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Monday, January 4, 2010

5 Tips for Successful Non-Profit Public Relations

There is a lot of talk in the PR world about the evolution of the press release – gone are the days of print-outs and mailings – and some even herald the waning influence of the emailed press release (though my inbox provides copious evidence to the contrary).

Savvy PR professionals know that exaggerations about the “death of the press release” are premature, and they know that newswire services are quite useful to promote the mission of their non-profit clients. Services like Newswise, by distributing news to a targeted media audience and providing in-depth effectiveness reporting, can augment a PR strategy to serve the non-profit’s mission. Whether the goal is to increase awareness, promote a campaign, influence consumers, or raise money and secure sponsorships, PR for a non-profit should follow these 5 essential tactics for success

1. Distribute content to a targeted audience
2. Achieve prominent results on search engines
3. Pitch experts and spokespeople to media outlets
4. Drive users to an action, such as to donate or sign a petition
5. Monitor effectiveness through reporting tools

Targeted Audience
The first goal for any PR campaign is to get the message out to the media. Simple, right? We'll explain how that's not targeted enough, and get into tips 2-5 after the jump.

Although it might be relatively easy to get a press release out to all of the media, the hard part is getting the info to the right media.

Newswise gives journalists the opportunity to filter the news they receive with more topic-specific focus. Health reporters can choose to receive only medical-based news, for example. This can serve a non-profit client’s goals in particular because these highly-focused media personnel are unencumbered by excess information in which they are not interested.

In any case, the advantage of using a newswire service is that at least some media are going to be interested in your non-profit client’s news. That includes broadcast and mainstream print media, all the way down to very specific regional outlets and trade publications.

Search Engine Optimization
Using a service to post news releases adds SEO effectiveness in several ways. First, newswire services like Newswise tend to achieve large amounts of daily traffic, and therefore are ranked well by the major search engines such as Google and Yahoo. A press release posted to a newswire is likely to appear high in the search results for keywords related to your non-profit client’s content. Furthermore, any links you include in that press release tracking back to the non-profit client’s website should provide an uptick in their site’s ranking as well. Done effectively, this can have a lasting impact on the inbound traffic to your client’s content.

Pitching Experts
If your non-profit client has experts and spokespersons ready and willing to talk to the media, a newswire press release is a great way to promote them. Newswise even provides an "experts available" feed of stories, with the expert's contact info available only to verified, logged-in journalists.

For an effective expert pitch, Newswise recommends your press release should include the following:
• Who is the expert and why are they a credible authority in their field?
• Provide quotations and a brief description of the expert’s work on the topic.
• Describe the expert’s media experience and their availability for interviews.

An effective expert pitch can position your non-profit client to broadcast their message more directly to a wider audience.

Driving Action
A non-profit client often has some type of advocacy as part of their public relations goals. Whether that means something vague like influencing consumer behavior or something concrete like collecting donations, an effective press release can play an important part. This is probably the most obvious area where PR for a non-profit client is different than for corporate clients. A driving action might mean linking to an online donation form, persuading people to support a cause (sign a petition, call your congressperson), or even a creative bit of viral multimedia messaging (PETA’s vegetarianism PSA featuring a very sexy, and very naked Alicia Silverstone).

Whatever approach seems right for your non-profit client, do not neglect this crucial ingredient for success.

Monitor Effectiveness
Finally, no PR strategy is complete without a plan to monitor effectiveness. This can be done by setting up a Google News alert on keywords related to your non-profit client’s press release, by carefully tracking media clips, and through incoming requests from the media for more information.

Newswise offers several effectiveness reporting tools with different levels of membership, including hit reports on each press release, and online media clippings for an additional fee. A combination of several success monitors can be used to determine if a message is on-target or needs tweaking, and give predictions for long-term media impact of a release. Keeping the non-profit client’s goals in mind, effectiveness monitoring can help evaluate current and future public relations strategies.


  1. I know of very few non-profits that have "news" big enough to use a wire service. Besides being scattershot and impersonal, a relative few have a national or even regional audience. I would invest a couple of weeks of an intern's time to create a fresh list and then update it with new names as you go along.

    Now, if you are a national Red Cross, United Way or large association, by all means, use the wire service sparingly. But you should also have a more personal circle of reporters.

  2. Claire, I agree completely. Wire services have some value if you can afford it, but it shouldn't be a big part of your meadia relations startegy by any means. Nonprofits and other organizations need to engage and establish personal relationships with their target audiences, including the media. And the media they do reach out to should be targeted and specific to the cause.

    Interact, start a dialogue, get to know them on a personal level, but don't just submit a wire release and expect to get noticed.

    David Reich
    SixEstate Communications

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  4. Many non-profits have journals or national, which have research of a national nature. These are prime targets for publicity for a non-profit.

    Even if they don't have journals or national research meetings, they should be looking for national trends and national stories related to their members.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Claire, David, thank you for your insightful comments.

    Posting a news release on a wire service is just part of an overall strategy, and I wouldn't suggest otherwise.

    As far as some of the specific concerns you address, Newswise handles them in different ways. I'll respond to some of your comments with a little more info about the way Newswise sees things.

    "Scattershot and impersonal" - Newswise breaks news releases out into categories so that journalists and public subscribers can find what they are interested in. (medical, science, lifestyle, business, research, feature, experts, announcements, policy, Breaking News topics, Feature News topics, etc.)

    "get to know them on a personal level" - Newswise helps establish a relationship, too. Verified professional journalists can see contact information, so they can pick up the phone and call or send an email to the media office at a non-profit. Then they can be on the list (if they are okay with that) or if they see more news from that non-profit on Newswise, they know they have a contact there from the last time they covored their news.

    And finnaly, "if you can afford it....use sparingly" - Newswise offers discounted rates for non profits, and it really makes it worth it to do multiple news releases. The more you use it, the price goes down per release. So don't think you would need to just stop at one.

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