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Media Relations: “Off the Record” and “On Background” Explained

Should I go “off the record”? It’s one of the most common questions I hear from clients I assist with media relations training and support. Even just curious people who find out I work in media relations often want to know how going off the record or “speaking on background” works. What “off the record” means has been in the headlines lately, because former White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci disputed whether he was “off the record” in an obscenity-laced tirade to a New Yorker reporter. In Washington, D.C., we even have a lovely upscale bar at the Hay-Adams Hotel called “Off the Record.”

I’ve talked with journalists “off the record” and “on background.” I’ve advised clients on navigating confidential information sharing many times. Using “off the record” is not a tool to be used by a novice. You have to know what you are doing and be clear.

You must be intentional about what you do and don’t want to share. Absent an “off the record” or “on background” agreement, anything you say to a journalist or captured by a recording device they use, can be reported on. In media relations training, we always warn CEOs, interviewees and spokespeople that anything they say in front of or to a journalist. We tell them that even if a camera, phone, microphone, or recorder does not appear to be recording, anything said near one should be considered “on the record.” If you don’t want to see the information you have in print or on the airwaves, do not say it, allude to it, or hint about it. Keep your lips zipped.

Why people go off the record or on background. So even though people like me tell you it’s safest to be “on the record” or to keep your mouth shut – why would you go “off” the record? People I’ve met and assisted have a variety of reasons for doing this. Sometimes they work for a large government agency or have been hurt by something or someone.

Sometimes people go off the record or on background because they have come across information or wrongdoing that they feel should be publicized, because it is the only way to reform or fix a system or process that affects other people. Sometimes they have been mis-treated and been retaliated against for trying to fix the problem – and they want to see the wrong righted, but they also want to protect a job, family, organization, or reputation.

The information itself may be of compelling public interest. It may reveal corruption, crime, falsehoods, mis-management, problems in government, or something else. Information shared off the record should relate to a current news story, or be so unique, scandalous, of public interest, or unusual – it should be something that a journalist would salivate to cover. Absolutely, it must also be accurate and true information. This is no place for falsehoods.

The Associated Press defines “on the record” and “off the record” in these ways and I like the clarity they give to the terms, which can seem murky when you look at other sources:

On the record. The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.

Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.

Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record. These background briefings have become routine in many venues, especially with government officials.

Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

In general, information obtained under any of these circumstances can be pursued with other sources to be placed on the record. This is a key point. Don’t be surprised if you tip off a reporter and they come up with a way to cover the story without you – if you told them about a good story and didn’t want to be quoted or alluded to.

Information should be verifiable and accurate. If you choose to share information off the record or on background, you should expect for your information to be vetted and corroborated by the journalist. While there is a tendency to sometimes see “unnamed sources” in reporting about the White House or political topics, the information is often verified by using multiple sources. Skilled reporters are savvy at verifying information without revealing their sources.

You should only tango with someone you trust – this is not a dance for the faint of heart. My feeling is that you should never go “off the record” or “on background” with someone you don’t trust. It is a big deal to put your reputation, career or even freedom in the hands of a journalist and his or her ethics. So you need to trust the person you talk to.

Journalists have a code of ethics (this one is from the Society for Professional Journalists) and as a group, they pride themselves on protecting sources. News outlets often have a code of ethics for their journalists and requirements for “off the record” and “on background” or anonymous sources. It’s helpful to look this information up online so you can understand the boundaries the reporter you want to talk to might be operating within. NPR addresses anonymous sources in its code of ethics. In NPR’s case (and at many other media outlets as well), editors are involved in decisions to grant sources anonymity and go off the record.

ProPublica’s code of ethics is a good example of how a news agency approaches using anonymous source. It gives you a good idea of the perspective they bring:

We strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information — not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable. To the extent that we can, we identify in our stories any important bias such a source may have. If the story hinges on documents, as opposed to interviews, we describe how the documents were obtained, at least to the extent possible. We do not say that a person declined comment when he or she is already quoted anonymously. Editors have an obligation to know the identity of unnamed sources in our stories, so that editors and reporters can jointly assess the appropriateness of using their information. Sources need to understand this practice.

This is no time for flights of fancy. No reputable news outlet will allow you to speak under a false name or pay you for information. So keep your feet on the ground and focus on being truthful and accurate. The stakes are high. The one trump card journalists have in this crazy game is public interest. They will do their best not to throw you to the wolves and I’ve seen journalists go to great lengths to protect their sources. But your anonymity may be in jeopardy if the information you provide is of compelling public interest.

Know the reporter and outlet you want to talk to. You may not know the reporter personally, but you can get a sense of a reporter from his or her work. Research who is covering the topic or issue you want to share information about. Do they work for the publication that the powers-that-be will pay attention to? Who has a reputation for listening? Read what he or she writes or watch what he or she produces. What is the reporter’s style in reporting? What is the news outlet’s policy on reporting with anonymous sources, “off the record” information, or “on background” remarks? Much of this information can often be found online.

Prepare before you call or set up the meeting. You need to get your head straight. I sometimes work with people in challenging situations. Inevitably the person in this situation is aggrieved, distressed, wronged, traumatized, and wrapped up in so many details – that it’s hard for them sometimes to be clear and focus. But that is so important. Jot down your key points and think through what you want to say. Be clear about how you feel about being referenced (or not referenced). What about your story makes it compelling? What hard evidence do you have or can you point the journalist to?

If you need help preparing, work with someone you trust. The best way to keep something quiet is not to tell anyone. Secrecy is important if you are really serious about staying “off the record” or on “deep background.”  That means you can’t discuss this with very many people. Ideally you should discuss it with no one. But sometimes people need help getting ready. The more people who have the information and know the source, the more likely the information will leak and be out of your control. If you need public relations counsel to prepare and get your head straight, seek it out with someone you trust. This is not a job for the junior communications staffer, but a seasoned  public relations practitioner with experience. If you hire public relations counsel, make sure there is a confidentiality clause in the contract.

Having an upfront agreement with the journalist is important. There is no “off the record” in hindsight.  You say to the journalist or reporter over the phone or in person (do not do this by email) – is now a good time to talk? Wait for an affirmative. Then you say, “I’d like to talk off the record (or on background) about something with you.” Because not everyone agrees on what “on the record” or “on background” means, you will want to clarify what the term means to you (use one of the definitions above). You might say something like “To me that means…” Wait for the journalist to agree verbally to having a conversation that is “off the record” or “on background.” You are now “off the record” or “on background” and can spill the beans. If the journalist does not agree, say thank you for their time and get off the phone or leave.

Be cautious. I typically recommend first only talking verbally. Do not hand over documents, or do anything else until you talk with the journalist and have an agreement in place. If you have inside knowledge, you can tip off the reporter to research or sources. You may be able to tell the reporter to ask for information via FOIA or public records requests that he or she might not have thought of. Some media outlets (see the Washington Post’s page) have information on their websites about how to share information with them safely and confidentially.

Talk with the reporter about how you might be referred to in reporting, if at all. If the reporter is interested in the story, talk with them about how your identity will be protected. Even if you are “off the record” the information you share could point a finger back to you inadvertently. Typically, someone quoted in a news story as speaking on background is identified as ‘a source,’ ‘an XYZ department official,’ ‘a government office official,’ ‘a senior administrator,’ etc. The reporter will often try to couch how they refer to the source in a way that illustrates their credibility, but without giving away the identity of the source. Reporters also will want to set a context for why you are not identified.

