4 min Read
February 5, 2019

Resolve to modernize your media relations efforts—and get better results—in 2019

Peter Panepento and Antionette Kerr

Too many nonprofits rely on antiquated media relations practices that are no longer effective in today’s market. Peter Panepento, Philanthropic Practice Leader at Turn Two Communications, and Antionette Kerr, Co-Founder of Bold & Bright Media, share how your nonprofit can build a successful modern media relations strategy, even on a limited budget.

Media relations isn’t a priority for most nonprofits and foundations—and it’s easy to understand why.

Nonprofits don’t exist to grab sexy headlines. Instead, they’re working to solve complex problems and (hopefully) change the world. As a result, most of your resources and staff are rightfully dedicated to carrying out your mission and raising the money needed to solve these problems.

But while nonprofits have other priorities, they still need to have a thought-out media strategy. Organizations that successfully work with reporters and editors are more visible, better able to advocate for their missions, and more successful in their fundraising efforts.

Unfortunately, too many nonprofits aren’t very successful when it comes to media relations. Too often, they rely on antiquated practices that no longer work in the modern media world.

If your nonprofit thinks blasting cookie-cutter press releases to everyone on your media list and taking photos of executives posing with oversized checks is the ticket to generating meaningful headlines, you just might fall into this category.

But it doesn’t take a massive investment to get better results from your media relations efforts.

You just need a new approach—one that focuses on meeting journalists halfway.

And it’s an approach that many organizations can effectively implement by simply redirecting their current media relations efforts.

We’ve dubbed it the G.R.E.A.T. approach to modern media relations—and it’s based on the following principles:

Goal-Oriented: All of your media relations activities should center on helping your nonprofit achieve clearly defined organizational goals. If, for example, your organization is trying to move the needle on closing the opportunity gap in your community, you should consider developing a media strategy that centers on achieving that goal.

Organizations with limited resources might consider identifying a short list of news outlets or journalists who reach the audiences who are most likely to help you achieve that goal and centering your media activities on building relationships and securing placements with this short list of outlets. This step will help you shed activities that aren’t getting value for your nonprofit—and will ensure that your limited media-relations resources are being invested smartly.

Responsive: Media relations is a lot like donor relations. If you’re treating your donors like ATMs and not taking time to understand and respond to their needs, you’re less likely to achieve long-term results. The same is true with reporters and editors. If you’re only coming to them when you need something, they’re likely to tune you out.

Once you’ve identified your highest-value outlets and journalists, take time to get to know them and position yourself as a resource who can help them get what they need. The more you can show them that you’re responsive—and not just there when you need something—the more likely you are to achieve your goals.

Empowered: While it’s important to be understanding of and responsive to the needs of the journalists you’re working with, it’s also important to stand up for your organization. That means that you’re tracking what’s being said about your nonprofit and the issues you care about—and that you move quickly to correct mistakes and misperceptions and to take advantage of what’s happening in the news to help tell your story.

Nonprofits should develop systems to track media mentions, create rapid response protocols, and create some high-level messages and talking points that they can deploy quickly, when needed.

Appealing: In the battle for news coverage, competition is fierce. Organizations that send sloppy press releases, make it difficult to find information on their websites, and don’t follow through with what they promise are more likely to get left by the wayside.

Take some time to do a quick audit of your news releases and website to make sure you’re providing clear, accessible information—and, if possible, have a library of images and other assets that you can make available to reporters on deadline.

Targeted: You don’t have to waste time sending news releases to and building relationships with reporters who aren’t likely to help you reach your target audiences. Instead, invest your resources on cultivating the right relationships. As you do, you’ll find that your organization becomes a trusted resource and that the reporters who are most valuable to you are seeking you out when they need ideas and sources.

While this approach might be a departure from how your organization handles media relations, it is more likely to help you earn media placements that advance your goals. And, as you build relationships with the right journalists, you’ll find that they are coming to you—and that they’re willing to work with you when you have an idea to pitch.

Peter Panepento and Antionette Kerr are co-authors of Modern Media Relations for Nonprofits: Creating an Effective PR Strategy for Today’s World.