4 min Read
March 30, 2017

Getting heard in the age of media frenzy

Big Duck

Over the past 15 years (or so) the media and our habits of consuming information have helped to produce a world of seemingly inescapable, fast-paced echo chambers. Now enter 2017, and controversy and scandal are driving a never ending media frenzy.

Whether or not this is going to settle into permanent new-normal status, it is worth pausing to revisit a question nonprofit communicators have been obsessing over since at least the turn of the century: How do I get my message out amidst all this noise?

Here are some strategies for getting heard in a period with lots of distractions:

Repeat and reinforce your campaigns
If you’re worried that your audience may not be paying as much attention as they normally would, few tactics are as helpful as repetition. Packaging your key messages and initiatives into campaigns of strategically timed communications that reinforce each other across channels and over a series of messages will go a long way toward driving action and making a lasting impression. This means including all of your active channels, from direct mail to SMS, in your campaigns, repetitive use of the same images and basic messages across channels, and timing your various components to launch in short succession.

Plan strategically, but be flexible
Recently the only thing that’s predictable is that big, attention-getting surprises will keep on coming. In this context, you need to keep planning your communications strategically and methodically based on when your message is likely to resonate, the messages your audience responds to, etc. At the same time, prepare yourself for the unexpected. Often you need to stick to the plan and roll with the punches—and you shouldn’t be overly reactive. But at times it’s smart to make small changes to your schedule or messaging. For example, we knew in advance that Conservation International’s 2015 year-end fundraising campaign would have to be responsive to the UN climate talks in Paris. We were lucky to know roughly when outcomes would be released, and built wiggle room into our schedule as a result. And because we didn’t know for sure what the results would be, we explored various scenarios when writing campaign content so we would be ready with the right messaging and tone when the announcement came.

Shift toward the public mood
If you haven’t done so recently, take a moment to consider what your nonprofit’s personality is. Is there an aspect of your work that feels most relevant to current events? Can you adjust your tone in a way that aligns with content your audience is consuming right now, while still sounding like you? Or, you may be able to adopt language that reflects cultural trends—for example, talking about your work in terms of movement building or using advocacy language like “take action” in response to today’s political climate. One organization that has done this recently is Sanctuary for Families, a domestic violence organization that serves a largely immigrant population in New York. As advocacy has always been part of their work, Sanctuary’s communications have long included bold language. But, as the president’s executive orders on immigration, they’ve leaned into this aspect of their voice in a way that communicates their passion in the face of a political environment that is hostile toward the community they serve. Showing your audience that you know what they care about is a great way to build stronger relationships—and, if your content or tone relates to where your supporters’ heads are at, they will be primed to pay attention.

Go to the unexpected
Another strategy is to purposely contradict with your audience is thinking about or how they’re feeling. Imagine this: An environmental organization sends you an email tomorrow with the subject line, “The earth is smiling today.” You open the email, and find a message that addresses the three-year plateau in carbon levels your support helped achieve, then asks you to donate to make sure we can fight back against climate deniers. The seemingly dissonant subject line would get people’s attention, and supporters may even take solace in and appreciate the positive part of the message.

Up the volume
As the number of marketing messages we’re bombarded with every day grows and grows, you’re going to need to do more to get your supporters’ attention. That may mean increasing the frequency of your ongoing communications, creating new campaigns, or adding additional components to existing campaigns—increasing the number of emails or social posts, adding a lightbox, investing in paid advertising, etc. Many organizations are hesitant to communicate more out of fear of annoying their supporters, but generally nonprofits don’t communicate as much as they could. In my time working in nonprofit communications (and I’m old enough that it’s been a while), I’ve never seen a notable negative response to an increase in communication. I’ve even seen the opposite—for example, one Big Duck client who’s found that their unsubscribe rates on emails have gone down as we have increased the number of appeals!

On a different note, if you’re also responsible for your nonprofit’s year-end fundraising I’ll be leading a brief webinar on emerging trends from 2016 fundraising. Registration is free and all the details, including how to register, is online here.