If a reporter asks you to speak on background about something, consider the ramifications. Occasionally, I have had reporters ask a client to speak “on background” about a topic that the client was knowledgeable of, but not seeking attention for. In these situations, I talk with the client about the request and we decide whether or not to participate. These conversations often lead the reporter to new reporting angles and allow the source to speak candidly.

Is it safe to share information off the record or on background? There is always some risk to sharing sensitive information, but there can also be great rewards. Typically, reporters value their sources and will go to great lengths – some even risk jail – to protect their sources. They won’t yield to bullying and newspapers retain lawyers on staff for a reason. Reporters are also fierce about this fact because they don’t want to lose other sources (word can and will get around). They won’t want to damage their reputation among their colleagues either. Bungling an anonymous source can mean a journalist even loses his or her job. And they don’t want to cause harm to their sources.

There is also real risk. A young government contractor who leaked information on Russian interference in 2016 in the U.S. election system to The Intercept is currently in jail and awaiting trial, because she printed out documents on a color printer (color printers put tiny unnoticeable dots on documents that can identify when they were printed) and mailed them to a media outlet. In verifying her story, the reporter sent snapshots of the pages to a government source, who reported it up the food chain. She also emailed the media outlet from a personal email account on a work computer. Don’t do these things if you really don’t want to be caught. The publication is assisting in her legal defense and has re-evaluated its policies on anonymous sources and news gathering because of what happened.

Listen to your gut. Sharing information “off the record” or “on background” is not a decision to be made lightly. Your intellect and logic play a role – but so does your gut. Listen to your intuition and do what feels right to you.

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 projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

 

 

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Presentation: Making Headlines for All the Right Reasons

Media relations can be challenging, even for those working in criminal justice or law enforcement, who interact with journalists regularly and rely on them to inform the public about information. In this July 2017 presentation at the annual conference for the National Association of Drug Court Professionals (NADCP), Ami Neiberger-Miller offers an overview of media relations and how to build positive relationships with journalists that can benefit drug court programs.

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 projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

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Media Relations: Press Releases Don’t Beat Good Conversations

As a media relations expert, I am routinely asked how to craft pitching angles or get a story placed with a blog, publication or broadcast outlet. Of course, if you have news – something that is timely, breaking, uniquely interesting, or of great public value – you can often achieve coverage and placement. But what about when the story is softer and you are trying to stand out in a sea of others?

Perhaps you are a company that wants to highlight your CEO. Or a nonprofit that wants to share its good work. Or an association with a membership base that wants focus on its issues.

Inc. editor Jane Berentson recently wrote, “A press release will never beat a good conversation” and she’s got a great point.

But how do you have those conversations? Public relations professionals calling media after a targeted distribution often get dumped into voice mails and can’t have those conversations. I’ve talked with junior staff at major firms who talk about making call after call, not because those calls earn ink or conversations, but because the firm wants to report numbers to the client.

But how do you get to conversations with reporters and editors if you don’t know them? You get there by being authentic and focusing on relationship-building. Here’s a few tips.

#1 – Abandon your notions of what media relations outreach has to be. It can’t all be about numbers. When you are focused on churning out numbers and not authentic relationship-building for your client, organization or business with the media – you have lost sight of the goal.

#2 – Don’t treat your media relations like content marketing. In this day and age with content marketing – organizations are sending out pre-written stories that get picked up by bloggers and smaller newspapers who need to fill space. But the mass distribution methods we use for placing pre-written stories, don’t work when we have a softer story that needs one-on-one attention from a reporter or editor.

#3 – Set clear expectations with the boss, the client or whoever is above you and cares about the pitch. Talk with the powers that be and make sure they understand – authentic media relations is about being real and targeting – not mass blasting. This means they will need to accept that stories take time to place. Yes, we can score helpful tips on a lifestyle issue or product in smaller publications – but the in-depth feature they would love to see will take time to pitch and place.

#4 – You begin with finding the right reporter or editor for the story you want to share. You start with targeting the right reporter or editor for the story you have. This might require reviewing similar news on the topic, cyberstalking research, and looking over work they’ve recently written or produced.

#5 – Craft a solid pitch that is authentic, not fake. Reach out to the reporter or editor and indicate you’ve read something they’ve written, what your story idea is, and say something interesting about why it’s important/unique/different/special/offers lessons for others/relates to some bigger pressing issue in the headlines now. So often sample pitches I review from communications staff are lackluster and lack pizzazz, shine or any degree of a story hook. Don’t use generic terms like “your publication” in your pitch (a dead give away that you mass blasted your pitch). Don’t make grandiose claims that won’t hold water. Talk about people, not just programs or initiatives. Especially on a softer story – reporters need a voice or person to help carry the story – otherwise it will be too dry. Don’t include references to their personal lives if you happened to stumble across them while doing your research. Do include brief references to the availability of statistics (fodder for graphics or story content) or photos or video. Do be real. And don’t write too much.

#5 – Follow up with the reporter or editor and try to have a conversation. Try to call at a convenient time (mornings are often best, near broadcast times or press deadlines in late afternoon is bad). If you get them on the phone, be prepared to verbally pitch your story again – you may want your original email pitch out in front of you so you can easily reference it. Then listen. Really listen to what the reporter says. If you’re lucky and the stars align -you may walk out of this with the story you are hoping for. You might even suggest a face-to-face meeting or getting together for coffee (yes, these things do still happen even in this time-sucking crazy age).

#6 – If the reporter doesn’t respond: wait, and then cut your losses and move on with the story – but focus on relationship-building. Forward your original email and add a note at the top saying you are following up with them. If you just don’t get traction, move on to another reporter or editor in a week or so. If you really feel this is the right reporter for your topic or issue, keep him or her on your media list. Reporters are inundated with email and information today. You (or your organization or client) might still end up on an experts list they keep or land on a list of future potential story topics, even if now is not the right time. Don’t blow it by acting rudely.

#7 – Be persistent about selling the story. Do not allow discouragement to dampen your enthusiasm for the story.  If what you have on your hands is a great story, someone will want to cover it. It just may take time to find the right publication or outlet and the right person to champion it. Reporters and editors today are maxed out for time and running a few thousand miles an hour, so getting on their radars can be tough. If you are starting from no relationship, you have to take it slow. Media relations is a bit like dating – and you do sometimes hear “it’s not you, it’s a great story – but I’m covering XYZ for now and into the foreseeable future, so it’s not a good fit for me.” If you get a no and they seem friendly and like the story idea, ask if there’s someone else they can recommend. And don’t give up.

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 projectreview our portfoliosign up for our e-newsletter). She blogs about media relations, social media, public relations, and work-family balance. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven

 

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How to Make the Redesigned Google News Work for You

PR pros who count on Google News to help them track the latest information about their clients got a rude awakening a few days ago when Google rolled out a “new look” for its news zone.

With the help of a little caffeine to dispel my morning fog, I sat down to examine the rollout. Yes, the layout is cleaner, and the card format is polished.  But I do wonder about the story cards – given their emphasis on showing news from different perspectives, someone is curating content behind the scenes to assemble those cards and deciding which views are presented on those story topics.

Google has blogged about the changes. They say the goals were to: “To make news more accessible and easier to navigate, we redesigned the desktop website with a renewed focus on facts, diverse perspectives, and more control for users.” You can add sections for topics, choose which sources you prefer (or don’t) and can scan easier. So I’ll give them kudos for those things.

