How to Plan a Media Tour

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  Mark Vletter

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Mark Vletter

If you're like most nonprofit communicators, your go-to move is to send a press release to the media whenever your organization announces something new.

But if you have been disappointed with the results of your releases, it might be time to try a different approach: getting your top leader out of the office and in front of the journalists you're counting on to tell your story.

In recent months, I've been setting up media tours for nonprofits and foundations in which an executive or expert within the organization sets aside a day or two to meet informally with key reporters and editors -- and these tours have generated some terrific results.

While it requires an investment of time -- and some serious preparation -- a media tour can be an incredibly valuable exercise for organizations that are looking to build a lasting media presence. A media tour can be especially helpful when your organization is looking to:

  • introduce a new leader who is looking to articulate his or her vision for your organization to the public

  • launch a significant new initiative

  • bolster the reputation of a thought leader within your organization

  • release a new strategic plan

  • break into a new media market

  • target a national audience

At a time when most outreach to news outlets occurs virtually, there's real value in finding opportunities to meet in person. By having your leaders sit across the table from a reporter or editor, you're able to demonstrate their expertise, build rapport, show their passion for your organization's work, and (perhaps most importantly) learn more about what the journalist is working on and cares about.

In turn, you are likely to develop a relationship that can lead to ongoing opportunities to tell your story and show your expertise. We've found that even one positive face-to-face meeting with a journalist can put you top of mind whenever that journalist is looking for sources for future stories.

You become a go-to source that they know and trust.

But before you decide to clear your executive director's schedule for a day of press meetings, keep in mind that successful media tours require quite a bit of planning, preparation, and persistence.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider setting up a tour:

Be Selective -- Before you begin, have a goal in mind. If you're launching a new program, for instance, identify the key audiences you need to reach for your program to succeed and then take time to identify a handful of reporters and editors who work at outlets that reach those audiences.

Set a Realistic Timeline -- Your organization's leaders are busy people -- and so are journalists. To get on their schedules (and to ensure that you're not wasting your own time), begin the process of setting up your tour at least 3-4 weeks ahead of time. This will allow you to get on journalists' calendars before they fill up, identify potential conflicts, and work through your target list in order of priority. This also leaves enough time in the process to research the journalists you're meeting with, develop briefing materials (more on this shortly!), and prepare for the meetings.

Leave White Space -- If you're setting up one day of media meetings as part of your tour, you'll likely feel the urge to pack the day with as many meetings as possible. But a packed schedule can lead to rushed meetings, late appearances, and stress. A realistic tour more likely includes a pair of morning meetings, a break for lunch, and a pair of afternoon meetings -- and 30 minutes to an hour of unscheduled time between each meeting to accommodate travel time and conversations that run long.

Do Your Homework -- Conduct as much research about each journalist you're meeting with as you can. Read their bios. Study their recent coverage online. Follow them on Twitter and other social networks. This will help you understand what they care about and identify ways in which you can help them moving forward.

Prepare a Briefing -- Each time we set up an in-person meeting between a source and a reporter, we create a written briefing that includes goals, key talking points, background about the reporter and his or her work, and logistical details about the meeting itself (where it will take place, whether it's on or off the record, how long the meeting is scheduled for, etc.). This material helps the source prepare for the conversation -- and it's especially important for a source who is preparing for multiple meetings on the same day.

Be Flexible -- The news business can be unpredictable. When news breaks, a reporter might have to cancel or reschedule a meeting at the last minute -- or, in some cases, have another reporter fill in if he or she can't be there. We recommend checking in a week ahead and then a day ahead of your scheduled meeting to be sure nothing has changed -- and to be prepared for the unlikely (but still real) possibility of a last-minute cancellation. Make sure you prepare your source for that possibility as well. And, if you do have a cancellation, use it as an opportunity to pivot and either set up a future meeting or call or to pitch a story.

Anticipate the Unexpected -- Plan to join your leader for the tour -- and be ready for anything. We recommend having a plan set up for transportation (either serving as the driver yourself or coordinating to make sure you have someone who can get you from point A to point B on time) -- and making sure you have a stealth supply of snacks, an umbrella, a stain stick, and more so that you can deal with whatever curve balls are thrown at you. You should also have some leave behind materials that you can give to the reporters and editors who meet with you.

Take Notes -- While your leader is fielding questions and sharing his or her perspectives, make sure you're there to document and take notes. Pay special attention to unanswered questions, follow-up items, and opportunities for future coverage.

