On Jan. 29, Matt Charles, APR, presents a webinar titled “How to Tell Your Organization’s Story to Get Media Coverage.” The webinar is available for free to PRSA members.
Whether you serve a large corporation, small nonprofit, major research university or municipal government, at some point your boss has probably said, “We need more media attention. Can you make it happen?” Having worked in communications for a top-tier university, a regional nonprofit foundation and as a consultant, I’ve heard this question myself.
As communicators, we work hard to engage with reporters and editors to make them aware of the great work our clients are doing — but we still understand why bosses make these urgent requests. Maybe they’re under pressure from the chief executive or board members, who want to demonstrate their positions as thought leaders on important subjects or publicize what the organization is doing to make the world a better place.
However, the root motivation for seeking that media coverage is usually to increase business outcomes. And once we have gained seats in the C-suite or have the ears of executives, we are called upon to make it happen.
As communicators, we have long relied on earned media or public relations — usually in the form of media relations — to place our clients’ names on the internet, on TV, in print and on the radio. Earned media demonstrates credibility, since the organization doesn’t pay for the placement. Reporters choose to cover the story because it’s important, thus enhancing the organization’s reputation.
In today’s media environment, pitching reporters and editors has become a lost art. But it can still provide large returns on investment by generating earned media coverage that doesn’t cost anything but your time and can elevate your client’s profile with one well-placed article or interview.
We all love a good story, and research shows that conducting media relations through the lens of storytelling provides optimal results. To make your storytelling effective, approach it as you would a strategic communications plan.
Find your organization’s best stories
First, comb through your organization to look for compelling stories. For example, who are the people being helped by your nonprofit’s programs, and what are their stories? Are your company’s social-responsibility initiatives improving people’s lives? If so, how? Which students at your local college or university are already making the world a better place, and how are they doing it? How is your local government benefitting the community? Look closely and you’ll find plenty of stories.
To make these stories more meaningful for audiences, go beyond the institution’s point of view. Find the people or groups your organization is helping and give them voices.
Dust off that manual from your “Creating a Strategic Plan” training last year and incorporate SMART — Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound — goals into your storytelling process.
Use this framework to identify media outlets that will be most interested in your story. Its principles will help you swing for home runs in the coverage you desire without striking out. Use SMART approaches to work with reporters, meet deadlines, secure media coverage for your clients in reasonable amounts of time and track your placements.
Make them care
Now that you’ve identified compelling human stories, you’re ready to develop a plan for contacting reporters and working with them to achieve media coverage for your client. This is where strategy and tactics come into play.
Your overarching strategy is to present a story about your organization that a reporter will want to cover (the trusty news hook). It’s also vital to identify target audiences you want to read or see the story. Keeping in mind desired business outcomes to advance your organization, think about stories that will move stakeholders, community members, prospective students and potential donors to action.
To make audiences care, craft stories that have the right mixes of narrative and imagery. Once the pieces are in place, further honing — an art more like sculpting than editing — is essential to arrive at the right story. Storytelling can come to life in written, audio or video forms, or in a blend of all three.
Now it’s time to make your strategy a reality. Sure, go after The New York Times as your boss asked, but don’t forget your local newspapers, TV and radio stations. Also think about niche publications that cover your sector. For example, a well-placed story in a business publication might go far to engage a corporation’s target audience.
Above all, identify specific reporters who cover your beat, so you’ll have the best chance to place your story with them. This way, you won’t waste their time or your own, something you will both appreciate.
Consumer media outlets may also have business, nonprofit, education and government reporters who will be interested in your story. In niche media, reporters might cover specific areas within your sector, such as technology, philanthropy, leadership, community engagement and economic development.
Keep it ethical
By setting evaluation metrics informed by your SMART goals, you can demonstrate to leadership the return on investment your media outreach has achieved to advance your organization. Possible metrics include improvements in a company’s share price, reputation, giving, rankings, sentiment and the number of its media hits.
Remember that effective media relations requires more than just storytelling. Relationships and trust with reporters and editors are the lifeblood of our profession. To foster and strengthen these relationships, always do your work ethically.
We live in a time of tense media relationships. It’s important we not contribute to this problem. Always give reporters what they need in a respectful manner. Odds are, they will return the favor and call you when they need to quote someone at your organization or write a story about the important work it’s doing.
Matt Charles, APR, is a consultant (Matt Charles Public Relations), adjunct professor and Fulbright Specialist who has worked as deputy spokesperson for the University of Virginia, director of media relations for the UVA Darden School of Business and communications director for Danville (Va.) Regional Foundation. He speaks, trains and writes frequently on using the power of storytelling to advance. You can contact Matt at firstname.lastname@example.org.