A note from Jeff Morosoff: Hofstra Honors Program students in my PR Fundamentals class are required to submit guest blog posts throughout the semester. For my regular post, keep scrolling after the guest column. The following is written by public relations sophomore Nathalie Salazar:
On Friday, Hofstra hosted the “PR on a Budget” conference for nonprofit organizations “struggling to move their message,” either through the media or in their own community. The conference featured various speakers who taught how to use social media in the most cost/time effective way and gave advice on each nonprofit organizations’ problem areas. Along with 35 nonprofits in attendance, I and several other students were there. And I found the presentation by Jaci Clement, executive director of Fair Media Council, and David Chauvin, vice president of Zimmerman/Edelson Public Relations, very thought-engaging and idea-sparking.
Clement and Chauvin talked about pitching stories to the media, from the local to the national level. In today’s media world, journalists are being pitched hundreds of stories a day.
How will yours stand out from those hundreds?
To begin with, news is “something out of the ordinary,” said Clement. The story PR professionals pitch must be unique and interesting. In actuality, a journalist only has about 30 seconds to hear your story, so you must set priorities, set the message, set a plan, and stick to it. Begin your pitch with a catchy headline, avoid using words such as “fundraiser,” “conference,” and “event” (because those are everyday occurrences), and if you can, try to find a human element to your story that can connect with the audience.
Chauvin also emphasized that you “must do your homework.” Research the reporter you are pitching to, make sure you are pitching to the correct news outlet (one that will reach the specific audience you are targeting), and when pitching, make sure the information is at your fingertips so if the reporter asks anything, you will have a quick answer.
Lastly, Clement and Chauvin explained how to make a local story into a national story. The key to this is the human component. Readers look for stories they can connect with and ones they could understand on a personal level. Also, local stories can go national if it has a connection to a national trend or issue. Keep in mind that national stories appeal to the masses.
Pitching stories is tough. But it is also our job.
So, when writing your pitch letters, ask yourself this: Who am I writing to? What is unique and interesting about my story/message? Is there a human element to the story I am pitching? And is there a way I could connect my local story to a national issue or trend?
I’m using this week’s blog to announce the results of a survey I conducted of 160 Long Island nonprofit organizations to determine how they “do” PR. The survey proves what we’ve anecdotally known: Nonprofits understand the value of good public relations, but few have the resources for staff or tools get their messages to their publics.
No matter how small or large these organizations are, nonprofits typically devote less than 5% percent of their budgets to public relations campaigns and staffing, according to the respondents. And due to ever-increasing challenges and competition for funding, the overwhelming majority of them (87%) say they will not be increasing PR staff or budget in 2012. Just 29% of the nonprofits surveyed have at least one full-time public relations professional on staff, and only 25% of full- or part-time staff receive any PR training.
Because of tight budgets, nonprofits are depending upon staff and volunteers to multitask, often combining their public relations responsibilities with others including marketing (69%), fundraising (69%), event planning (67%), advertising (60%), and/or additional administrative duties (65%). Of those surveyed, half responded that they use volunteers for public relations work all or part of the time, and 21% say they have college interns handling some PR duties. Sixty-seven percent (67%) of respondents said they devote less than five hours to pitching stories to reporters each week; 64% report spending under 10 hours a week preparing or creating promotional materials; and 64% said they spend less than five hours updating social media profiles and posting relevant content weekly.
Qualifications and training requirements for handling public relations functions at nonprofits are mixed, according to the survey. Only 36% of those doing PR functions are required to have a college degree in public relations or a related field, and just 40% of those hired are expected to have some prior experience in PR. You have to question the effectiveness of their efforts if so few of them have a PR background before coming into the job.
My friend Ken Cerini, partner of Cerini & Associates, LLP, an accounting firm in Bohemia, N.Y. that specializes in the nonprofit sector told me, “In a climate where the nonprofit sector has been hit hard with negative press and changes in regulations, now is the time for nonprofits to make their voices heard—and PR is extremely important in this process. As a result, nonprofits need to consider how to effectively utilize the various channels, both traditional and social, to get their message out.”
