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Media relations for nonprofits & some Do’s & Don’ts

Whether you are embarking on an expedition to set a world record or planning a fundraising event for your favorite charity, you should never underestimate the power of press. Every activity in the world costs money and even millionaires don’t like to pay for their own expenses. Take Ewan McGregor for example. With $7 million for his Star Wars movie Revenge of the Sith, Ewan is not a middle class, but nevertheless appeared on network TV shows to drum up sponsorship money when it came to his motorcycle trips. Now if you don’t have the fame of Ewan McGregor to get on Late Night Show you have to do the footwork.

Press releases are the best way to go about getting exposure, but knowing how to write an effective press release and where to send it is the key. Newspapers and TV stations receive piles of press releases every day ranging from a new product announcement to cat lovers annual summer walk. You can have a fascinating story to tell and not get the exposure, or have nothing news-worthy and get published. It’s all in the subject of your mail, the title of your press release and the first paragraph.

Do’s of Nonprofits Media Relations

1. Do your homework to find out: the appropriate journalists’ names and titles; the correct name of the publication/show; the style/tone of the publication/show; what kind of images they need, in what format; the deadlines.

2. Give a contact name and number so journalists can contact someone for further information.

3. Tell an interesting story – the journalist is always asking: “WIIFM?” (What’s in it for me, and my audience?).

4. Answer the following questions in your publicity material: Who? What? When? Where? Why?

5. How Much? What language is the event in? How do I get a ticket/buy the product/offer to volunteer?


6. Put it in writing – typed rather than hand-written.

7. Talk to the person who can say YES.

8. Answer media inquiries promptly – if you’re the designated media contact person and you don’t know the answer to a question, promise to find out and call back rather than telling a journalist to call someone else.

9. Label all photographs clearly

10.Try to understand that there are hundreds of organizations out there that want free publicity at least as much as you do, and that a given media organization may not be able to give free publicity to all of them, every week.

11. Try to understand that journalists run stories as a service to their readers/viewers/ listeners, not as a favor to you.

12. Create and maintain your own media list that’s relevant to your organization.

13. Say “Thank you”.

Don’ts of Nonprofits Media Relations

1. Don’t Tell the journalist how to do his/her job – let him/her decide where, when and how to run the story.

2. Don’t try to tell the whole story over the phone – put it in writing.

3. Don’t Beg for coverage or plead that you deserve/need it.

4. Don’t impose on an actual or imagined friendship by contacting a journalist you know personally at his/her home to lobby for coverage – that’s not appropriate.

5. Don’t ask when your story/event will be featured – things often change at the last minute, so journalists prefer not to make absolute promises.

6. Don’t ask for the right to approve an article about your organization before it is published – the media organization retains editorial privilege.

7. Don’t Attempt to apply pressure on a journalist by saying: “We’ve booked an ad so please list our event”, or “We’ve booked an ad so please make your article about us positive”, or “If you promise to run a positive story about us then we’ll book an ad.” It just doesn’t work like that. In reputable media organizations, the advertising and editorial departments are quite separate.

8. Don’t pin all your publicity hopes on just one journalist/interview/article – there are no guarantees, so send your information to every relevant journalist.


9. Don’t ask the journalist to send you a copy of the article – buy the paper/magazine!

10. Don’t expect journalists to check your organization’s website every week for your latest news (that’s “pull” marketing) – they don’t have time. If you want free publicity, it’s YOUR responsibility to send the information to the relevant people (that’s “push” marketing).

11. Don’t Complain if your story doesn’t get covered exactly when and how you wanted it – if you want your event/story to be covered exactly the way you prescribe, on the exact days you determine, that’s called advertising, and you have to pay for it.

12. Don’t Say “No comment” – it looks like you’re hiding something.

13. Don’t Send your press release to one journalist and expect him/her to copy it and distribute it for you to other journalists in the same organization.

Article by SA Manikandan.

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