But the change I found most befuddling, was how to get Google News to display searched articles by date (not by topic relevance which is the default). To get to the display by date option, you need to get to the “full coverage” page. But you can’t get there easily through the new Google News main page.

On a topic like “nonprofits” this is not too hard to make happen. You search for “nonprofits” in your Google News search bar.  Then you look for the “View full coverage” link.

Now you’ll see “full coverage” for that particular story topic, but not a list by date of all news related to nonprofits (like you used to). So if you are a nonprofit-loving person like me who is always up to check out news in the do good sector, there is still no way to get a comprehensive list of nonprofit news even with this full coverage option in Google News. The familiar bars and tools for sorting by date and relevance are gone.

If you are looking for a less popular topic as part of your Google News search – you don’t get a “full coverage” option for a story. For example, if I search for news about “lawn  mowers” – I get a list of articles, but no option to switch to full coverage and then sort by date. I just get whatever has been deemed most relevant by Google News, in no particular order. On its blog post explaining the changes, Google just tells people to look for the “full coverage” button, but seems blissfully unaware of the news consumer who comes in with a particular topic in mind who wants to drill down into a fire hose of coverage by date. The old Google News let you do that. The new Google News is hit and miss.

I played with settings and other options trying to get just the basic stories from the last 24 hours to load in order by date, and couldn’t do it.  I tweeted at Google but got no response. Thankfully, there’s a work around. And it’s crazy simple. Here it is:

GO TO REGULAR GOOGLE SEARCH. (Not Google News)

Go to www.Google.com. And search for nonprofits. You get 67.5 million results in a little over a second. Sweet. Now click on “News” so you only see news stories. This will give you stories sorted by relevance and this looks a lot like the old Google News when you searched for something. Then go to Tools and pick “sorted by date.” Now you can see a list of articles, in order, by date published, on your chosen keywords.

In other words, you have found where they hid Google News, minus the flashy home page loaded with curated content. You can also still sign up for alerts at the bottom of the page (i could not find an option to sign up for alerts about nonprofits on the new Google News page even after searching for news about nonprofits).

I use Google alerts, Cision/Vocus reports, hashtags, and all sorts of things to monitor news for clients.  But I still rely on Google News to help me sort stories by date and monitor the pulse of a topic, and it’s dis-orienting to see these types of changes without a lot of notice. I know many nonprofit agency staff who use Google News to monitor topics and coverage because they can’t afford the more expensive news monitoring services. I’m grateful there’s an easy work around to the new Google News so I can continue to review the coverage I want to see.

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

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Best Practices in Using Twitter for Associations

Ami Neiberger-Miller (@AmazingPRMaven) had a great time talking about “Best Practices in Using Twitter for Associations” at the Association Media & Publishing annual 2017 conference (#AMP17). Her co-presenter, Mark Newman of the Endocrine Society, talked about how he has used Twitter (@Endocrine_News) to recruit au

thors for the association magazine and engage with readers.

This presentation focused on maximizing Twitter for your association (and making your job easier). It discussed using Twitter as a promotional tool and a content cultivation tool. Tips were offered to help association staff save time, reap more benefits, create graphics they can use on Twitter, and maximize exposure.

Due to how Slideshare operates, some of the links in the notes may not be visible. So here they are if you want more information!

Wiley research: How are societies using social media? (02/27/2015)

BuzzSumo: We Analyzed 100 Million Headlines. Here’s What We Learned (2017)

To make awesome graphics without your graphic designer’s help: Canva

To see your Twitter account analytics: https://analytics.twitter.com/user/USERNAME/

Twitter accounts referenced during the presentation:

AIGA @AIGADesign

American College of Radiology @RadiologyACR

American Medical Association @AmerMedicalAssn

American Planning Association @American_Planning

American Society on Aging @AsAging

Ami Neiberger-Miller @AmazingPRMaven

Chamber of Commerce @USChamber

Endocrine News @Endocrine_News

Endocrine Society @TheEndoSociety

Episcopal Center for Children @ECCofDC

Linda McMahon @SBALinda

Mark Newman @MarkNYC64

National Association for Music Education @NAfME

National Association of Social Workers @NASW

Plan Arlington VA @PlanArlingtonVA

Springdale Chamber of Commerce @SpringdaleCofC

U.S. Chamber of Commerce @USChamber

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

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Guest Post: 6 Tips for Reaching Millennial Audiences Through Social Media

If you’re working in marketing, you’re marketing to Millennials. According to Forbes, there are 80 million Millennials in the United States, and they have about $200 billion in buying power. Connecting with them through content marketing is a must for any business or nonprofit aiming to survive in the digital age. And yet the internet is littered with cringe-worthy corporate attempts gone horribly wrong. There’s even a subreddit dedicated to the phenomenon: r/FellowKids.

Trust us, you don’t want to end up there. Luckily, you don’t have to. Whether you’re a Gen Xer looking to update your web presence, or a Millennial looking to refresh your approach, there are things you can do to better reach Millennial audiences through social media.

Diff’rent Strokes, Diff’rent Folks. Does your business have a Facebook profile? Great. Does it have a Twitter account? Instagram? Snapchat? Periscope? YouTube channel? It might seem impossible to keep up with all the social media apps, but it’s necessary to remain au courant with Millennial audiences. No, you don’t have to jump on every trend — how many of those Pokemon Go business accounts are still active? — but platforms with millions of unique users and sustained success are worth your time.

Millennial audiences don’t rely on just one social media account to broadcast their online personality to the world, and your business shouldn’t, either.

Learn The Language. That being said, learn to use each platform most effectively for your business. If your Instagram feed is overrun with text, you’re doing it wrong. If you’re always trying to post visual ads to Twitter, you’ve fundamentally misread your medium.

Before your account goes live, do some personal research: Establish personal accounts for yourself, and practice by making non-business posts. Tweet a little bit. Send funny Snaps to your friends. Follow celebrities, journalists, random people you know — and only after that, major corporations and brands. No one will read your social media content if it’s not matched to its platform or if the tone is more ad agency than real talk.

Millennial consumers don’t want promotions: They want people.

Don’t Try To Do Too Much. Still, know your place. There are few things worse than a company trying too hard to prove its hipness or relate-ability. Who can forget the Great Eyeroll of 2016, when Pizza Hut unveiled its “Hut Swag” merchandise line? In addition to not making sense, “Pizza is Bae” wasn’t something most Millennials wanted to wear on a black sweatshirt.

If you only learn of a meme because you Googled the word “meme,” you shouldn’t use it. Likewise, if you’re anything less than 100% sure of what a piece of slang means, keep it out of your mouth… and your Twitter feed. Millennials value honesty and transparency more than the ability to use the word of the moment. And nobody likes a try-hard.

Make Use of Your Younger Employees. If you’re old enough to be in charge, you might also be old enough to be out of touch. That’s where younger employees and interns come in. Don’t be afraid to ask for their help, or even delegate some of the social media work to them. (They’ll probably appreciate the work, and it can look great on a resume.) But don’t absent yourself from the process entirely. Instead, think of your younger employees as native speakers who are available to translate and teach.

Volume is Key… But So is Quality. You know that old chestnut about Millennials being glued to their devices? Well, it’s kind of true. According to The Wall Street Journal, Millennials spend over six hours a day on the internet or interacting with social media. They expect a constant stream of content, and although it doesn’t all need to come from the same place, intermittent or inconsistent posting can mean that your brand will get lost in the shuffle. Without sacrificing quality, you should aim to keep your accounts active on a daily basis… and in some cases, on an hourly schedule. Twitter is particularly fast-paced, but other platforms — like Instagram and Facebook — also need daily touches to be effective tools.

