Local journalists and PR consultants offer tips to promote your cause

by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

As a nonprofit leader, it’s likely that increasing awareness about your organization can be just as challenging as fundraising. While digital marketing and social media outreach can be effective ways to reach new audiences, gaining media coverage can be the key to promoting your mission, and consequently, engaging more supporters and donors.

But the process for successfully getting their news covered by local media outlets can elude many nonprofits, especially those without the resources to hire a public relations consultant.

During Media Access Workshop recently presented by the Indianapolis Association of Black Journalists, local media representatives, including those from the Indianapolis Star, WISH-TV, WTHR, and Not-for Profit News, and communications consultants and public relations experts offered key strategies for nonprofits and churches that want to effectively engage with local media outlets.

After attending the workshop, Paradise Bradford, CEO and founder of Pretty Passionate Hands, said that the insights she gained alleviated some of her frustrations about getting media coverage for her grassroots nonprofit organization, which supports and mentors teen parents.

“It can get discouraging when you see stories highlighted about other organizations,” she said. “You may think, ‘Why are they on the news?’ It gets discouraging because you start wondering if what you’re doing is important.”

Bradford said some of the key takeaways from the session was understanding when and how to send press releases, as well as identifying the media teams that would be most likely to cover her nonprofit’s events and news updates.

The session, which was sponsored by the Indianapolis Recorder and Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis, also included the following tips:

Pitch a compelling newsworthy story. Make sure your idea for media coverage is newsworthy. As Jasmine Minor of WISH-TV noted, first ask this critical question: “Why would someone care?” Is your organization celebrating its 10th anniversary? That’s not unusual. Many organizations are celebrating milestones. Explore more newsworthy angles, such as the impact that your organization has made in the community in a specific area. Provide data, whether national statistics related to the story or data unique to your organization’s impact. Pitches backed up by data can make a more compelling case for an article, according to Alexandria Burris, investigative reporter for the Indianapolis Star. It’s more likely to get a reporter’s attention.

Understand your audience. Before pitching a story to a news reporter or media outlet, do your research first. Most media outlets have reporters who cover specific areas, such as crime, education, sports, government, traffic, etc. Take the time to research reporters’ areas of specialty and interest before pitching an article. An education reporter may be interested in the work done by nonprofits that are addressing learning loss caused by COVID-19. Most online publications, newspapers, and TV stations will have a listing of their reporters on their websites. They also will include contact information, including email addresses. Consider reaching out on various platforms, including LinkedIn and Twitter.

Develop a press release. When proposing a story idea, make sure to include the Five W’s — Who, What, When, Where, and Why — in a concise format. In most cases, a press release should be limited to three or four paragraphs on one page with a short attention-grabbing headline. Include contact information of the person who will be responding to reporters’ inquiries. Also, be prepared to share your story as part of a broadcast, whether you receive a request from a TV station or a newspaper.

Don’t be afraid to engage with the reporter on a personal level. If you feel like your news pitches are constantly ignored, send a quick email to ask the journalists on your list what types of stories they’re interested in or if there is another person on their team that would be a better fit. Journalists are often inundated with press releases and advisories. Be consistent in following up and trying to engage them.

Send press releases at least a week or two in advance. Depending upon the news outlet, you will need to send a press release in time for them to consider it for publication. Most daily publications and TV stations will need at least one- or two-weeks’ advance notice about your news story, while weekly and monthly publications will require even more time.

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