5 Things Reporters Want From PR Pros

 Creative Commons photo  via Flickr . Credit: Alex Steffler

Creative Commons photo via Flickr. Credit: Alex Steffler

Media relations is a lot like fundraising and sales.

The best fundraisers are successful because they take the time to understand their prospects and build personal connections. They don't waste their donors' time -- and they are careful not to come on too strong and approach them too often.

A new survey of more than 1,350 media members by the media database company Cision shows that reporters want to be treated the same way.

The 2018 Global State of the Media Report surveyed media members from the United States and worldwide and finds that these journalists are facing unprecedented pressures.

Not only are they working in smaller newsrooms and facing stiffer competition, they are also getting bombarded with false information and spam.

As a result, they are increasingly looking to build relationships with media relations professionals they can trust.

"Journalism is dealing with several challenges these days, but the PR industry can help news outlets navigate these choppy waters," the report concludes. "The PR professionals who can help reporters and editors with their work -- by providing them accurate, information-rich press releases, and by giving journalists access to sources -- will be the ones who will succeed the most."

If you've been following this blog or have attended any of my webinars with Nonprofit Marketing Guide, you've heard variations on this message before.

But don't just take it from me. Let's hear from the reporters themselves.

The Cision report highlights five things reporters recommend to PR professionals who are looking to get better coverage for their organizations:

1. Research and understand my media outlet

Reporters get a lot of emails pitching stories that not only fail to connect with their beats, but have no chance at all of appearing in their media outlets. Before you reach out to a reporter, spend some time getting to know their outlet, the types of stories it covers, and its tone. For most outlets, all you need to do is spend a few minutes on its website researching recent coverage to get an understanding of what it does. By taking this step, you'll be able to craft more appropriate pitches and make better decisions about what and when to share ideas. Ultimately, this will save you -- and the reporters -- a lot of time.

2. Provide me with data and expert sources when I need them

Reporters often have little trouble finding story ideas. Instead, they struggle with finding the right people to interview and the right information and research to  round out their reporting. Media relations professionals who can provide them with sources and data tend to jump to the top of their lists when they're in a pinch. It also helps to provide contact information, news releases, and key research on your website so reporters can find you when they're researching their stories.

3. Tailor the pitch to suit my beat

When you do pitch a story, you'll have a greater chance at getting coverage if you take some extra time to frame it in a way that connects with the reporter's beat. Instead of simply sending a news release, take time to write a cover note to each individual reporter that provides a clear news hook that connects with their coverage areas. If you can show them why your pitch can help them -- and why it's important to their audience -- you'll be more likely to jump to the top of their ideas pile.

4. Stop spamming me

On the other side of the coin, avoid sending your pitches and news releases to everyone on your media list. If you're regularly pitching stories to reporters who aren't likely to cover those stories, you're going to annoy them -- and they're going to stop clicking on your emails. You're much better off sending one good pitch per year to a reporter than 10 mediocre or bad ones.

5. Include multimedia assets when you pitch

As the demands for online and social content continue to grow -- and resources in many newsrooms continue to shrink -- many reporters are under pressure to gather their own video, audio, infographics and other assets to accompany their reporting. If your nonprofit can gather and provide those assets ahead of time, you are more likely to find success.

Learn more

Journalist and nonprofit media relations expert Antionette Kerr and I are pleased to announce the release of an in-depth guide about how nonprofits can succeed in the modern media world in our new book, Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits.

Our goal is to give readers practical advice on media relations. And if you're serious about getting your nonprofit's story told in the media with greater frequency, you're also wise wise to digest insights from the reporters themselves in Cision's report.

"Journalists ask that you research them, understand who they are and what they cover before pitching them," the report concludes.

In other words, they're a lot like donors.


Content Strategy: It's Not About You

  Make your supporters -- not your organization -- the hero in your story. Flickr photo courtesy of Streetsblog & Streetfilms.

Make your supporters -- not your organization -- the hero in your story. Flickr photo courtesy of Streetsblog & Streetfilms.

We recently started working with a healthcare nonprofit that wanted to take a fresh approach to its communications and marketing content.

The nonprofit had seen attendance at its community events slip over the past two years -- and its fundraising revenues had declined.

After a quick review of its website, marketing materials, and social-media accounts, it was easy to diagnose a major reason why the organization had been struggling.

The nonprofit was positioning itself -- not its donors, or volunteers, or even its doctors -- as the central figure in almost every piece of communications.

In turn, it was failing to capture the imagination of the people it relies on to provide life-saving services in its community.

This well-meaning nonprofit had all of the right tools to successfully market its programs and solicit donations. It had a consistent and well-constructed content calendar, a segmented email list, and a top-notch CRM.

