The way some people talk about it, you might think getting your story picked up by the media is the hardest thing in the world. You might also assume press coverage is the be-all and end-all for your nonprofit.
However, getting press coverage isn’t impossible. People get their stories published every day, and journalists are hungry for content. Your nonprofit news can be one of those covered, but you have to approach the media correctly from square one. Here’s what you should do.
1. Perform Your Due Diligence
The simplest step towards press coverage—the prep-work—is often overlooked. That’s problematic because it’s one of the most important parts of your journey to get press coverage.
Getting your story picked up is all about the details. The deeper you take your research, process, story, and outreach, the bigger your chance of securing press coverage. Spend your time reading and researching sites and journalists to feel out their content preferences and specific beats.
Always ask the following questions:
- What market category does my story, news, or announcement fall in?
- Which sites cover news for that market vertical?
- Which reporters write the best about this subject?
- How many relevant reporters fall into this category?
- What is their email, Twitter handle, and other contact information?
These questions are designed to narrow your focus and help build a list of contacts. You should never put all your eggs in one basket, so don’t put all your effort behind one site or journalist. Diversify your list as much as possible. Then, segment it further.
2. Segment Your Press Coverage List
Marketers prioritize list segmentation all the time, and you should focus on it with journalists.
Maximize open and engagement rates by segmenting your list in several different ways. You could break contacts up by gender, age, interests, or industry. The level of data available for segmentation, though, depends on the depth of research you conduct.
For example, if you only get the name of a journalist and that they like to cover social good, you may want to dig a little deeper. More information is better than not enough, so find out:
- What jobs they’ve worked in the past
- Where they went to school
- Who’s in their professional network
- What their interests are
- What groups or clubs they are affiliated with
In marketing circles, list segmentation is important because it allows the right people to receive the most pertinent content at precisely the right time. In the context of your nonprofit publication hunt, it tells you when to send your story, who the most relevant journalists are, and when is the most opportune time to send it.
Your list serves as a jumping off point for all future publication and press coverage efforts as well. Do it right the first time and you’ll set yourself up for success in the long run. Strong, detailed research also makes your approach and outreach to a new media contact that much easier.
3. Approach a New Media Contact
The easiest way to get in touch with journalists—and media people in general—is through email. You should have secured this information during your due diligence phase.
When you write your email, keep in mind that the first thing they read is the subject line. Make your subject gripping, but don’t oversell or over-sensationalize the content inside. For example, if your story is about a major #GivingTuesday initiative that yielded solid results, you wouldn’t say:
“We just had the best Giving Tuesday campaign the world has ever seen to date”
Instead, you might use:
“#GivingTuesday: How we raised 300% more money in 2016 vs 2015”
What’s wrong with the first option and right about the second? The first one is a baseless claim, it’s not newsworthy, and its sensationalism falls flat and feels cliché. The second one is short, carries weight, and doesn’t oversell anything.
Some best practices to keep in mind when writing subject lines in email:
- Keep it short, 50 characters or shorter
- Get the news across as early as possible in the sentence
- Let the story speak for itself—there’s no need to oversell or lie
- Never mark a story “urgent” or “high priority”
- Tease the information inside your email without giving it away
When it comes to the body of your email, don’t get too caught up thinking you have to follow the guidelines for a traditional press release. Stale content defeats the purpose of a bright headline, and traditional press releases are nothing if not boring.
Keep your emails high and tight, cut the fluff language, and strike a balance between professional and friendly. A good rule of thumb is to write like an ambitious freelancer, not a desperate person.
Like a first impression face to face, you only get one chance to impress your media contact. It’s worth putting time into because, in a perfect world, this is the start of a bountiful work relationship for you both.
4. The Pitch and Relationship Building
The pitch is the culmination of all your work up to this point. If you’ve done everything right, you stand a good chance of getting journalists to pay attention to your story. Have confidence in the process and know that your work is sound.
However, it doesn’t hurt to double-check everything. Before you send off your email pitch, be 100 percent sure that:
- Your pitch is personalized to your contact
- Your pitch contains the right biographical information about the journalist
- The journalist’s name is spelled right
- Any background facts on the journalist are triple-checked for accuracy
- Your copy is typo-free
- Your personal contact information is prominently displayed
After you send the email, be patient. Never pester journalists with daily follow-up emails. Pushing too much is guaranteed to get your pitch trashed. And the second a journalist responds, identify yourself, your nonprofit, and your motivation behind pitching them for press coverage.
Once the conversation is started, further drive home your initial pitch. Don’t get overzealous and start discussing future stories: only focus on your current story.
The end goal is for this first pitch to be near-perfect so your contact realizes you supply good stories with high potential for audience engagement. This demonstrates that you’re a trusted source and lays the foundation for future work together.
At the end of the day, don’t forget that journalists are professionals, just like you, with a job to do. Cater to their professional persona, but also show you’re interested about who they are as a person. If it feels like too much to take in at once, try studying what doesn’t work and what journalists hate.
BONUS: What Not to Do
A cursory Google search of “what journalists hate” will populate an abundance of articles. Sometimes, it can be easier to focus on what doesn’t work when outlining your roadmap to publication.
Taken from Dear PR, a Twitter account made by a journalist, the following tweets are from other journalists about what they dislike when being pitched. Keep these in mind when building your own plan to get your nonprofit story published.
Check it out:
pr peeps, check your lists so you don’t end up sending the same email to one person THREE TIMES.
— Julie Gerstein (@havethehabit) November 16, 2016
.@DearPR, PLEASE DO NOT SEND AN ENTIRE PRESS RELEASE WRITTEN IN CAPITAL LETTERS. I WILL PRINT IT OUT AND BURN IT ON GENERAL PRINCIPLE.
— Therese Apel (@TRex21) November 2, 2016
Dear journalist, I know this isn't the sort of thing you usually cover, but here's a pitch anyway. Also, a link to a story you wrote once.
— Brian Heater (@bheater) November 10, 2016
dear pr emails, I HAVE a name I'm not 'dear blogger'
— Areeba Siddique (@areebasiddique) October 18, 2016
pr people, i’m chained to my desk, i can’t go to your press preview. just send me the stuff you think is cool! i gotta make ~content~ ffs
— Julie Gerstein (@havethehabit) October 28, 2016
@DearPR, please don't begin the pitch with "It's hard to ignore the buzz"
— Dana Hull (@danahull) October 11, 2016
When you map it all out, the process to get a story published is more than doable. The key to success is planning ahead of time, conducting detailed research, and building a process that works beyond one publication.
In order to nail down all the elements of your process, from ideation through cementing yourself as an industry expert, download our PR for Nonprofits Guide below.