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Media Relations: Nonprofits Should Focus on Building Relationships with Reporters, Not Spamming Their Inboxes

By on Thursday, April 26, 2012
It’s common in the PR industry for organizations and firms to subscribe to media databases, where they can extract literally thousands of email addresses and phone numbers for reporters.

While we all know that we should send releases to only the reporters who want them, who are covering the topic at hand, and might genuinely find the information helpful or useful – a lot of people don’t. The easy access to large email distribution lists makes it all too tempting and far too easy to send out releases in mass.

The larger subscription media databases vary widely in quality and journalists switch jobs regularly – meaning that even if you intend to send a release to only those who in theory, would actually want the information, you might still mess up by relying only on the database for your list (you should do a google and check out what the journalist is currently covering to really do a good job).

PR firms are routinely asked by clients to demonstrate that they distributed news releases to major media outlets and reporters, even if the news they’re pushing might not be worth a hill of beans. Good PR people will tell their clients if their news sucks, will not do mega-spams, and will not over-promise.

But not all of them can be good PR people – because journalists are routinely drowning in a daily email assault of press releases. I have a journalist friend at one of the major newspapers who posts on her Facebook page on a weekly basis the topic of the most outrageous press release she’s received that week. They inevitably never have anything even remotely similar in them to what she actually writes about – and are often so ridiculous that they inspire great humor and a lot of sarcasm from the other journalists she knows.

It’s common to call a news station and talk to the news desk and for them to have to hunt thru several hundred press releases in an email inbox to find yours if they like the story idea, or for them to give up in frustration, give you a different email address, and ask you to re-send the release.

All of this email spam is not working wonders for the PR-journalist relationship. And unfortunately, that bad juju even rubs off on nonprofit PR people who are trying to do good by their charities. Doing good still does not give you a free pass when it comes to email spamming reporters. It’s still considered bad form and still bad for the business.

Yet a lot of people have not gotten the message. I was on a conference call for a  nonprofit client once where another nonprofit seeking to work with them asked, how many thousands of journalist email addresses we would send their press release announcing the partnership to. Privately, I advised my client that such tactics would harm their own relationships with the media and they ultimately opted not to partner with that organization.

Your nonprofit will do a better job at garnering media attention by ditching massive email send outs for its press releases and focusing instead on building relationships with reporters who cover the topics and issues your organization is passionate about.

When starting a new friendship, do you start by spamming the person like a crazed cyber-stalker? No. You start with a basic, short and cordial introduction and you try to talk about things they find helpful and interesting. Then focus on growing the relationship. Send press releases tailored to their needs and interests. Create backgrounders that offer research, statistics and other data that can help time-crunched reporters understand the issue you care about. Call them (when they are not on deadline) to follow up on your story idea but don’t consume their day. Offer to meet and provide story ideas. Provide a source if they ask you to, even if it doesn’t help your organization directly. Send a thank you email after a good story on a topic that matters to your organization or write a letter to the editor.

A handful of solid relationships with reporters working on issues your nonprofit cares about will do your organization more good.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

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