By Peter Panepento
It’s not easy for nonprofits to get news coverage. And that’s especially true during the Covid-19 pandemic.
As the news industry has changed, fewer journalists have nonprofits as part of their beat — and during Covid-19, most have been reassigned to cover some aspect of the pandemic.
Making matters worse, many are working in newsrooms that are smaller than they were even a month ago, due to layoffs and furloughs. And all are adjusting to having to cover stories virtually.
But just because it’s more difficult to get coverage, it doesn’t mean you have no shot.
In fact, there are some great opportunities out there to get attention if you’re mindful about what reporters are looking for — and are willing to be flexible.
Here are four ways to stand out:
1: Pitch positive stories with a personal face
— We’re all looking for good news right now – and people are craving uplifting tales and silver linings. If you can offer a hopeful angle or a unique way forward, you have a good chance of grabbing attention. But simply having a positive angle isn’t enough. Many nonprofits make the mistake of making their organization the center of their story pitches, but the real power in positive stories is having a strong emotional hook. And that usually comes through personal stories. Instead of pitching a story about the number of meals you’re serving, think instead about an inspiring volunteer who is helping prepare or deliver those meals — or a family that has been helped. You won’t necessarily be the subject of the story, but your chances of coverage are much greater — and you’ll still be a part of the final tale.
2: Pitch local expertise on national trends
If your nonprofit is locally focused, use that to your advantage by pitching your leaders as experts on national trends that connect to your mission. It’s likely your nonprofit can help put a local face on the fact that many arts organizations have gone dark, provide a local perspective on the impact of social distancing, or talk about the challenges faced by students who are learning remotely. If your goal is to try to get visibility through the media, think about how you can leverage your knowledge to provide local context.
3: Embrace Zoom and FaceTime
In every pitch or news release, make it clear that you have an expert or experts who are available to be interviewed via Facetime, Skype or Zoom. This can be a huge differentiator as reporters are working in virtual environments.
4: Submit an opinion piece
Op-eds remain an especially smart option right now for organizations seeking news coverage. Even if they don’t get picked up, you can use them in your own channels to amplify your message.
Of course, even the best pitches will get ignored if they’re not delivered to the right people — and in a thoughtful way.
In my work with nonprofits, I’ve found much greater success when I can deliver personal pitches to reporters. So rather than blanketing newsrooms with press releases, I recommend taking a more targeted approach.
For the reasons outlined above, that’s especially important now — but it’s also a bigger challenge.
Thankfully, the media database company Cision this week released its annual State of the Media survey, which included some timely guidance from journalists about how to pitch them during these challenging times.
Here are three tips they offer (all of which we can validate through our experience working with the media over the past six weeks):
- Email should be your primary channel
This is true all of the time, but it’s especially true now. Like all of us, reporters are facing a lot of unusual pressure. Now is not the time to be cold-calling them or trying to get cute with mailings or social media. Stick with email – and keep your pitches short.
- Do your research
Beats are fluid – especially now. Before you do outreach, check out what a journalist has been covering in recent weeks to see if they are still the right person for your pitch.
- Be patient
As noted above, journalists are underwater, so it might take them longer than normal to reply. Don’t be afraid to follow up after a few days if you haven’t heard back. But set your expectations appropriately and avoid being a nag.
These are challenging times — and the media can play an important role in helping your nonprofit advance its mission.
While there is no surefire way to ensure the media will cover your organization, now is a critical time to be lifting your voice and attempting to draw attention to the issues that matter most to the people you’re trying to help.