By Peter Panepento
Getting your nonprofit’s story told in the media is not easy.
It’s even harder during the lead-up to a Presidential election, when the media devotes outsized attention to the race for the White House at the expense of its coverage of other issues.
And this is anything but a normal Presidential election year.
Not only are we witnessing a race that will ultimately double down on the vitriol and division what we saw during the Trump-Clinton throwdown in 2016, PR pros are also vying for attention during a pandemic that has disrupted everything – including the news media.
As a result, it’s important to adjust your expectations and brace your organization’s and leadership and board for the fact that you might see fewer media mentions for your nonprofit between now and November. After all, it’s better to under-promise and overdeliver, especially when it comes to something as unpredictable as media coverage in 2020.
But while you should manage expectations, you don’t have to put your PR efforts on hold until Nov. 4.
In fact, there are a number of ways you can leverage the election to attempt to garner some positive coverage.
Here are six things you can do to improve your chances of earning valuable coverage between now and November:
Schedule Around the Big Dates – If want to avoid getting crowded out of the news cycle, it’s important to think about timing releases around big events on the political calendar.
That means avoiding big announcements during the week of Nov. 2 to stay away from Election Day and the coverage that will follow that week.
You should also take note of the Presidential debates, which are scheduled for the following dates:
Many outlets will be devoting significant extra attention to the debates – so it’s important to plan around them, if you can.
Fact Check the Debates – Speaking of the debates, while you likely want to avoid any announcements about non-political events around those events, they do provide opportunities for coverage. One tactic is to fact check what the candidates say about issues that are important to your organization’s mission and – if appropriate – issue a release that points out incorrect statements or missing points. You can also offer up experts in your organization for interviews.
Avoid Taking Sides (Unless That’s Your Goal) – It’s best to avoid making any statements that would appear to align your nonprofit with one candidate or the other (Goya and Goodyear are recent examples of what you might expect if you choose to open up that can of worms). The caveat is if you have a stake in the outcome and aren’t afraid of the potential backlash that would come with publicizing your stance.
Focus on What’s at Stake – If you’re a nonprofit, a busy Election season offers an opportunity to comment on why voters should care about your key issues. Environmental organizations, for instance, can use the Election to offer a primer on what’s at stake related to climate change. Businesses can talk about how policies might impact their ability to hire workers or navigate international trade.
Seize opportunities – One thing you can count on during Election season is an endless stream of issue-related headlines. Look for opportunities to pounce on a hot topic that relates to our mission with either a timely op-ed or story pitch.
Look to the Future – For many groups, the most promising opportunities will come after Election Day, when they can use the result as a springboard for opinion pieces that provide advice to the winner on how he can make a difference on an important issue – or serve as a call to arms to supporters on how to make their voices heard. It’s not too early to begin putting together that piece – with different versions for each potential victor.
The past several months have been especially difficult for nonprofit communicators. That’s not likely to change in the months leading up to the election.
But by picking your spots and looking for the right opportunities, you can still find success.
Join Peter and Nicki Faircloth for How Your Nonprofit Should Communicate to a Divided America on September 10th.