We’re pretty big on Star Wars here at Blonde 2.0, so as Master Yoda would say: “Do. Or do not. There is no try”. But, If you want to see results from your PR efforts, you still need to make sure you’re doing it right.
I got my start in PR in the non-profit sector, and recently made the switch to for-profit PR. Working with for-profit companies has exposed me to a whole new world of ideas, strategies, and best practices that are uncommon or entirely absent in the nonprofit world. Using my knowledge and experience with nonprofits and my new found familiarity of for-profit PR practices, I’ve put together this list of key elements to keep in mind while working on PR that nonprofits tend to overlook.
Create a designated PR position. Many nonprofits are tempted to save money rather than add an in-house PR position or hire an agency. More often than not, a general manager or president will add a “Spokesperson” to their title and assume any and all PR responsibilities. There are two problems with this solution. First, a CEO probably doesn’t have the necessary experience to handle your organization’s PR efforts. Second, he or she most definitely won’t have the time needed for a successful PR strategy to be thought out and properly executed. Good PR requires hard work and lots of it, and should definitely not be anyone’s side job.
Your existence is not news. This is a pitfall many for-profit companies fall into as well, and is even more evident in nonprofits. If you started or work in a nonprofit, you are probably extremely passionate about its cause, as you should be. What you shouldn’t do is assume that a writer will be as passionate about it as you are. You have to make the story you’re pitching interesting for the specific writer you’re reaching out to. Look at their previous work, what their interests are, what fields they cover, and see how you can relate your organization’s goals to what they want to write about.
Utilize your people. Most nonprofits are all about people. Whether volunteers or people receiving assistance from the organization, these people might have interesting stories to share about their lives, and how the organization has affected them. A compelling human interest angle could be a great way to get a journalist interested in writing about your cause.
Build relationships. Being a spokesperson is about more than sending out press releases to every reporter whose email you can get your hands on. Always start with the grunt work – find the right publications, and the appropriate writers in those publications. When reaching out to them, make sure they know this isn’t a mass email, that you sought them out because you KNOW this is something they will be interested in. Cultivating a reciprocal relationship is key, and greatly increases your chances of getting coverage.
Consider external assistance. An inhouse PR specialist will probably know your organization best, but if you’re facing a big announcement (like a new campaign, a famous donor, or a significant achievement) you might want to consider hiring an external PR agency. An agency could help with casting a wider web, and reaching more publications (possibly in more geographic locations). For big events with a lot of potential, having an external PR agency working with your in-house PR person can significantly increase your results.
* If you can’t afford a PR firm, try to find one that takes on pro bono accounts. You’d be surprised how many of them do.
Be open to professional advice. While founders and directors may know the organization best, fresh eyes could open up brand new opportunities, provide new ideas and generate great exposure. Letting go is hard, even more so in nonprofits when emotions and egos run high, since many volunteer their time or take significant pay cuts in order to work for a cause they feel strongly about. If you decide to hire a PR agency, your full cooperation and an open mind will make sure you get your money’s worth. Make sure you choose a contact person who is in a position of authority within the organization (so they can make decisions when necessary) and is open to new ideas and different approaches suggested by the PR agency that may not have been considered in the past.
Nonprofits have to operate on limited funds by definition. Needless to say that their marketing budgets are often slim to nonexistent, which is why many organizations hope to overcome this challenge by securing press coverage and getting the public’s attention through the media. However, generating media interest isn’t as easy as some nonprofit leaders may think . So make sure to do it right: take your PR efforts seriously and allocate the necessary resources. It’s what Master Yoda would do, make him proud!