Sadly, Long Island’s nonprofits lack the tools and expertise they need to “do” PR right. Despite this, more than two-thirds of the respondents believe that their public relations efforts are helping their organizations’ missions. This may be true, but imagine how much more effective they’d be with the right staff and tools.
So, after seeing their struggles in numbers, how can we help these nonprofits? I have plans which I’ll share here in the near future, but I’d like to hear from you. Your thoughts?
(A total of 160 Long Island-based nonprofits were surveyed online between October 27 and December 17, 2011, and also person-to-person at two major Long Island events: the Fair Media Council’s “Connection Day” on October 27 and the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ “Philanthropy Day” on November 18. Hofstra students Vania Andre, who is a wonderful research assistant, plus Lauren Katz, Christopher Scheben and Alexis Sibilio, were a tremendous help to me and I thank them!)
For years I’ve heard countless Long Island not-for-profit (NFP) professionals complain that they have little or no resources to “do” public relations. I’ve listened to the concerns of hundreds of people from NFPs who stream into all-day conferences held annually by the Fair Media Council (FMC) and the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). They come to FMC’s Connection Day and AFP’s Philanthropy Day to learn the art of “doing” PR through dozens of workshops conducted by media, development and PR pros. These events and my work in the not-for-profit field have provided me with anecdotal evidence that NFPs perpetually struggle to effectively move messages to their publics.
Here in one of the wealthiest regions of the world, so many of our charitable organizations can’t communicate well and, subsequently, often struggle to survive. NFPs frequently conduct PR functions using staff with little or no training; they often write and talk to reporters without knowing what media pros want or need; they’re sometimes using web sites and social media as a panacea for PR but may not have the skill sets to build audiences through inspired visuals or wordcraft.
My goal is to take these assumptions and turn them into data. This week, with the help of a great team of Hofstra PR students, I launched a survey, “Public Relations at Not-for-Profit Organizations,” which should help to prove the anecdotes. The 26-question survey can be taken in five minutes. If the results back up the complaints, I hope to become an effective voice in efforts to find more resources so these deserving groups can fulfill their missions far more successfully.
If you know of a not-for-profit organization based on Long Island, please ask one of its representatives to take the survey. It’s online at http://survey.constantcontact.com/survey/a07e4y857obgt4n7eic/start. My team and I will be at events such as Connection Day (last week) and Philanthropy Day (November 18), and we’ll report the results in December. Your thoughts?
P.S. — Special thanks to my Hofstra research team (shown with me above, l. to r.): Chris Scheben, Alexa Sibilio, Lauren Katz and Vania Andre.
Last week I visited the Fair Media Council’s headquarters to present “Public Relations on a Shoestring.” An audience of not-for-profit organizations participated in the two-hour workshop to learn how they could boost their PR efforts despite thin budgets. The feedback I got during and after the program confirmed what I already knew: not only do not-for-profits spend very little money on public relations efforts; they also know very little about what PR tools are available to them both online and off.
They understand they need to use social media but they don’t really know how. They want their organizations covered in Newsday but are unaware of the many other media venues they could be pitching. They send press releases when their organizations have “news” (<airquotes here) but don’t ask themselves the question, “Who cares?” before spending time to publicize an event without finding a way to relate it to an audience.
This is anecdotal, of course, so I’m readying research to prove it. This fall a small team of Hofstra students and I will survey more than 1,000 Long Island not-for-profits and ask them how small are their PR budgets, which PR tools they use, and how much PR training their staffs possess. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to spread the word on “doing PR” for very little money through a series of workshops and seminars. The next few months we’ll confirm what we already know: tiny budgets force low priority for PR within the not-for-profit world, yet these organizations crave the benefits of a good public relations campaign. They just need to learn what’s out there for the taking. Your thoughts?