Building Relationships with Reporters: Be Not Afraid
Sometimes when I talk with nonprofit staff and suggest they talk with reporters about the good work they are doing, I discover that they are worried – about how reporters will view their agencies, and how they will find the time to manage “one more thing.”
You don’t need to be afraid of reporters. In any community, journalists can be found covering local government meetings, talking to people about what matters to them, and covering the big stories that impact lots of people.
Definitely scandals get lots of hype and press attention – and if you’ve never interacted much with reporters, that may be all you think they do. Most journalists are ethical and want for what they produce to be accurate, and the media play a vital role in distributing information during emergencies, and covering the day in and day out dream beats of community life. They can amplify your story for you.
It’s important to have your facts right. You should respect reporters – and remember that anything you say to one should be considered “on the record.” This means it can be used in reporting, fact checked, and published.
That’s why preparing before a media interview is so important. Know the answers to basic questions like, how many did we assist last year? Refresh your memory for a testimonial you want to share with them.
It’s often helpful to keep a fact sheet on hand to help you remember key points. Some organizations update key statistics annually or make little wallet cards with key information to remember. These make it easy to refresh your memory.
Designate who should talk with the press ahead of time. It’s often the executive director or a communications manager who is designated to talk with reporters.
If you are going to ask someone who has been served by your program to talk with a reporter, be sure to clear it in advance with that person. Talk about what will be shared with the reporter and make sure they are comfortable. Be sensitive to confidentiality, and make sure any personal information shared with a reporter is approved beforehand.
Pitch a story, not a program. This is one of the biggest mistakes I see nonprofit staff make. They say to a reporter, “if only you would do a story about our group, more people would know about the services we offer.” Unfortunately, a story profiling your nonprofit, is not a story for most journalists.
Occasionally a community access television station will have a nonprofit spotlight type of feature that does profile area nonprofits, but these programs generally don’t attract many viewers and air during the graveyard shift.
What is a great story that attracts attention? A great story might be “a day in the life” of your nonprofit with a photo spread showing how day-to-day services and programs assist people experiencing homelessness.
A great story might be a profile of a client served by your program. It may be a story offering tips on how ordinary people can help your organization at the holidays, or a story on how your organization is assisting the community during a crisis (cold weather, disaster). It could be a story that looks at a national report about an issue, but that uses your organization to paint the picture of what the big numbers mean locally.
You can also be an expert, so reporters know to call you when covering what you know best. Introduce yourself to a journalist interested in subjects you know a lot about. When a big opportunity comes along – they’ll remember you!
An earlier version of this post first appeared in Instigate magazine, published by the Citygate Network. Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your project, review our portfolio, sign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven