outsource strategic media planning including special events and news conferences (based on your organizational and communications goals for the year) and press list and press release template development. If possible,it’s best for a staff person to develop relationships with key media contacts. You and your colleagues are the subject experts and must be prepared to work directly with the press to ensure powerful, accurate coverage.

Whatever approach you take, never release all control and involvement of your earned media effort. You’ll generate the most coverage, and the greatest results, when you plan in the context of your overall marketing and communications agenda, review results, and revise accordingly.

Media Relations Planning–11 Steps to Success

Nonprofit organizations, particularly those on the smaller side, need every advantage they can get. And good media relations planning can a be a significant advantage for your organization.

But relax and breathe a sigh of relief.

Once you buckle down to this media planning process, it’s extremely doable. Depending on the time you can dedicate, the process can be executed in a variety of ways.

For example:

  • If time is extremely tight, allocate two hours weekly to this process. It will take longer but it will get done.
  • If you have a bit more time, spend six hours a week on this process. You’ll be done in two weeks max, assuming you have a colleague or freelancer doing the research for you.

The staff or consultant primarily responsible for media relations should own this process and do the initial strategic thinking. That person, or another team member, can be assigned to research (e.g. to develop your press list).

Here’s How to Start

  • Begin by reviewing this list.
  • Next, dive into the low-hanging fruit (#1-5 below). You should be able to complete these tasks without additional research. Run by colleagues to ensure you are on target.
  • Assign an intern or assistant (you could even hire a virtual assistant for this) for tasks #6 and #7 to start researching key media to follow, and to draft a top ten press list.
  • Take these findings, finalize the press list, and address the balance of the planning tasks (#8-11).
  • Review the draft plan with key colleagues, and revise as needed.

11 Steps to Media Planning Success

1.  Estimate what you can invest in building your media relations program; time and budget.

2.  Set goals.

What are your three main program goals? How can media relations be used to achieve these goals:

  • Build awareness.
  • Shift opinion.
  • Motivate action.

3.  Define realistic objectives, both output and outcome.

  • What do you envision your media work will generate?
  • These objectives serve as the measures you’ll track to evaluate your success.

4.  Identify three or less primary target audiences.

  • Define each group’s connection to each issue or story, what you want them to do, what is important to them, and what they read, watch and listen to.
  • Audience definition shapes your key messages and press list.

5.  Tell your story. Pinpoint the key messages you’re trying to communicate.

  • Try to distill your message into a 25-word (maximum) statement that will get the point across.  Add supporting messages of one to two sentences each, max.
  • Make sure these messages are integrated into all of your communications.
  • Mixed messages are confusing. Consistency ensures that your points are heard and recognized and likely to be repeated.

6.  Build your media database/press list but include no more than 10 to 15 journalists. Identity key media (and that means bloggers and other online writers as well as the traditional media) covering your issues, themes, geographies via these strategies:

  • Capture information on reporters who contact or cover your organization (log conversations and emails with media folks so you have this information).
  • Find related stories via Google news, noting sources and journalist’s names.
  • Exchange media contact lists with your colleague organizations.

7.  Read, watch and listen to these media over a month or so to pinpoint your top-ten press list.

8.  Identify the best way to get journalists to cover your story.

  • Through news releases? Personal visits to reporters? On-air interviews? Each approach has its own advantages and disadvantages.

9.  Craft the timetable.

  • Consider external events, editorial calendars and date-based news hooks.
  • Organize key media outreach efforts chronologically and prioritize, being realistic about what you can accomplish.

10.  Define the work plan, and roles and responsibilities.

  • Remember, everyone on your staff and your external supporters are communicators. Give them what they need to spread the word directly as well as via media contacts.

11.  Track, measure and fine-tune (ongoing, forever).

  • Log all contacts with the media.
  • Make the log easily accessible to all. You never know who might have to field an incoming media call.

Let me know how this process works for you! I’ve used it with client organizations time and time again with strong results.

And please leave a comment below if you have any steps to add to this process, or guidance on those listed here.

Make Your Web Site Press Friendly, So Journalists Cover Your Org

Web usability guru Nielsen’s latest Alertbox post emphasizes the imperative of press area usability for journalists, finding that plenty of the Web sites reviewed don’t provide adequate info for media (traditional or “citizen journalists”).

He cautions that poor site usability and missing info in online press areas can turn journalists away from covering your organization or force them to get their information from third-party sources (definitely not your messaging and likely to be incorrect). A shabby online press area is a lost PR opportunity.

Once journalists get to your site (you have to make sure they can), they need access to:

  • Easy-to-find online newsroom: Make sure you have a clean site with a clearly-labeled section called “Press,” “Media” or “News,” where journalists can get quick answers to their questions.
  • Press contacts: Being able to contact a real human being is essential for journalists researching stories. Deadlines mean that information is needed within hours or minutes, so most people would be reluctant to use an email address or contact form with no guarantee of a speedy response.
  • Basic facts: Reporters often need to confirm dates, spellings and more. To help reporters get that information quickly, make sure your sections are clearly labeled.
  • Your org’s perspective and actions on your issues: This is the stuff that differentiates your organizatons from colleagues and competitors. Make it easy-to-find, succinct and clear.
  • Financials: A core credibility meter.
  • Images to use in articles: Also, video and audio for online media. This is the stuff that enages readers which is a journalist’s ultimate goal.