Photo by Jeronimo del Villar
Many nonprofits use the “spray and pray” technique when they are pitching their stories to the media.
They spray their pitches everywhere and pray that somebody picks them up.
But if your organization is interested in having its messages connect with your ideal audiences — and if it wants more success landing meaningful media coverage — it’s time to ditch “spray and pray” and get more surgical in your approach.
Instead of blasting your next release to every media outlet on your or your agency’s press list, take some time to think about who you really want to reach, tailor your message to the outlets you’re looking to target, and spend some time with personal outreach to those targets.
By taking this approach, you won’t be reaching nearly as many media outlets with your pitches.
But you’ll stand a much better chance of getting coverage — and the outlets that choose to cover your story are more likely to be connecting with the audiences that are of highest value to your organization.
Here are the five steps you need to take in order to do it successfully:
Step 1: Identify Your Organization’s Goals
Targeted media relations begins with understanding what your organization is actually looking to accomplish.
As a result, it’s important that you not only have a strong understanding of its mission — but also the key strategic priorities that are supporting that mission. If, for instance, you work for a charity that is endeavoring to reduce the rate of childhood hunger, it might be attacking that mission through three key activities:
- Working with local and state government to ensure that there is adequate funding to support school-lunch and after-school food programs.
- Partnering with local companies to raise money and collect food.
- Attracting volunteers who teach vulnerable families how to prepare healthy meals.
As the media manager for your organization, it’s important to identify your own goals. Taking the time to talk to your organization’s leadership and key staff to identify their priorities is an important first step in building a targeted media relations program.
Whether you are new in your position — or if you are looking to breathe new life into your organization’s media relations efforts — begin the process with interviewing key members of your organization and take the time to identify its key goals. Then, once you’ve identified them, put them front and center and make sure everything else you do supports those goals.
Step 2: Define Your Key Audiences
Many nonprofits make the mistake of thinking they need to reach everybody to be successful.
But attempting to develop messages that reach everybody leads to watered-down messages that fail to inspire anyone to take meaningful action.
Instead, you should identify 2-3 key audiences that you need to achieve each of your organization’s goals.
In the example of our hunger charity, above, it needs the support of some key audiences to achieve each of the goals that were articulated. For instance, to get local and state government to expand funding, you might start to target lawmakers and their staff as a key audience.
After you’ve identified who those audiences are, take some additional time to find out what makes those people tick. What motivates them? What do they enjoy? How do they want to be perceived?
Some organizations take the steps of developing personas for their target audiences. Personas are fictional profiles of a people who represent the qualities of the people in a target audience and are used to help guide messaging to people within that audience.
But regardless of whether you take the time to develop formal personas, it’s important to know who you want to reach — and build all of your media plans around getting in front of those people.
Step 3: Develop Key Messages for Those Audiences
You know your goals and you know who your audiences are. Now it’s time to start figuring out what you actually want to say.
To do this, take some time to identify what key messages will help motivate your target audiences to help your organization to make progress on your goals.
If, for instance, you are looking to get elected officials in your state to put more money in the budget for school lunch programs, identify what messages are likely to get them to pay attention and take action.
You might even tailor those messages differently for Republican officials and Democratic officials.
These key messages will become central touch points to all of your communications — and all of the stories you pitch to the media. Every story you pitch will seek to convey and reinforce one or more of your organization’s key messages.
If it doesn’t reinforce one of those messages, it’s probably not worth pitching.
Step 4: Identify Your Media Targets
It’s only after you know who you want to reach and what you want to say to them that you can properly identify which media outlets are most important to your organization.
Again, your goal isn’t to build relationships with every media outlet — or to blast every outlet on your list with every release you send. Instead, you’re looking to build meaningful relationships with outlets that are most likely to reach your target audiences and talk about topics that align with your key messages.
You can start the process by analyzing the media outlets that are on your existing press list and assessing which of them are most likely to connect with your key audiences and messages. You should also extend your search to include websites and networks that can help you reach these targets.
I recommend developing a list of high priority outlets for each audience you want to reach and each goal you’re looking to achieve and spend time researching what type of stories they cover. This will help you identify stories and angles that can guide your future pitches.
Step 5: Tell and Pitch Stories to These Outlets That Convey Your Key Messages
You are now ready to actually begin the process of pitching your story to the media.
Remember, you are no longer just blanketing your announcements to every media outlet on your list. You are taking the time to identify stories that support your organization’s goals, connect with the right audiences, and convey the right messages.
You’ve moved past spray and pray and are now working like a surgeon.
The result will be more high-value media placements that will help your nonprofit reach its goals and deliver on its mission.
Peter Panepento is principal at Panepento Strategies, a full-service content, digital, and social strategy firm for nonprofits and socially-minded companies. He was formerly an assistant managing editor at The Chronicle of Philanthropy and a senior vice president at The Council on Foundations. He also serves as Nonprofit Marketing Guide’s adviser on public relations.