But its communications were falling flat because it was casting itself as the hero in its own story.

If your content isn't getting the desired result, it's likely because your materials are focusing too much on yourself -- and not enough on the people you're trying to reach.

The good news is you can fix this problem.

Here are 3 simple things you can do with your content to take the spotlight off your organization -- and place it on your supporters.

Tell Their Stories

Your donors and volunteers are extraordinary people. And, quite often, the story behind why they support your organization is inspiring.

Find ways to highlight these amazing stories in your communications.

Make a donor story the focus of your next fundraising email. Spotlight a volunteer on your blog. Share a photo of a supporter on Facebook and thank her for making a difference.

If you're producing content, make sure you're weaving stories about your supporters and volunteers into that content regularly.

This simple step will change the tone of your content -- and send a strong signal to your supporters that they matter!

'Because of You'

A simple phrase can make a big difference when you're talking about your nonprofit's impact.

Most nonprofits talk about the number of meals they've provided or the number of lives they've touched. But they often do so through their own eyes.

But consider the subtle, but important, difference that comes from changing this sentence:

"We provided healthy meals to 2,500 people in our community in 2017."

To this:

"Because of you, 2,500 people in our community had healthy meals in 2017."

Selectively injecting this phrase into your content can help take the focus off of your organization -- and place it on the reader.

Help Them Share

Your supporters are you best ambassadors.

A simple Facebook message or peer-to-peer fundraising ask from a donor or volunteer on your behalf can inspire their friends and family to take action on your behalf.

But many supporters don't know how to help.

To encourage them, think about creating content that shows them how they can take action on your behalf.

For the healthcare nonprofit mentioned earlier, we've been creating email marketing messages that show how they can use personal stories about their experience with the nonprofit to inspire their friends to contribute to an upcoming fundraising walk.

These instructional messages are helping these supporters think about their connection to the organization. In turn, they are inspiring walk participants to share touching stories about how the organization has helped them or a loved one.

Want to Learn More?

Join me at 1 p.m. ET on May 10 for The 6 Problems That Plague Nonprofit Content -- a live webinar with our partners at Nonprofit Marketing Guide.

I'll walk you through some of the common mistakes organizations make with their content marketing efforts. More importantly, I'll show you how to fix them!

Join us!

Communicate With Purpose: Understanding the Power of 'Why'

 Flickr Creative Commons photo by Katie Sayer

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Katie Sayer

Organizations are often very good at talking about what they do.

But the groups that often have the greatest success connecting with donors, motivating activists, or getting media attention do not spend much time talking about their programs and services.

Instead, they are adept at articulating why they do what they do.

Nonprofits, for example, aren't just about providing meals or medical care or clean water. They are laser focused on showing people how their work can make a real and lasting difference -- and what they ultimately hope to accomplish.

Businesses, meanwhile, aren't just about selling products or services. The most successful companies are able to translate why those products and services matter -- and how they are improving the world.

If you're struggling to find your voice or having a hard time connecting with potential supporters or customers, it's important to take some time to think clearly about why you exist -- and then commit to ensuring that you articulate that 'why'.

The shift can be a game changer because while your ‘what’ may be interesting and informative, it’s your ‘why’ that can be truly inspirational – and spark people to action.

The Search for Purpose

There's a reason many organizations struggle to make this shift and default to talking about what they do.

It boils down to this:

What is easy. Why is hard.


It's easy, for instance, for the charity that provides meals to talk about how many meals it serves and the need to make sure its shelves are stocked with cans of vegetables and boxes of pasta.

But if you're looking to move people in a deeper way and advance your cause to achieve more meaningful results, it's important to move beyond just talking about the what (the cans and boxes) and being able to articulate the why -- purpose behind what you do.

Why are you working to feed people?

What is the larger impact of your work?

These questions require a deeper level of thought than the more simple question of "what do you do?". They prompt you to consider what motivates your staff, your donors and supporters. And, ultimately, these questions demand you get to the core of why your organization exists in the first place – and whether your collective actions align with your true purpose.

By taking the time to answer these questions, however, your organization can gain a clearer sense of its purpose. In turn, you have a much better chance to inspire people to take action on your behalf, change minds, and get attention for your work.

Weave Purpose Into Everything You Do

For the hypothetical hunger charity described above, digging deep to find out why you're providing those meals can lead to some inspiring discoveries.

For instance, it discovers that families that have access to regular, nutritious food are healthier, that their children are more likely to succeed in school, and that our society and economy is ultimately much stronger.

Helping families get good food helps improve our schools, our economy, and our society.

That's purpose!

But it's not just enough to know and understand that purpose.

You also have to know how to articulate that purpose.

Every day.

In every piece of written communications. In every fundraising conversation. In every board meeting.

