We look at the ways in which charities can ‘earn media’ through pitching, planning, presenting, networking, and so much more
Getting media exposure for your charity can be an effective way of reaching a wider audience, inspiring more people to get involved and donate. Not only that, but the endorsement of a trusted expert or media source can help establish your organisation as an authority in your field and a stronger presence in your community.
Your charity might have an exciting event lined up, an interesting new story of the people whose lives you’ve touched, or a wonderful achievement worth shouting about. This could be the ideal opportunity to reach out to national, local, or niche media who will help spread the message.
Smaller charities may lack the time or resources to put a fully-fledged PR strategy together, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get recognised in the press. Here’s a very quick guide to how digital can help your charity gain ’earned media’ that puts your activities in the spotlight.
When it comes to pitching a story to the media, timing is often key. Be aware that journalists have deadlines to get a story out and often plan months ahead, so give plenty of advanced warning.
Building a PR calendar using a digital planning tool or even a simple spreadsheet can help your charity get the ’when’ right. Just like your social media strategy will follow trending hashtags, it’s a good idea to plan outreach around awareness days throughout the year, special events, happenings in the local area or online, and even upcoming awards that your charity could be a good fit for.
By planning your outreach around current events, you can create press pitches that are timely, ’newsworthy’ and show that your organisation is relevant and able to respond to what’s happening in your community and the wider world.
It’s also a good idea to reach out and ask for the editorial calendars of media outlets you wish to target – it’s a common ask and they will often have readily available information packs that list key topics, events, and dates in their calendars for you to align your story to.
Finding the right person to pitch to can be difficult. Fortunately, digital makes it really easy to research. Social media channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn can be used to find out who the journalists or editors are in your specific topic area and often shows their main interests.
On Twitter, you can search by the name of the publication, hashtag, or keyword and check the ’who to follow’ suggestions. Create a Twitter list of the people on your target publications, read their biographies, and check in daily to see what they’re talking about.
Smaller and local media often trawl for content ideas from social media, so mentioning them directly on Twitter might get you noticed if your story is interesting enough.
You can also upload your press release to a newswire. These are online services which send press releases out to a targeted audience of journalists. Publications can access a feed of press releases from specific topic or industry areas, though the service is not free to send your press release to. The Associated Press newswire is one such distribution service.
A press release is not an article, but a package of information for a journalist to unpack and turn into an article. Bear in mind that journalists often skim read through hundreds of press release emails a day.
In order for your announcement to stand out, it will need to first be opened. Just like with effective marketing emails, a punchy and to-the-point subject line for your email is a must – and it is worth taking the time to make it compelling. Be specific, concise and use exact numbers and statistics where possible. Don’t use exclamation points, as they might cause your email to get caught in a spam filter.
The press release itself needs to relay the key facts of your story as clearly and efficiently as possible to someone who’s in a hurry. One tried and tested way of doing this is using the ’inverted pyramid’ structure, which presents the most important information first, like most news stories. The first paragraph should neatly cover the ’who, what, where and when’. Include key quotes and information about your charity and how to contact you at the bottom.
You can make your press release more interesting and provide background information by presenting it as a package of content that includes images and perhaps even a PDF of further information about your cause and stories of those who you have made a difference to.
Lastly, hiring a PR agency might be out of the budget for most charities, but there is specific pro bono support available for those looking to kick-start their PR strategy.
Sign up to online services like the one from CharityComms that links up publications with charity ’experts’ available to talk to journalists on different topics.
Or seek out support from organisations like the Media Trust, who provide online courses and training programmes on communications strategy and copywriting. They also provide access to volunteers from the media industry who can create content for your charity and mentor others.