Always Connect. The great thing about social media is that it allows you to connect with your target audience in real time. So take advantage of that immediacy! If someone follows you on Twitter or Instagram, follow them back. If you get a question or comment because of a Facebook post, respond publicly! The more open and available you seem, the more a Millennial audience will trust you. You might be a company or a non-profit, but on social media you can be like everyone else: a relate-able voice, in 140 characters or less.

Sam Radbil is a contributing member of the marketing and communications team at ABODO, an online apartment marketplace. ABODO was founded in 2013 in Madison, Wisconsin. And in just three years, the company has grown to more than 30 employees, raised over $8M in outside funding and helps more than half a million renters find a new home each month.

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Building a Platform as a Writer: 7 Tips to Get Started

Even established and well-seasoned authors need a personal platform to promote their work. This presentation talks about what goes into an author’s platform and how to build one. It offers seven tips to help authors get started on building a personal brand.

Tip #1: Start with believing in yourself.

Tip #2: Decide what your online persona will be.

Tip #3: Pick at least 2 social media platforms to build your platform on.

Tip #4: Build a website for yourself. Really. Yes, you do need it.

Tip #5: Get allies. Make a list of influencers.

Tip #6: Publish, publish, publish. And not just your book.

Tip #7: Be relentless at building your platform.

Ami Neiberger-Miller delivered this presentation in April 2017 at Writers Project Runway III in Leesburg, Virginia.

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

 

 

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Authors: Learn How to Get Attention at Writers Project Runway III on April 1

Steppingstone LLC’s Ami Neiberger-Miller will be speaking at Writers Project Runway III on Saturday, April 1 in Leesburg, Virginia.  She is presenting: “Your Author Voice: Building a Platform.”

Learn how to build a platform so your voice as an author is noticed and heard. Traditional publishers today increasingly ask authors to publicize their work and promote sales. Whether you have a book deal or not, publishers want authors with an established platform who will help promote their books. If you are self-published, the responsibility for publicizing your work rest squarely on your shoulders.

But how do you start and sustain your platform? Should you have a website? Or a mailing list? Do you need a Facebook page, a YouTube channel, a blog, and a Twitter feed? Should a news release be issued about your book? What will you say? How will you find time to write while juggling promotional outreach into your workload?

Hear Ami talk about where the rubber meets the road when it comes to public relations. Get practical advice on how to build your platform and share your writing with the world.

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

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Twitter Basics: Building Influence and Followers

Twitter can be a great platform for building your influence. This presentation on Twitter basics was created in February 2017 for a group of people who were new to using social media. They wanted to be more engaged politically and wanted pointers on how to grow a Twitter following and be efficient. I talked during the discussion time about how I use searches and lists to help manage incoming information. The presentation is available through Slideshare.

Talk to Us: Do you enjoy using Twitter? What works for you? How are you staying active and engaged through social media? Post a comment to let us know your thoughts!

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

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DoGooder TV Awards: Nonprofiteers, Get Your Submissions in by 2/13

The DoGooder TV Awards honor the best work from people and organizations that are using video to create real impact for important causes. If you have made a video about your nonprofit organization or cause, this is a great opportunity to share it with the world and be recognized for your hard efforts.

There are some fun categories. There’s the Funny for Good Award and the Best Nonprofit Video Award. There’s also a brand new award category: the Fundraising for Good Award. This award will honor the best nonprofit fundraising video that successfully contains a direct call for monetary donations to support a nonprofit’s mission and programming.

Video submissions are open for all three categories through February 13, 2017. The public will then have the opportunity to view the finalists, selected by a panel of expert judges, and vote for the best video in each category from February 20 – March 20, 2017. The contest is open to both organizations and individuals.

What do you get if you win? Recognition for your work and your cause/nonprofit will feel good if you win.  The winners will be honored in a special ceremony at the 2017 Nonprofit Technology Conference being held March 23-25, 2017 in Washington, DC. Your video will be showcased at the event and you get a free registration to next year’s NTC in New Orleans.

Every day organizations and causes tell stories through video that have the power to move people and transform lives. Submit your videos and get recognized for your hard work!

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

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Starting an Independent PR Practice: 5 Keys to Success

In November 2016, Ami Neiberger-Miller talked about starting our business for the Independent Public Relations Alliance (I.P.R.A.) which is part of the Public Relations Society of America – National Capital Chapter. The presentation was part of “How to Start and Grow an Independent PR Practice.” She co-presented with Sandra Wills Hannon of the The Hannon Group. In her presentation, Ami highlighted five keys for success and offers insights helpful for many small business owners. Here is the copy from her drafted remarks.

I’m going to begin by describing how I started my business and then I’m going to talk about five keys to success that have helped me along the way.

I started my business thirteen years ago, after getting married and moving back to the D.C. area. I was telecommuting for my old job but that was coming to an end, and I was job hunting. I got offers from friends for project work while I was looking for a traditional nine to five job – and my husband said, I don’t know why you are looking for a regular job, you already have work coming to you. Why don’t you start a business?  Hearing him say that, is what made me really seriously consider starting an independent P.R. practice.

At the time, my husband had a full-time job with health insurance. So we moved an old dining table into the basement, and set up a little office for me. Then I began to dream a bit. What would an independent P.R. practice for me look like? What kind of work would I do? Who would I want to work for? It was exciting. I initially thought i would work in P.R. and focus on nonprofit organizations and youth development, as that was where i came from. So I went to the Loudoun Small Business Development Center and got a checklist of things to do. I set up my business checking account and deposited my first check. I was on my way! Three years after starting my business my husband quit his job and came to work for me, after we won major curriculum writing and design contracts (and it was clear more creative and design work for him would be coming our way). So how have I made it work all these years?  

My first key to success is – network with people – not with computers or Twitter handles – with people. You should strive to never burn a bridge or lose a good contact. When I started my practice, I began contacting old colleagues. Those contacts led to referrals. I also joined P.R.S.A.-N.C.C. and became a charter member of I.P.R.A., which was just getting off the ground. I found in I.P.R.A. – my water cooler crowd – the people who would celebrate success with me, give me advice when i needed it, and even be a support when life didn’t go well. I have done business over the years with people I have met through I.P.R.A. Sometimes they are one-time projects, other times it is an account that we are sharing together. Sometimes it’s long-term. Someone I met at an I.P.R.A. lunch, called me a few years later and invited me to have lunch. She had followed me online over the years and wanted to talk about doing business together. She hired me, and I subcontract to her virtual P.R. firm. I work on a team, and we’ve had a very successful collaboration now for a few years.

My second key to success is to learn from others the things you don’t know, and to keep striving to improve. One of the challenges I faced is that I didn’t come from a P.R. agency background. So I had to learn how to market myself, compete for business, and service clients. And that was a big learning curve.  I learned through trial and error, read a lot of advice online, had coffee with wonderful people like my co-presenter Sandra Wills-Hannon, and partnered with others who knew things I didn’t know. One experience that raised my proposal game – was when I was asked to be part of a proposal by one of the larger P.R. firms in D.C., who thought having a Loudoun county sub-contractor would help them win a new account. They found me on LinkedIn. I went through the proposal process with them, rehearsed presentations with them, and helped pitch the account. It ended up we didn’t win the business, but seeing how a larger agency managed that process and what they put into it, was eye opening and made me much more competitive. And I have another example – as social media took off – I had a client ask me to help them strategize how to build a social media presence. At the time, I was just learning this arena myself, so I invited another I.P.R.A. member to work with me on the account who knew more than me. My client got great advice, and I learned a lot too. Sometimes people who are new to business worry about others “stealing” their ideas or clients – but I have never found that to be the case. And you can protect yourself by signing no-compete agreements if needed.

