Keeping your charity’s press releases out of the bin and in the media requires a little strategic thinking.
There are nine key steps to take before you even start to approach journalists. The good news is once you’ve done this groundwork you just need to review and refresh, leaving you to get on with the important business of promoting your charity.
1. Decide why you want media coverage and who your audience is
Do you want to increase donations, influence policy, attract volunteers or launch a new campaign? The audiences you are trying to reach will differ depending on the aim of the coverage. Once you’ve identified them, you can be far more targeted in your approach to the media.
2. Identify your targets
With the aims and audiences identified you can draw up a list of key and relevant journalists and publications for every potential story – focusing on those read/listened to/watched by your target audience.
Don’t bother sending stories to journalists if you think they’re unlikely to cover them, they’ll start ignoring everything you pitch.
Your media list will probably include national and regional media, local newspapers and magazines plus specialist and trade press. These should be sub-divided so you can easily access the right journalists for a particular story.
Ensure your media list is kept up to date. Journalists move on and change jobs; they develop interests and specialisms in particular issues. Websites like journalisted enable you to search by subject and by journalist to see who is writing what. Subscribe to weekly alerts on key topics. Explore services such as PR Newswire to create your target database. AskCharity is also a great way to make journalist contacts.
Develop links with influential journalists in your field, so they begin to see you as a source of expertise and stories.
3. Creating consistent messages
Establish ‘key messages’ which are consistently presented whenever media opportunities arise. This helps build up recognition and brand awareness and ensures this is reinforced every time a story is released. Some charities have multiple functions and roles, so it’s vital to have a clear and simple explanation of what they do.
If there are issues which your charity needs to take a view on, develop your messages for them, particularly if they could be controversial. An example might be a medical charity which funds research conducted by animal testing. Test your messages with journalists or media consultants to make sure they stand up to media scrutiny.
4. Establish a clearance procedure for press releases
Opportunities for coverage can easily be missed if the process of approval is unclear or protracted. The PR team needs to have the ability to be as nimble, proactive and reactive as possible. If several layers of management need to approve every single release, deadlines can be missed.
Make sure your pitches and press releases are short, sharp and succinct with great headlines and introductions.
5. Produce a media toolkit
This should include biographies of key figures, your charity’s history, case studies, information about successful campaigns and achievements, facts and figures about key issues in your field, and high quality pictures.
The toolkit needs to be ready to send out with each news release. Make sure you have the permission of any contacts who might be named, and if possible their agreement to be interviewed.
6. Establish a social media policy
Social media is now an essential tool – the great advantage being it allows you to communicate your message directly to supporters, the wider public and also allows you to connect with media professionals.
If you’re new to social media CharityComms’ Social Media guide is a good place to start.
7. Hold a brainstorming session
Stories generally fall into two categories – reactive and proactive.
Reactive stories relate to events you are organising, campaigns you are launching and reactions to the general news agenda.
Proactive stories are those you’ve developed and then pitched to the media. It’s well worth brainstorming to generate a list of ideas – don’t just use the PR team but also colleagues from researchers to shop volunteers. This will give different perspectives on what goes on in the organisation.
Once you’ve got these, work out when potential stories should be released and to whom. Don’t flood a particular media outlet with ideas one month, then nothing for the rest of the year.
8. Identify potential spokespeople
It is important to have several spokespeople who are prepared to do interviews on your behalf. They need to be clear about the organisation’s messages and confident about presenting your cause in an engaging and interesting way. Media training can help with this.
9. Produce a promotional film
When TV crews are stretched and budgets are tight, your own good quality footage could be the deciding factor in whether you win TV coverage or not. Of course anything you produce also benefits the charity’s online and Youtube presence.
These are just the first steps. Once they’re done, and the story’s right, you can get promoting.