Follow Up -- Once your day is over, follow up directly with each media member to thank them for their time, provide promised information, and coordinate next steps.

As you can see, a media tour isn't a small lift. But it will likely provide you with relationships and sustained coverage that you can't get through press releases.

PR Pickup Lines: How to Start a Relationship With Your Favorite Reporter

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Flare

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Flare

When was the last time you reached out to a reporter without a story to pitch?

If you’re like many nonprofit communicators, you might be straining to answer this question because it’s been a long time.

This is especially true if your role isn’t exclusively focused on media relations. If your work also involves some combination of social media, marketing, speechwriting, fundraising solicitations, event planning, blogging, and managing the production of your annual report, it’s hard to carve out the time to actually build relationships with reporters and editors.

As a result, your media relations work largely focuses on sending out news releases. Often at the last minute.

And, often, you send those releases out of obligation or habit — not because you think they are actually going to result in a media hit.

But if you care about getting better coverage for your organization, I’d like to try to break this cycle by giving you an assignment.

I’d like you to try to pick up a reporter.

Of course, I don’t mean this in the get-a-number-and-let’s-go-out context.

What I’m suggesting is much more, let’s say, professionally correct.

The first step is to identify a reporter who works for a news outlet that reaches a key audience for your nonprofit. Ideally, it’s a reporter who you’ve been thinking that you should build a relationship with. 

Now here’s the catch — you’re not allowed to pitch a story with your initial outreach.

Instead, you’re simply going to introduce yourself or your organization to that reporter — and make it clear that you’re there to help.

That’s it.

You’re not going to try to sell him a story idea or get her to come to your annual dinner.

You’re simply aiming to start a relationship that will eventually evolve into a story or an invite or an interview.

How do you do this?

It’s easier than you might think.

Ideally, you want to start the relationship by sending the reporter or editor three important signals:

  1. You follow and respect his or her work.

  2. You or your organization can be a resource in future reporting.

  3. You’re not looking to simply pitch stories — you want to be a partner.

The first step in this process involves a bit of legwork.

You actually have to spend a little bit of time getting to know the journalist’s work. Go online and look at recent stories he or she has covered. Pay attention to the themes they cover and the examples they cite.

Next, think about how you can help.

Perhaps it’s by providing them with background data or a report. Perhaps it’s by having them get to know your executive director. Perhaps it’s by offering to connect them with a partner organization that does similar work.

The next step takes a bit of courage.

Send that reporter an introductory email or note.

If you don’t know where to start, let me give you a few suggested “pickup lines” or openers:

  • “I’ve enjoyed following your coverage of nonprofits for the XYZ Gazette and wanted to offer my organization as a resource to you for future stories …”

  • “Your recent piece on state budget cuts is an important one for our community because it will likely reduce the amount of aid to nonprofit organizations. As you continue to report on this story, I’m happy to put you in touch with some local experts who can add perspective …”

  • “I followed with interest your recent series on Medicaid. Since you’re interested in this topic, I thought I’d pass along a 2016 study by the ABC Institute that includes some projections that might interest you in future reporting …”

It doesn’t have to be fancy or too in-depth. It simply needs to start a conversation.

Chances are, you’ll get a reply.

And with that reply will come an opportunity to take that budding relationship to the next level.

It might not pay off immediately, but in time that relationship has the potential to develop into one where you become a trusted resource for that reporter.

The 5 Things Reporters Really Want From P.R. Pros

Roger H. Goun, via Creative Commons

Roger H. Goun, via Creative Commons

When you open your e-mail box, which messages are you most likely to open: generic messages from unknown senders or personal notes sent by someone you know?

The answer to this question is obvious, right? You’re going to open the personal message first.

And you’re more likely to trust that message than you would a message that comes from a stranger.

Effective media relations relies on the same idea. The nonprofits that are often most effective at earning headlines do so because they've positioned themselves as trusted sources.

They didn't develop their reputations through sending cookie-cutter press releases a few times a year. Instead, they put in the work to get to know what journalists really want -- and they took the time to position themselves as reliable sources who can deliver.

Journalists, after all, are people.  Busy people who have a lot of folks who are vying for their attention.

But while each journalist has her own tastes and needs, we do have some clues that can help you determine those tastes and needs.

This week's release of  The Cision 2017 State of the Media Report provides some interesting insights into what today's journalists are looking for from media relations professionals.

To compile the report, Cision surveyed more than 1,550 North American journalists and influencers -- and that survey offers some important takeaways for nonprofits who are looking to step up their media relations game.