Now we come to key #3 to success: be shrewd about your time. I did a lot of networking early on. But as time went by, I became more shrewd about how I invested my time. We were members of the Chamber of Commerce for a few years, but we let our membership lapse because it didn’t lead to the types of clients we wanted and took too much time. I did find networking events for women fruitful, and I found that PRSA events helped me make contacts and grow professionally. I also like events I can tweet from and use for blog fodder, so I get multiple returns.  Being shrewd about time should also extend to how you work. You become more aware of time when you are working for yourself, billing hours and focusing on deliverables, and you know you have to deliver to get a pay check and meet your commitments. So efficiency is key because your time spent marketing, networking, etc. is not billable. When I’m downtown meeting clients, I need to get a lot done, so I have a membership in a co-working space. I have a quiet place to work when I’m in D.C. and I’m not working in noisy coffee shops.

Key to success #4 is to invest in building a public persona and good systems. My first website and business cards were awful. I made them myself. Luckily for me, my husband is a graphic designer and three years after I started my business, he joined me in my practice. So he designed a new logo, ordered me new business cards, and built a new website. Today I have a website, a well-developed blog, a linked-in profile, a business Facebook page and a very active twitter feed with around 7,000 followers. I find that new clients have often already read my twitter feed and blog before calling me. And current clients also read my blog and tweets. It is a challenge to keep information flowing out, as we balance client needs and limited time. It’s also important to have good financial tools. After many years of struggle – I finally found the financial management tool that works for me – I use Quickbooks for self-employed and I love it. I review transactions as they come in – often on my phone – and categorize them for tax purposes.

Success key #5 – persevere and keep a cushion. We have faced some challenges in our business over the last thirteen years – and there are times it has been hard to persevere. I always advise people who are self-employed, to keep a cushion – a cash reserve. It gives you options. In 2007, while we were on vacation, my brother was killed in combat in Iraq. Some of my clients found out about it from news reports and I was managing press while trying to help my grieving family. We buried my brother at Arlington National Cemetery, and a day later, on our wedding anniversary, my husband had emergency surgery for a condition that could have killed him. All of that happened in just eleven days.

Some of our clients evaporated. So did some of our friends. We had to rebuild our client base. I was invited to submit a proposal to a higher education association through a referral, and another firm asked us to bid on a curriculum job. I remember sitting down at my desk, three weeks after my brother died, and my husband’s surgery, and thinking ok, I am going to write these proposals as an act of therapy. We probably won’t get them, but it will do me good to write and dream. And we got both of those jobs.

You need a financial cushion and you will also need the will to persevere even when life hands you unexpected blessings. Three years later – the adoption agency called – a year earlier than we thought they would – to say our baby was on the way. And our daughter, Gabrielle Miller, was born the very next day. We had no car seat, no diapers, no baby clothes, and no childcare plan. We quickly got all of those things. Because we had our financial cushion in place and our business built back to a healthy level – we could afford the adoption costs and for one of us to go part-time.

Today our practice continues to evolve. Having an independent practice, has allowed me to balance my work life and home life. Our practice supports our family and we are on the leading edge of the new economy – one where people work for multiple clients and on their own terms. We have our own clients – sometimes people hire only me but a project requires my husband’s talents too. Sometimes we hire others, and sometimes we are subcontractors to others.

At times, we have considered expanding into more of a traditional agency model. What has held me back from that is that I enjoy doing the work with my clients and I don’t really want to give that up to grow into a larger firm. That might change someday, but for now, I am content with my practice.

Talk to Us: Have you started your own business? What worked for you? What are your keys to success? Post a comment to let us know your thoughts!

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

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Five Tips on Crafting a Pitch for Bloggers

If you want to reach out to bloggers with a story idea or information from your nonprofit, association or small business, what are the best ways to reach out?

As a blogger, I get pitched regularly by people offering me content for my blog. Most pitches are awful – off-topic,  poorly written and unfamiliar with my audience.  I write about public relations, social media, writing, and work-life balance. With a few key tips these prospective bloggers could avoid rejection and score a guest post.

Tip #1:  Know what content you are trying to place. Generic info about your organization does not work for this group. Who you reach out to and how, will depend on what you have to offer. Are you distributing information about an upcoming contest or program, offering an article with advice, suggesting a story that you might write, or an infographic with key points?

Tip #2: Do your research. Make a list of the types of topics bloggers are writing about that relate to you. Is it bloggers who cover activities in your community? People who write on a particular topic or with a passion for an issue? Blogs affiliated with a friendly organization or publication? Research the blogs out there. Read them.

If you subscribe to a media database like Cision, you can look up a list of bloggers by topic. If you use a database, do a good job at reviewing and weeding down the list. Researching a list of bloggers can be time-consuming.

One way to be efficient, is to make a list of top 10, 25, or 50 blogs to reach out to. Drawing some parameters can help make the project more doable if your workload is busy.

Tip #3: Draft your pitch. Bloggers are busy, so keep it short and include copy when you can with your pitch.

No matter what you are sending – you need an introductory paragraph that introduces the topic, why it is relevant to their readers, and (briefly) why you are the right person/group to offer this information. Say whether you are willing to write a blog post or whether you would like to provide information to them to use as background material (make clear what you have).

Sweeten the deal by offering with your pitch to link to the post or share it on social media (if you have a lot of followers, mention your stats).

Story proposal for a post you would write (one-paragraph pitch): If you are proposing a story that you might write (but have not written yet), outline your key points in a paragraph, explain why their readers will enjoy this information, why you should write it, and why. Mention any timing (e.g. a special day or month coming up, how your work might fit within a schedule that they appear to be publishing on).

Story proposal for a post that they would write (one-paragraph pitch): If you are proposing a story that you are hoping they will write, outline some ideas (be creative) and outline any assets you can provide (statistics, interviewees, reports, images, graphics). Explain why the topic is relevant to their readers.

Reprintable article: If you are offering a pre-written reprintable article with tips or advice, include the copy in the body of your email (not as an attachment).  Write a pitch paragraph at the top of the email to introduce yourself and the topic. Do not let your article go over 500 or 600 words. Offer photos or graphics if you have them and offer downloadable links with them. Some top blogs may not take reprintable articles but many bloggers appreciate this information.

Infographic pitch: Write a one-paragraph pitch about the infographic topic. Include a downloadable link for the graphic.

Tip #4: Craft a great subject line. this is probably the most important part of your pitch package. Write a good subject line that gets to the point. Be clear about what you are offering.

Tip #5: Proofread your pitch before hitting send. Look over your pitch and collateral materials. Check any links with graphics or images to make sure they are working.

 

Talk to Us: Have you pitched bloggers? What has worked for you? Post a comment to let us know your thoughts!

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

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Pitching the Editorial Board: Five Things to Know

The Washington Post recently caused a stir by inviting people to pitch the editorial board. Most editorial boards enjoy hearing from readers and appreciate input – especially if it is thoughtful and well-assembled. But most of them don’t do what the Post did and put up an online form to help you make your pitch. Before you pitch the Post, or any other newspaper editorial board, what should you do? Here’s five things to know.

