Public relations is one of the most effective and cost-efficient tools at charities’ disposal – it doesn’t require an external media or marketing spend and, with a little insider knowledge, can be executed by your internal team at little cost to your business. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. When done well, PR can significantly boost awareness of your brand, cause or event and provide a tangible boost to your fundraising efforts. When done poorly, however, it can have the opposite effect. The media can be a tough crowd, so we’ve compiled a handy list of do’s and don’ts to make sure you get your cause talked about for all the right reasons.
Here are five pieces of advice which will increase your chances of getting a run:
1. Know your story and why you want to tell it.
Ask yourself what it is you’re trying to achieve by talking to media. Are you hoping to inspire donations, increase awareness of an issue or encourage the community to buy tickets to an upcoming event? Knowing this will help you communicate the information you want to see in print and tailor your email or telephone pitch accordingly. Journalists rarely read (or listen) beyond your opening gambit before deciding whether they want to know more so, be clear and to-the-point. Keep in mind the five W’s when preparing your media materials – Who, What, When, Where and Why (How often sneaks in too).
2. Make sure your story has news value.
To get a run and spark interest, your story needs to tick a few important boxes. Timeliness is paramount. Your story must be current or just about to happen to be relevant – letting journalists know about something two days after it’s occurred is too late. Similarly, don’t leave it til the day before an event to let local media know about it. A general rule of thumb is to send media information at least four weeks prior.
Likewise, it’s important that your story has proximity and local relevance to the media outlet or journalist you’re pitching to. For national events, this is where having a local case study or quirky human interest angle to share is key. For example, if you’re hosting a fun run, do you have a runner who is 90 and this is their first time running, or four generations of the same family taking part? Is there a supporter with a powerful personal link to the cause that they’d be willing to share? Unusual or stirring human interest profiles like this will give you something unique to go to the media with and greatly increase your chances of success.
3. Tell it to the right person.
Sending your media release or event information to a general email address for the local newspaper or radio station is a good place to start, but you can improve your hit rate by taking the time to send your media release to a specific contact. If you’re going to be doing a lot of media outreach there are media databases you can subscribe to but they can be costly. Many Australian media outlets have standard email formats that can be easily discovered with a little Google sleuthing.
In addition, do your homework and find out what your contact has previously reported on so that you can tailor your pitch accordingly. If a journalist is going to be covering a lot of issues and/or events relating to your cause, it’s worth taking the time to build your relationship with them. Take them out for coffee, give them an exclusive or personally invite them to the event. The more they get to know you and trust you as a source, the more likely they will be to run your stories.
4. A picture paints a thousand words.
Telling your story with high-quality relevant pictures is essential. Most media expect images that are 1MB (300dpi) or higher to accompany a story. Publications with their own team of staff photographers are increasingly few and far between, so it’s more important than ever to ensure you have relevant, colourful and high-quality photography to send with your media release. Make sure your photos are clear, provide visual reference to the event (for example, if you’re hosting a fun run that requires guests to dress up, send a photo of 3-5 runners dressed up in costume), and are sent with captions naming all people in the photograph. If the story merits it and there is budget available, consider investing in professional photography.
If you want to see your event on the nightly news bulletin, offer media a novel ‘filming opportunity’ where they can film video footage to accompany their story. For example, gather a group of participants in your upcoming fun run and stage a training session dressed in their costumes, or auction the first box of mangoes of the season to raise money for your farmers’ charity. Invite media to attend and provide a full list of potential interviewees they can speak to for sound bites.
5. Always be prepared.
If you’ve crafted a great pitch, sent it to media and they’ve taken the bait, make sure you or your designated spokesperson are available to take the call. Most journalists work to tight deadlines and may need to do an interview urgently. Have your spokesperson ready and aware they may be called upon. Your spokesperson should be someone who is comfortable speaking to the media and has been briefed on the key messages to communicate during an interview. For example, if you’re promoting an upcoming fundraising event make sure they know to share the event date, location and a website where people can find out more information or buy tickets. There’s nothing more disappointing than a great story appearing with no mention of your brand or call to action.
And now, for the list of transgressions that will kill your story in its tracks:
- Asking if you can see the story before it goes to print/air. Editorial doesn’t come with the privilege of trying before you buy, so asking for a preview is a big faux pas.
- Repeatedly calling to ask if the story has run. This is one of the journalists’ biggest gripes. Instead, monitor the news outlet yourself if you can. If after several weeks, nothing has appeared, a polite email enquiry is the best approach.
- Sending the same story to rival publications or multiple contacts at the same publication. Journos are a competitive bunch and won’t look on you favourably in the future if ‘their’ story runs somewhere else first.
- Not responding in a timely manner to journalist request. The 24-hour news cycle waits for no man. Always let your contact know if you need time to gather additional information or you can’t meet their deadline.
- Sending a mass email to pitch your story. Tailor your pitch email where possible with localised angles and talent and give media individual attention – never address your email “Hi all”. Think quality over quality: sometimes it’s better to get one large press hit than several smaller ones.