Good News About Kids13 years, 9 months ago
It is harder than ever for nonprofit organizations to secure coverage of good news stories in traditional media. That’s why, explains Ellen Lubell, it is essential to make use of social media and reach our directly to stakeholders.
“Oh, we can’t use anything of yours,” a news writer for a major American television network told me over lunch a couple of years ago. We had been talking shop, but with her comment, that ended fairly quickly. I continued to eat my salad and chat, but couldn’t hide my disappointment; were the media doors closed to the news that nonprofit organizations have to share?
Actually, she just confirmed what I had known for a while: major news outlets had little remaining interest in the good things we do to help children succeed and our children’s achievements, i.e., our good news. It continues to be true in American media that if it bleeds, falls down or hurts someone, it leads the news – and possibly fills the whole show. But generally, our news doesn’t fit these gruesome categories.
My agency, The Children’s Aid Society of New York City, provides comprehensive support for children in need, from birth to young adulthood, and for their families, to fill the gaps between what children have and what they need to thrive (http://www.childrensaidsociety.org/).
We think it’s news, good news, when, thanks to Children’s Aid, more teens finish high school, go to college and win scholarships based on grades; when families affected by domestic violence take the next steps towards healing and healthy relationships; when children in low-income areas thrive in schools that offer extended services beyond the strictly academic; when more families obtain health insurance through a facilitated enrolment process; when very young children of immigrant parents are put on the path to literacy and school success – but clearly, not everyone (in the media) thinks these happenings are newsworthy.
The purpose of our public relations efforts has been to generate media stories that can provide springboards for fundraising. As the news holes of familiar media outlets continue to dwindle, however, and some outlets disappear altogether, public relations staff of nonprofit organizations face a new world full of challenges and opportunities as well as some big questions. At this point in time, your media outlets may not be there any longer, those that are left have precious little space for news like yours, reporters have been laid off in droves and/or reassigned to multiple beats, the latter are too busy to take your calls or read your emails, and most pitches seem to disappear into a black hole.
Through social media however, our PR department can reach out directly to our stakeholders – individual donors, foundations, corporate funders, public funders, volunteers, fellow advocates, elected officials – and give them the good news about our services and their recipients that the media no longer carries. We pitch traditional media, as well as blog, Twitter and podcast our way into our stakeholders’ hearts and minds (we hope), operating at what Richard Edelman has called the “intersection of social and mainstream media.”
Building a following
Time will tell if these new tools reach the desired audiences. It takes time to build a big following for Twitter, blogs, podcasts, your website’s newsroom, and one must keep tweeting, blogging, podcasting and posting while the building ensues. And the wait for that critical mass of followers can be agonizing – we’re not all Ashton Kutcher.
In addition, attracting exactly the followers you want can be confounding in itself. Is that a potential volunteer or donor with that suggestive graphic on her profile, or not the kind of follower you seek? Hard to tell.
Our metrics as a nonprofit lie in the level of our donations from all sources. But we’re lucky enough to have a brilliant marketing effort that has enveloped New York in public service ads on radio, television, outdoor billboards, elevator screens and airport dioramas that promote our name and need.
So it will be difficult at best to tell if our social media efforts pay off in that sense. Getting a media hit through a tweet to the right audience would be sweet. Right now, all this time-consuming effort spent on social media feels right and productive. Persistence, as in any pitch, is key. And keeping messages focused and brief can’t hurt in any public relations or marketing outreach activity. We’ll know more when additional nonprofits join us in the intersection.
Ellen Lubell, Director of Public Relations, The Children’s Aid Society, New York City.mail the author
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