First, you need to understand what editorial boards do. Many people don’t realize that editorial boards write opinions on community issues. They might commend a community effort, support a call for change, express empathy for a tragedy, endorse a candidate or action, weigh in on a known (or unknown) issue, or hold up for verbal public flogging people who’ve done wrong to the public.

The best way to understand an editorial board and its perspective before you pitch it, is to read what the editorial board publishes – this is often found in your newspaper, perhaps toward the back of the first section, often under an Opinions masthead. For most editorial boards – it’s about public interest. They make a statement or comment that they feel is in the best interest of the community.

Second, research what the editorial board has said in the past on your issue or related issues. This is really important. Thankfully with the Internet, researching editorial boards has become a lot easier. If your newspaper is not accessible online (and you don’t keep copies from your subscription – it is important to read the publications you want to pitch either online or in print), try your public library – they will often have access through specialty databases.

Search for a variety of keywords. Look for issues similar to yours, as well as your issue. Know when the board has weighed in and what it said. Make a list if you need to. This is also a great time to make a list of the board members (many newspapers will list the members in print or online) and familiarize yourself with their names.

Third, you need to pick the issue  you want to talk with them about. Many nonprofits and activists are working on multiple fronts. Yes, you might be able to sit down and talk with an editorial board about your organization and issues, but try to single out one thing that the editorial board could comment on that would make a big difference.

This is where your research from the newspaper itself comes into play. If the board has already stated a position on your issue. Good news: they care about your issue. Bad news:you can’t ask them to say the exact same thing again. You need to ask them to do something new that will make a difference – perhaps endorse legislation, applaud an outstanding volunteer or leader, commend a new community program, or hold accountable a person or an institution.

Fourth, get your facts straight. You will need to use only good, reliable data in your pitch to the editorial board. Double check facts and figures. You must know where your data comes from. If the editorial board asks where a statistic is from, you should be able to quickly tell them.

Fifth, write your pitch.  Write an email or letter to the editorial board asking them to write an editorial on your issue. Be coherent, brief and on point. This is tough. Your letter should not be more than one page. Lay out your issue plainly. Be clear on how it impacts the community and how far-reaching it is. Point out how an endorsement or comment by the board can be in the public interest (not just in the interest of your organization).

Use your statistics and numbers. Reference if the board has discussed the matter before in print, but explain how what you are requesting is different (if they have written on something related to your issue before – be flattering and point out that you know they have a historic interest in XYZ, but now ABC is happening). Offer to meet in person to review the facts and discuss the issue. Include your contact information. If the issue is time-sensitive because of an upcoming vote, decision, or deadline, contact them well in advance (at least a couple of weeks).

Avoid  buzzwords in your pitch. Everyone in the nonprofit world claims they are innovative, leading, collaborative and partnering but organizations or causes sometimes struggle to illustrate how they are these things. Embody these elements in your organization and tone, instead of loading your pitch with fluff and jargon.

Talk to Us: Have you pitched an editorial board successfully? Or unsuccessfully? What do you think helped or hurt your pitch? What advice would you share with others trying to approach an editorial board?

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

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Social Media Tools for Twitter: MyTopTweet

Ever wonder what is your most engaging tweet? Or what tweets from a competitor or client are their best? There are lots of tools out there (and many are integrated into social media management platforms like Hootsuite), but if you just need to know which tweet comes out on top, MyTopTweet delivers.

It’s a simple matter to log in to MyTopTweet with your own Twitter account, see what your own top tweets are, and to check what they are for other accounts.

The service looks at the past 3200 tweets sent by the account to show you their top 10 tweets. For your own account, you can also easily share your results by clicking a button.

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Facebook for Nonprofits: Resources to Help You Grow

Facebook recently launched Facebook for Nonprofits – a group of resources to help the many nonprofit organizations using Facebook. Organizers say the resources will help you:

  • Build and grow your Facebook presence
  • Raise awareness about your cause
  • Activate your supporters & volunteers
  • Raise funds

We, of course, immediately took a look at what Facebook is offering. We found some great resources for organizations just starting to use Facebook, with tools for those getting started with a page for their nonprofit organization. The section is very user-friendly and walks you through the basics.

A section on raising awareness offers advice on getting people to like a page. Much of the advice is common sense. The activate supporters section drives home the importance of photos in getting people to attend events.

Fundraisers will find the section on getting more donations particularly interesting, as Facebook discusses how to convert Facebook followers into donors, and applies best practices. In particular, the section includes directions on how to activate the Donate Now button. The fundraising tools are pretty much limited to the Donate Now button for now, but you can sign up to be notified of new products by Facebook as they are rolled out.

The success stories area includes examples from both large and small nonprofit organizations. The success story that caught our eyes right away was: “You don’t have to have a huge budget to present meaningful content to the ever growing population of Facebook members.” The success story examined the “MY HERO” campaign, an educational program that uses media, art and technology to celebrate the best of humanity, one story at a time. The campaign used advertising, targeting and tagging to share visuals and gain attention.

If you are already a Facebook power user for your agency, you might not find much new here, although you will want to check out the success stories for some great examples. For those just starting out on Facebook and trying to grow their nonprofit’s reach and capacity- there’s a lot to digest.

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Content Marketing for Nonprofits: How to Be Effective

A majority of nonprofit organizations are using content marketing to share their work, recruit supporters, strengthen relationships, and inspire action. The Content Marketing Institute and Blackbaud’s 2015 study found 61% of nonprofits are using content marketing.

What is content marketing? Content marketing is “a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience—and, ultimately, to drive action.”

Only 5% of those surveyed said their content marketing efforts were very effective, and 30% said it was effective. A whopping 45% were neutral on whether content marketing was effective.

Even so, 69% of those surveyed said they are creating more content this year. And increasingly, they are marketing their content on a variety of platforms:

  • 93% on social media platforms (not blogs)
  • 89% in person events
  • 88% enewsletters
  • 86% articles on their own website
  • 86% illustrations/photos
  • 82% videos
  • 58% blogs
  • 53% infographics
  • 53% print newsletters
  • 44% print magazines
  • 41% case studies
  • 41% microsites
  • 40% research reports

Interestingly, in-person events were rated as the most effective (74%) content marketing strategy, followed by photos/illustrations (65%), enewsletters (64%), social media content (63%), print magazines (60%), print newsletters (57%), videos (54%) and microsites (53%). When it comes to social media platforms, sixty-three percent felt Facebook is effective. Fifty-four percent think Twitter is effective. Forty-seven percent say YouTube is effective.

And they are publishing frequently. Twenty percent are publishing new content on a daily basis and 28% are doing so several days a week. Sixty percent of the most effective nonprofit marketers and 58% of those who have a documented content marketing strategy publish new content daily or multiple times per week.

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How can your nonprofit organization stand out from the many others engaging in content marketing and be more effective in your content marketing efforts?

Tip #1: Make a plan and write it down. Draft what your content marketing strategy will look like. The Content Marketing Institute reports that organizations that have a written strategy are more likely to report being effective. Only 23% of those responding to the Blackbaud study had a written strategy.

Tip #2: Follow your strategy. Sticking with your strategy will improve your effectiveness. The Content Marketing Institute and Blackbaud research found that those following their strategy closely were more likely to rate their efforts as effective.

Tip #3: Use metrics to evaluate your effectiveness. Examine metrics like website traffic, page views, engagement through social media, fundraising, number of people assisted, visiting time on a website, and event attendance.

