Media coverage has the potential to put you in front of a lot of eyes. For nonprofits, media coverage is an opportunity to draw in new donors and community interest. I’ve even had a client receive a $200,000 check from a single article in the News and Observer.
However, one surefire way not to get picked up is by blasting out a press release about your upcoming fundraising gala or program-specific event. As I’ve said before, people aren’t as interested in your programs or events as they are in people.
So when pitching stories to the media, don’t pitch events or statistics, pitch people. This doesn’t mean you should give up all hopes of coverage for your event. It means your event shouldn’t be the sole focus of the pitch, but rather a platform from which to offer a more compelling story.
Before we dive into identifying attractive story angles for reporters, I want to take a moment to remind you that reporters are people with unique interests and passions and things that annoy them. Blindly pushing press releases isn’t effective.
Spend some time reading articles in your local paper and watching the news stations you want to cover your story. Check out reporters’ Twitter bios. Seriously. The more you know about a reporter, the better equipped you will be to send him stories he’s genuinely interested in covering.
That’s the first step in identifying your story angle. If you know a reporter has an interest in education and has written many articles focused on the achievement gap, pitching her a story about a fundraising event in support of foster care/adoption placement services wouldn’t be a good fit.
However, after doing homework on this reporter and articles she’s written in the past, you may realize there’s a natural link between the services your organization provides and the reporter’s interests. When children are brought into an environment of love and stability and structure, their behavior and academic performance improve.
Instead of pitching your fundraising event, you now have a relevant story. For example, let’s say a girl named Kara came into your organization’s care many grade levels behind in reading. But after her placement with a caring family two years ago, she’s now at grade level in reading, and her self-confidence is soaring.
Kara and her foster parents will be at this event and available to speak to the reporter about how structure and persistence from her foster parents has slowly helped Kara improve in reading, boosting her grades in all other subjects as well.
In this case, you didn’t miss an opportunity to get the word out about your event. You framed it in such a way that it had a higher probability of getting picked up.
How you present your story idea matters. Though reporters we’ve talked to claim they don’t care how a story is presented to them as long as it’s good, if you’ve ever read press releases, you know how painful they can be. And they can take a heck of a lot of time to put together.
Consider crafting a short email pitch instead. Cover the basic facts (Who, What, When, Where, Why, How), and present your compelling angle in a few sentences. This isn’t a press release, so don’t treat it as one. A pitch is a high-level summary of your story idea that includes the resources you have to offer to make the reporter’s job easier.
If you’re pitching an event you’d like media to attend, make sure to include that your interview subject will be present and available to the reporter.
Sometimes, even good pitches won’t receive a response. Don’t give up. A few days after you’ve sent your pitch, follow up with a phone call. But don’t say, “I’m calling to see if you saw my pitch.” The reporter saw it.
Present yourself as a solution. “I sent a pitch on Tuesday about how foster care placement improves academic performance. Let me know if you have any questions or if there are any other ways I can assist you with this story.”
So, next time you have some sort of event you want the media to cover, don’t waste your time. Spewing a release out to a bunch of reporters you know nothing about is usually a fruitless endeavor and can actually hurt your relationships with them.
Learn the interests of the reporters in your area, craft pitches that benefit them as much as your organization, and present your pitch in a brief email. If you have any questions about a specific story you’d like to pitch, don’t hesitate to reach out.