How to Approach the Press with Email

Shannon Arnold

Shannon Arnold participated in the last session of our Nonprofit Marketing Guide Mentoring Program. One of her challenges was figuring out a good approach to media relations. Today Shannon shares what worked for her — a far superior approach to the old-style press release approached I cried about yesterday.  ~Kivi

Guest Post by Shannon Arnold of FamilyAid Boston

We all have that thing in nonprofit marketing that just makes us feel like we don’t know what we’re doing: a task or a channel that seems to go nowhere, and we just don’t know why.

For me, that thing is press, and I suspect it is for many of you as well.

It’s tough for nonprofits to get press coverage. Most of us aren’t part of breaking news and, especially in places like Boston, there are so many agencies working on similar issues that it is difficult to be heard above all the noise. I’ve spent years sending out press releases and sitting back to wait for the deafening silence that followed.

When I started my current job at FamilyAid Boston, I thought things would be different than in my last job, where I was working on an issue that, frankly, rarely really made the news in any way. Here, I was working on family homelessness – something lots of people care about and a topic that, although it’s not on the front page, makes the news frequently.

But I found my press releases here generated a response that ranged from tepid to cold. One other, much larger, homeless services agency was getting quoted almost daily in the local press, and the rest of us were fighting over the scraps.

I turned to Kivi for some advice. She asked me to look at my strategy of sending releases only when my agency has news and staying silent the rest of the time. She suggested changing my approach to press entirely. Don’t start the conversation with a press release that’s essentially saying “Hey, busy reporter, please give us coverage!” Instead, offer my agency, myself, and my colleagues as a resource for reporters when they need a quote about family homelessness. Follow up every month or so just to check in and offer story tips as they come. Basically, make myself known to the reporters as someone who can help them out.

Last week, I sent an email to this effect to several reporters and had an immediate response from a Boston Globe reporter asking to meet with me to learn more. Nothing’s in print yet, but the response tells me I must be on a better track!

The email I sent is below. Feel free to customize it for your own outreach!

Dear [insert Reporter's name]

I really enjoy your writing, and I wanted to introduce myself as a potential resource for you in the future.

I work for FamilyAid Boston, formerly Travelers Aid Family Services. We are located right by South Station and are the only agency providing 24/7 emergency shelter to homeless families in Boston who have no other shelter options. We also help families avoid homelessness, find permanent housing, get jobs, and access social services.

FamilyAid Boston has been around for nearly 100 years, and our staff have a wealth of experience and knowledge about homelessness and poverty in Boston. They have incredible (and often heartbreaking or inspiring) stories about the people they have worked with.

As you may know, the population of homeless families in Boston is growing at the same time as restrictions on shelters are tightening. It’s a huge and hidden problem, as many of these families are sleeping in cars or on friends’ floors rather than on the street where they would be visible.

If you ever need to speak to one of our clients or social workers for a story, I am here and would be happy to set it up as quickly as you need.

Please let me know if you need any additional information. In the meantime, feel free to check out our website at www.familyaidboston.org.

Thank you,

Shannon

Shannon Cain Arnold is the Marketing and Communications Specialist for FamilyAid Boston (www.familyaidboston.org), a nearly 100 year-old nonprofit providing homeless families in Boston with prevention assistance, shelter, housing, and support services. Shannon has been working in nonprofits for 8 years, and in marketing and communications for 3 years. She’s still trying to figure out what she’s doing, and is making a lot of progress thanks to Kivi’s mentoring program!

  • Karen

    Thanks Shannon. Some very timely advice. Many of the journalists that approach me have no idea what our association is about. This is a proactive way to educate the press and hopefully get some coverage at the same time.

  • Grace Chung

    Shannon you are spot-on! You never know when these types of emails will pay off. Months ago, I sent a small business reporter an email letting her know that the nonprofit Rising Tide Capital works with hundreds of local small businesses- many which were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. I didn’t get an immediate response, but a month later, that same reporter called for urgent help on her story. The interaction resulted in having our Programs Director quoted as a small business expert in a Sandy Recovery story on the front page of the paper’s Business section.