Here are 5 key things you should know from the survey:

1. Know What They Cover Before You Pitch

If you've read any of my other posts on media relations, you already know that I strongly advise against sending a generic release to your entire media list.

In my experience, reporters HATE getting generic releases.

The Cision survey backs up this advice. When asked how PR professionals can improve, 72.8 percent said "tailoring the pitch to suit my beat/coverage". Another 82.5 percent said "researching/understanding my media outlet."

"A major complaint from journalists is that they receive too much spam and irrelevant pitches that sour their relationships with communicators," the Cision report said. "'Batch and blast' methods don't work and are counterproductive."

Sending 2-3 personalized pitches to high-value outlets is going to get you much farther than a generic pitch to 100.

It takes a bit more time up front, but the results are almost always going to be better.

2. Don't Bother Calling

Journalists overwhelmingly prefer to get pitches via email. More than 9 in 10 -- 92 percent -- said email is the preferred channel for pitches.

Meanwhile, only 2 percent said they like to get pitches over the phone -- and many of them report that phone pitches are strictly off limits.

During my days as a journalist, I hated getting cold pitches from people over the phone. I considered such pitches a waste of time and eventually screened calls from numbers I didn't recognize.

Journalists spend a lot of time calling sources. And they're often willing to take calls from folks they know. But unless you're on a first-name basis with that journalist, don't ring her phone.

Send an email instead.

3.  They Want Your Expertise

More often than not, journalists aren't relying on PR pitches for story ideas. They often find stories during the course of working their beats and talking to people.

What they do need, though, are experts -- people who they can rely on to provide context, facts, and commentary to help with their reporting.

Smart PR professionals understand this and take the time to let reporters know about the executive director or board member who really understands health care or environmental issues. They often share reports and data outside of the context of a pitch.

If your reports and data are useful, they will likely be cited in future reporting.

If your experts are credible, they'll reach out when they need access to their opinions.

Again, the Cision report backs up this notion.

Roughly half of journalists surveyed said PR professionals would serve them better by providing them with information and expert services.

4. Sharing Shows Caring

Want to build credibility with a journalist?


Retweet one of her news stories. Share his latest think piece on Facebook. Embed the video of a recent TV news report mentioning your nonprofit on your website.

Nearly 1 in 3 journalists in the Cision survey said PR professionals could do a better job of sharing their stories on social media.

My takeaway: journalists are paying attention to who is sharing their work. And doing so can help you become top of mind when they're looking for sources in the future.

After all, you draw more bees with honey than with vinegar.

5. Pictures -- Still Worth A Thousand Words

The Cision survey includes another important nugget -- that staff photographers are providing fewer images than in the past.

Increasingly, news organizations are relying on newswires, stock images, and sources for images to accompany their pieces.

This means you shouldn't be shy about making it clear to journalists that you can provide photos, graphics, and other visual materials.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway is that you should approach your relationships with journalists as you would any of the other valuable relationships in your life.

By taking the time to listen and understand their needs -- and being willing to share -- you will achieve much better results than you will be simply pitching them.

This post is part of an ongoing series that Peter contributes to Nonprofit Marketing Guide on media relations for nonprofits. For more advice on communications, marketing and PR for nonprofits, we encourage you to explore NMG.

How to Get Media Coverage for Your Next Event

With spring upon us, many nonprofits are in the throes of event planning.

Nonprofits spend countless hours -- and considerable money -- to stage gala dinners, peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns, and other events that aim to draw attention to their work and rally their supporters to give to their organizations.

Quite often, they also expect these events to generate media coverage.

And, quite often, they are disappointed when their events get ignored by newspapers, TV stations, and online outlets.

During my journalism career, I received countless pitches from charities small and large inviting me to cover their events. In almost every case, the pitches were earnest and the causes seemed worthy. But, in almost every case, I had to say no.

Sometimes, my reasons for turning down the pitch were simple logistics -- I was either covering something else or couldn't make the event because it conflicted with something else happening in my life.

But usually, I would turn down the request because the pitch didn't sell the event as something that was worth my time. While the events were big deals to the organizations that were staging them, they simply didn't have a juicy enough angle for me to feel confident that I would walk away with a story that was strong enough to make the pages of my newspaper.

To get the attention of reporters, your event needs to provide them with enough of a news hook to justify taking time away from pursuing other stories to be there. They need to be assured that, if they choose to attend, they will come away with a strong story.