Tip #4: Continue to invest in photography, illustrations and video. The use of images and video reverberates throughout content marketing. A photo shared on Facebook can be used in an e-newsletter, on a website or in a video.

Tip #5: Focus on improvements. Consider where you can improve your approach to content marketing. Do you want to be a better storyteller through your content? Do you want to showcase more visuals or videos? Do you wan to understand metrics better or look at return on investment? Do you want to get a better grasp on an audience?  Or do you need a strategy for mobile or content optimization?

Talk to us: How are you using content marketing effectively? What strategies work for you? Do you have a written strategy for your content marketing program? Where do you want to improve?

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

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How to Avoid Tone Deaf PR: Learning From Colonial Williamsburg’s Mistaken Response to Super Bowl Ad Controversy

When the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation aired its first ever super Bowl ad ever in 2016, I’m sure the organization’s leadership hoped their effort would be met with widespread acclaim and praise. Instead, they faced a heap of criticism for showing a clip with the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001, collapsing in reverse.

The foundation was in damage control within hours of the ad’s appearance, even issuing a defensive statement in the middle of the night after the game:

In the days leading up to the Super Bowl, Colonial Williamsburg released an extended online version of its advertisement through its various social media channels. The ad garnered thousands of likes and shares alongside hundreds of positive comments within the hour. Youtube reviews alone ran 10-1 in favor of the ad. Its popularity, and the discussion of the events depicted in the ad, led to the conversation “trending” on Facebook.

We understand and respect that some of the images depicted in the ad are jarring. However, the small data point of people who objected to some of the imagery in the ad does not represent the total viewership. Not even close. We have received an outpouring of support on social media for the ad and its simple, powerful message: All that is past is prologue. Our ad is meant to walk viewers backwards through time, challenging them to reflect on how our collective history and struggles shape who we are as Americans today. We cannot forget our sacrifices or our tragedies even as we celebrate our accomplishments. Colonial Williamsburg does not shy away from these difficult moments in our history because they have made us who we are just as surely as our many triumphs.

An ad doesn’t do its job if you have to explain it or defend it. The foundation called those who complained about the ad “the small data point of people.” That quote showed up in many media outlets, including the Washington Post. Clearly, the people running the foundation’s public relations operation were tone-deaf at best. Sometimes in PR, we have to give up on what we hoped would happen, and recognize the reality.

The foundation’s defensiveness of its own interpretation of history was evident in responses on Twitter to Saturday Night Live cast member  Taran Killam, documented on The Gothamist. Many newspapers in New York reported outrage, and the Roanoke Times editorial board even deemed the ad a “fumble.”

An edited version of the foundation’s statement now appears online. Organizers seem determined to paint an “overwhelmingly” positive picture of how the ad was received saying “the outpouring of support on social media sends a powerful message.”  This version notes that “YouTube reviews alone are running 10-1 in favor of the ad.”

But the truth was stranger than the fiction the foundation spun about the ad. Twitter erupted in negative comments, captured by USA Today and others. Of the 36 comments I reviewed on the foundation’s Facebook page post right after the Super Bowl, about 12, or a third, were negative.  A poll taken by NJ.com found that 55% of those responding said the ad was offensive.

When I saw the ad during the Super Bowl, I thought of the families of those who died. My personal feeling is that 9/11 was a historic event of massive importance to our country, but the image of the tower falling was also the moment when thousands of people died. As such, the image deserves to be treated with sensitivity out of respect for those who died and for their families. There are ways to represent tragedy without showing the moment of death. Surely, if the foundation’ wanted to include 9/11 in the ad, they could have done it with a different image.

Instead of getting a public discussion about history and its role in making America what it is today, the foundation got an albatross. So if you ever stumble into controversy, how do you avoid the tone deaf response the foundation offered? Here’s a few tips:

Tip #1: Think before you speak. Good crisis PR practice is to respond quickly, but if your rapid response is not right, you can make the situation worse. Take the time needed, an hour, 2 hours, 12 hours – to get your response right – in words and in delivery tone. Both must be right.

Tip #2: Talk to real people. The “small data point” quote was surely one of the worst mistakes made by the foundation in its response. The language minimized and belittled the genuinely hurt feelings of those who were offended. A better response would have been to acknowledge the valid concerns of those who protested about the ad. Offer to talk with people and hear their concerns.

Tip #3: Don’t “spin” things as if they are more positive than they really are. The foundation used a talking point saying that the response to the ad on social media was “overwhelmingly” positive. This was untrue, just based on looking at the foundation’s own social media channels. The fact that the foundation kept saying how “positive” the response was, just make it look like the foundation was disingenuously trying to spin the story to its preferred version. Acknowledge the reality of the situation.

Tip #4: Apologize when you hurt people, instead of going on the defensive. If your actions as an organization have seriously hurt people’s feelings, the sky is probably not going to fall if you say sorry. A sincere apology can go a long way to making things better. Saying sorry early on, can go a long way to diffusing a negative story and prevent it from becoming a festering problem.

Talk to Us: What do you think about the Colonial Williamsburg ad? If your organization or business does something that offends others, how can you avoid a tone deaf response?

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

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Three Lessons Nonprofits Can Learn from the Always #LikeAGirl Campaign

I was an early fan of the Always #LikeAGirl campaign – finding it bold, empowering and with a worthwhile message. So much of what passes for advertising these days is dribble that sounds and looks like it oozed out of snarky teen consciousness, but this campaign targeting young people ages 16-24 stood out from the start. Here’s a few lessons nonprofits can learn from the campaign.

Tip #1. Do your research before you start. The foundation of a good campaign is always research. Always did research on their target audience, which was defined as girls ages 16-24. What they found was that the confidence of girls plummets during puberty because of the messages they receive from society – epitomized by the view that “like a girl” is an insult used to humiliate people for being weak, emotional or not able to succeed.

Your nonprofit or association may not have the resources to do a Harris Poll survey or hire a researcher, but look for other ways to research your target audience. Government studies, published research and many sources online can provide you with basic research about your audience. You can do your own survey with a tool like SurveyMonkey or ask a university professor or graduate student to assist your research efforts for a campaign.

After you have done your research, plan your campaign with one hashtag that is easy to understand. Create the pieces you will need – such as a video, Facebook ads (they need graphics) and Twitter ads. Write your news release announcing the campaign. draft social media posts, a blog post you can use and give to others, and pitch emails that can go to influencers, bloggers, etc. You need all of your pieces in order before you start. So often I see organizations make the mistake of not doing planning before they start – then they are stuck with a lousy hashtag, a disjointed message, or they feel like they have somehow missed a window of opportunity for their message.

Your strategies need to be well-rounded. I’m sure many nonprofits would say that they don’t have the funding of a major U.S. brand that can afford to buy a Super Bowl commercial. But look at the strategies used: one well-produced video at the start on YouTube, with a 60-second version shown during the Super Bowl (not a cheap purchase), combined with paid Twitter and Facebook ads, paid reach and influencer outreach. These combined, netted tons of earned media, far more than the brand had ever seen, and more than 90 million YouTube views (making the original video the #2 viral video in the world).

This campaign started with the idea of using the ad to illustrate visually the problem – that girls in puberty hear messages that put them down. And then strove to take back that message so that #LikeAGirl would no longer be an insult but instead an expression of strength. It made us all think about our language.