It has to be front and center on your website, show up in every meaningful conversation on Facebook, and be a part of every pitch you make to the media.

Doing this requires discipline from your leadership and your communications team. It requires training your board and your staff. And it requires consistency.

But if you're wondering why some organizations are getting more media coverage, more donors or customers, and more support than yours, it's probably because they've taken the time to define their purpose -- and they have the discipline to make sure that purpose is embedded in everything they say and do.

6 Reasons to Take the Problem Solver Approach to a PR Challenge



Back in my newspaper reporting days, I had a memorable assignment on a charter boat that specialized in taking business clients fishing on Lake Erie.

The voyage started as one of those classic can’t-catch-a-break Charlie Brown days. Before we even got off the dock, the boat had a minor mechanical problem that delayed departure. Once on the water, the sonar fish finder was acting up and a passing boat kicked up a stomach-churning wake. When we finally did enter some prime walleye waters, the fishing lines promptly got tangled.

The guy who was something of a first mate and charged with taking care of the clients was tripping all over himself trying to explain away all the difficulties—and how this was most certainly a rare exception to how things went on the water.

Then the captain, a retired business executive, cut him short and rolled out this memorable gem.

“You’re always going to have problems,” he said with absolute calm. “It’s how you deal with those problems that makes all the difference.”

The first mate, silent, nodded in eager agreement.

The mood on the boat immediately lifted as captain and crew went about the business of systematically untangling their problems. We landed some pretty nice fish that day. And they got largely positive press in the local paper. 

The captain’s words come back to me often when I see organizations dealing with various PR challenges and crises. And those words remind me of the power of positioning your leaders as problem solvers in the face of adversity or criticism.

Typically, when the proverbial boat starts taking on water, organizations either go the no-comment route or take the perceived high road and issue a carefully crafted statement with hopes the problem fades away.

Option 1 is almost always a bad call. No comment screams cover-up or cluelessness, never an impression you want to leave with the public. Beyond that, it rarely solves your problem. Often it exacerbates it.

Option 2 can have its place, particularly when it comes to challenging issues that have legal implications or are still unfolding. Yet I’d argue this approach is overused, and often becomes a crutch, creating a false sense that the issue has been adequately addressed. 

A third, and I think better path to deal with many PR issues, is to take the problem-solver approach. Specifically, you position your leadership as problem solvers and then it is through that lens that you craft your messaging and lay out your plan for dealing with the issue at hand.

Here are six reasons this approach often offers a better path.

·      It unfreezes thinking. Leaders who are feeling cornered are much more likely to fall back on their instinct to hunker down in no-comment mode. By framing the challenge in the problem-solver approach, you have a better chance to shift the conversation to brainstorming and assessing viable alternatives to tackling the problem—and how those options could be positioned in messaging.  The added benefit is that beyond lip service, you can actually help develop a legitimate action plan to deal with the issues.

·      It helps you acknowledge and address the problem head-on. You can’t highlight how you are going to solve a problem if you haven’t clearly defined it. Turning the focus toward how the problem can be addressed prods your leadership toward all-important transparency. Maybe all of the details can’t be revealed, but there is more wiggle room to acknowledge the challenge when you know it will be framed within an action-oriented solution.

·      It helps you quickly pivot to solutions: Which headline would you prefer: “Acme hammered by customer complaints” or “Acme rolls out three-point plan to tackle customer complaints”? Thought so. The problem-solver approach naturally spins the story forward, and puts the focus on the solution.  If you act fast enough, sometimes you can even head off that initial bad headline avoid being put in damage-control mode.

·      It buys you goodwill:  People by and large are pretty forgiving, particularly when they believe an individual or organization is trying to be forthright, transparent, and focused on fixing problems. If nothing else, you’re likely to get at least some props for taking the high road and not hiding behind “no comment.” As a former reporter, I can tell you any attempt at transparency also endears you to the press and helps strengthen those key relationships.

·      It positions your leaders as can-do problem solvers. Of course, the most valuable and lasting benefit of this approach is that it positions your leadership as clear-eyed people of action. They become the captain of the boat, instead of the fretting first mate.  It’s likely that long after the buzz of the latest PR issue has died down, what will be remembered is the sense that yours is an organization that deals with issues in a transparent and action-oriented way. What more could you ask for?

·      It boosts your credibility as a strategic advisor. Sure, this approach can carry some level of risk and may not fit every situation. Yet for instances where it makes sense, there’s a pretty good chance your leadership will start seeing you in a whole new light. You become more than the PR flack that puts together a prepared statement, and more of a trusted advisor who is a steady hand to help navigate rough waters.

Here’s the thing to remember: you’re always going to have problems. It’s how you deal with those problems that makes all the difference.