Sadly, most communications pros who are promoting events don't take the time to find strong story angles before they make their pitch to the media. They take the easy step of sending a news release announcing their event -- and they are disappointed when those pitches are ignored.

The good news is that reporters actually like to cover charity events that come with a ready-made news hook. The stories themselves are easy to report -- and they provide an opportunity to report on some "good news". But with so many charity events on the calendar, you need to take the time to sell them on why yours will help them tell an interesting and newsworthy story.

How do you do that?

Here are five approaches that are likely to help you find success:

1. Support (or debunk) a trend

One way to get the media to cover your event is to position it in the context of a larger trend, preferably a trend that hasn't been covered by the news outlet you're pitching.

Best Buddies Pennsylvania's annual fundraising walk was recently featured in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, not because the paper routinely covers charity walks, but because the growth of Best Buddies' event mirrored a larger trend in peer-to-peer fundraising -- namely that it was among a growing number of smaller, less-established events that had been showing success locally.

Smart communicators will often talk to the people who are planning the event to learn more about what's happening in the broader field and will research other events and trends to see if they can find connections.

By taking this step -- and then showing reporters how your event will help them write an interesting trend story -- you have a better chance of getting them to pay attention.

2. Connect it to a current news topic

Is your environmental nonprofit hosting its annual dinner on the eve of a major climate change summit? Is your soup kitchen hosting a fundraising event at the same time that Congress is considering changes to the way food stamps are administered?

One way to get the media interested in your event is to find a connection between its mission and something that's happening in the news. It provides reporters with a ready-made hook and questions to ask your leadership and attendees -- and it gives you the extra benefit of helping raise awareness about an issue that connects closely with your work.

Last fall, I spoke at an annual gathering of charity leaders in Erie, Pa. While I was there, I ran into an old reporter friend who had decided to cover the event because it gave him the opportunity to talk to nonprofit leaders whose organizations were affected by a delay in approving Pennsylvania's state budget.

The reporter decided to cover the event because he knew he would have a chance to talk directly to attendees in between sessions. The event helped him get a diverse array of opinions and put a local face on a statewide story.

3. Provide insider access to a speaker or awards recipient

During my days as a local newspaper reporter, I always loved the opportunity to get an opportunity to interview a newsworthy speaker -- particularly if it was someone from out of town who might be able to provide some unique insights about something that was happening in the community I was covering or on a larger trend or topic.

If your event is bringing in an outside speaker or guest, attempt to make arrangements with that person to be available for interviews with select media members -- and find out what topics he or she is willing (and unwilling) to discuss. Often, you can select some time either before the event begins or after his or her speech for short interviews.

Not only will this help you get coverage for your event, it could help bolster your relationship with the reporters who are offered the opportunity to interview your speaker. The reporter might be more likely to pick up the phone and call you in the future for comment on a story -- and to reply to your next pitch.

4. Find a human-interest story

Chances are, your fundraising walk or ride isn't going to get the attention of a reporter on its own. After all, there are likely multiple fundraising events happening in your community every weekend.

But you know what does appeal to reporters? Stories of perseverance, of overcoming obstacles, of people doing extraordinary things in the face of adversity.

Many nonprofit events involve people who have amazing stories who are supporting an organization because of a deep personal connection to the cause. Rather than simply putting out announcements about your event, take the time to find out more about the people who are participating and make them the center of your pitch. Your fundraising team likely knows these stories already and would love to help you shine the spotlight of an amazing volunteer or a supporter who is walking in honor of a family member.

It takes a bit of extra work to find these stories and to position them to reporters, but your chances of success are much higher if you can find a compelling person to be the face of your event.

5. Invite a preview

Because many nonprofit-led events occur on nights and weekends -- at times when most news organizations run with a skeleton crew -- getting a reporter to actually come out to those events can be a stretch.

But you don't need them to come to the actual event to claim victory with your pitch. Often, you can gain more value by getting coverage ahead of the event. In addition to inviting reporters to attend your event, give them the option of writing a preview -- and use one of the other tactics outlined above to help provide the hook.

While none of these approaches are foolproof, your pitches stand a greater chance at success if they do more than provide an invitation.

You need a hook.

Take the time to find one, and you'll be rewarded with more coverage for your next event.


Note: This is part of a regular series of posts on public relations for nonprofits that I write for Nonprofit Marketing Guide. If you'd like to see more advice on marketing and communications, I urge you to check it out. Nonprofit Marketing Guide is a great resource for communications professionals across all industries.