Sharing Your Story with the Media in the COVID-19 Era
Ami Neiberger-Miller writes a column every other month for Instigate magazine, which is published by an association called Citygate, which aids and empowers religious nonprofits assisting people dealing with homelessness and addiction. The tips she offers in this piece written in May for the June/July issue, could apply to many nonprofit organizations seeking to share their stories in the media right now.
While the lives of everyone in the United States have been dramatically impacted by COVID-19, you have an important story to tell. At a time when it’s especially critical that no one should be without shelter – you are helping keep those without shelter safe.
Every nonprofit organization today is facing communication and operational challenges in the age of COVID-19. Maybe you’ve had to shrink shelter capacity and eliminate communal meals to keep everyone safer. Maybe you are worried about how to keep the lights on and pay your staff. Maybe you are trying to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 in your shelter and need to communicate to the public how you are responding responsibly and with everyone’s safety in mind.
You may be facing all of these challenges, but you also need community support. Maybe you need supplies, volunteers or donations. Maybe you want to salute your staff, community partners, and volunteers for their incredible work for the last few weeks. Maybe you want to remind the community that your organization remains as committed today to your mission as you were when you started – and that you are persevering in these tumultuous times.
So how do you even get the attention of local news reporters and share your story, when it seems like national stories about COVID-19 and local government officials are consuming all of your local media’s bandwidth? And how do you stand out from the legion of nonprofit organizations who are all struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic?
First, keep talking about what you are doing. Put together a news release that talks about your organization and its services right now. Mention the people you are helping, the needs you see in the community today, and include a call to action asking people to help. Point out how your organization is coping with COVID-19 and the challenges presented by the pandemic. Offer to provide interviews, photos and video to make it easy for someone to do a story.
Send your release to local news media outlets. At television stations, if you don’t know someone well, try sending your release via email to the news desk. Because stations are deemed essential, their facilities are still staffed. Call the news desk to follow up on your release a day or so after you’ve emailed it. Reach out to radio news desks in your area or morning shows. When contacting your local newspaper, send your release to the metro desk, local news editor, or the community news editor.
It helps to call and follow-up on your release a day or two after emailing it. If you get someone on the phone, say your name, your organization name, and why you are calling. Try to pique their interest by saying, “Our nonprofit organization remains committed to helping the homeless, and this is the worst possible time for someone to be without shelter. Here are the things we are doing…”
If you don’t get much response, don’t give up. Try again in a couple of weeks, with a different story or angle. Talk about a client you have assisted or a key staff member or volunteer. Watch the newscast, listen to the morning show, and check the newspaper pages. See if you can identify a section or segment they run regularly – e.g. volunteer of the week, nonprofit of the month, hometown heroes, etc. – where your organization’s story might be a natural fit.
In the meantime, continue to update your organization’s social media and website. Post photos and make videos about your work. You can film yourself talking about what you are doing and post it online. Sometimes a reporter is interested in your story idea and will visit your website or social media feeds. If they see that your feeds are updated and learn more there about you, they might do a story that reaches a bigger audience. If they visit your feeds and all they see is outdated information from last year and no images or videos, the odds of them doing a story are low.
Remember, the work you are doing right now is important. It’s caring for those who are the most vulnerable in our society, and that story deserves to be heard.
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