Many nonprofits have the ability to create videos for YouTube, and some can do them at a broadcast quality level. While very few in the sector have the money for a Super Bowl ad, there are other ways to share a video – YouTube gives everyone a channel. Twitter and Facebook advertising does not have to be excessively expensive to be effective. Geo-fencing on Facebook means you can target your ads in a particular geographic region and Facebook gives you many choices for drilling down even further into your chosen demographic, asking if you want to focus on men or women, homeowners, or people with particular interests. Just $5/day on Facebook can do a lot for driving page likes, traffic to your website and visibility.

Outreach to influencers can be done one-on-one, by going out to the people best positioned to share your message. While many nonprofits immediately think of celebrities as key influencers (which they are), there is tremendous competition for celebrity endorsements and support within the sector. Try to think of influencers in your community. Look up who has the most followed accounts on Twitter in your community or in the topic area you work on. Reach out to these people. Look for influential bloggers who can help your cause.

Think about building a movement, not just a moment. The Always ads could have stopped just with illustrating the problem – showing the contrast between prepubescent girls and those who were older and how they view themselves. But instead, they turned the insult of “like a girl” on its head, choosing instead to re-claim the language with an empowering message.

For nonprofits seeking to build momentum, followers, donors, volunteers, and the drive to fight injustice, fix a problem or build the drive to effect change – this is the hard lesson. While many leaders in nonprofits have emotional connections to the causes they champion, how do you translate your personal emotion into something that others can relate to, embrace and support?

You have to look beyond yourself and look to the bigger picture – where does the research take you? And how could you “take back” the language, solve the problem, fight the injustice – what is one simple thing people can do? You have to find your one thing. Maybe that is just giving people hope. Maybe it is asking them to take action about one thing, that will lead to more. But it can’t be watered down or just a lot of research. You have to give people a call to action and invite them to join what you are building.

Resources:

Case study on Like a Girl – from Marketing Magazine UK
Case study on Like a Girl – from D&AD
Like A Girl – Always

Talk to Us: What do you think about the Always #LikeAGirl campaign? How has your nonprofit used a campaign to raise awareness about a cause or issue? What steps did you take? What worked? What did not work? What would you do differently?

If you would like to share a nonprofit campaign with us that we will consider to feature on our blog, please email ami at SteppingstoneLLC.com.

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

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Apply for Free Facebook Ads for Your Nonprofit by Nov. 15

With support from Facebook, ActionSprout is helping nonprofits try out and use Facebook ads for free this holiday giving season.

Registered US 501(c)3 organizations can apply by November 15, 2015 to get access to up to $1,500 in ad credits to use from December through February. With the support of Facebook, ActionSprout is giving away up to $2 million dollars in advertising to 2,000 nonprofits.

APPLY BEFORE NOVEMBER 15, 2015: You must be invited to apply for the grant. Here is your personal invitation to apply!

Note: You need to have an ad account already attached to your nonprofit’s Facebook page to apply. This can be set up without charge through your Facebook admin interface (I did it for one of the pages I manage), but do the setup before you apply. Unlike Google, Facebook has historically not provided advertising grants to nonprofit organizations, so this is a huge opportunity for nonprofits.

If you have never tried Facebook advertising before for your nonprofit agency or want to try some new things during the holiday giving period – this is a great way to try it out and see if it will work for you!

Talk to Us: Are you planning to apply? How is your nonprofit using Facebook ads to reach your goals?

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

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Donor Retention Continues Its Haphazard Slide: What You Can Do About It

The Association of Fundraising Professionals released its annual survey on fundraising effectiveness recently, and its results should make everyone in the nonprofit world sit up and pay attention.

We are not doing the right things to promote donor retention. We need connection and relationship – not warm fuzzies for a one-time check. The study shows that nonprofits lost 103 donors, for every 100 they gained. There’s a lot of churn in donor retention with only 43 percent of donors being retained in 2013. That’s less than half.

Should we take these results as a sign? That donors are voting with their feet – choosing to invest once in an organization’s work, and then moving on to invest in something else that tickles their fancy? Or is this a sign of malaise or failure within the nonprofit world? Do we inspire people to donate once, and then fail to connect with them or engage with them? Are we only raising funds in ways that rely on emotion, one hit appeals, and emergencies? I’m concerned about the health of the nonprofit world. And you should be too.

Nonprofits will be reduced to a never ending “survival of the fittest and the biggest” cycle, if they do not start thinking out of the box about relationship-building with donors. The study found that the largest growth in gift dollars/donors came from new gifts/donors, and the pattern was most pronounced in the organizations with the highest growth-in-giving ratios. Over the last nine years, donor and gift or dollar retention rates have consistently been weak — averaging below 50 percent.

So what do you do about it? Here are a few ideas:

Focus on relationship-building with donors, not just campaign execution. Do some old-fashioned fundraising. Be prepared to drink coffee, eat food, talk a lot on the phone and possibly travel. Talk with people where they are comfortable. The conversation should start with saying thank you. Make relationship-building a priority – that means clear someone’s time, find a volunteer, and craft an approach for welcoming and engaging your new donors within the lifeblood of your organization.

Always say thank you.  Remember to always thank a donor for a gift or effort to help your organization. Some donors view getting treat-os like a calendar or a gift from you as a “waste” of nonprofit resources – while others appreciate small gestures of thanks. “Saying” thank you though is simple and should be done in a sincere way (and not just with an automated form email).

Listen to your donors. Why did they give to your nonprofit in the first place? What makes them tick? What is their opinion of your organization and work? How does he or she like to be communicated with? How does he or she like to be acknowledged? What does he or she care about personally and professionally?

Look for other ways to engage and involve your donors. Long-time fundraisers know that it takes time to grow a large gift.  Invite a new donor to volunteer if they can and if your organization has appropriate roles for them to play. Offer a tour of a program or facility for new donors. Or sponsor a coffee chat with the executive director or someone who has benefited from your program, so donors can ask questions and learn in an intimate setting how the organization is making a difference, organized, etc. Ask someone with limited personal time and big time credentials to be on an honorary committee or honorary board or ask them if they are comfortable providing a quote with a photo that you can feature on your website in an honorary supporter section (essentially loaning their name to you).

Analyze your own data. As part of the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, the survey’s sponsors developed two downloadable Excel-based templates that nonprofits can use to produce their own Growth-in-Giving reports, enabling them to measure their Gain/Loss performance over time and against the statistics in the appendices of the annual Fundraising Effectiveness Project reports. See reports for previous years.

Resources

Blog Post: One Thing Most Nonprofits Stink at (Donor Retention) and How You Can Change It in 2014

Donor Retention Matters (The Urban Institute)

Talk to Us: How are you retaining donors?

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

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12 Tips on Using Social Media to Create Events Everyone Talks About

Using social media to create events and conferences that everyone talks about, is not that hard, it just requires some planning and time. It’s about way more than just deciding on a hashtag and sticking it on a couple of PowerPoint slides. Here are a few tips to help:

Tip #1: Involve attendees at the start in formulating aspects of the agenda. Social media is all about engagement. An easy way to involve your potential attendees is to involve them in picking workshops (ala South by Southwest – the leader in this field), expressing their interests about the agenda, potential speakers, etc.

Tip #2: Focus your efforts and make a plan.  Pick one or two social media platforms to focus your energies on, and choose what your audience prefers. Designate someone with your nonprofit or association to steward your social media plans for the event. Pre-write some content for your blog or Facebook page based on what you think will happen during the conference that week and dump it into drafts, then update it with photos and new information before hitting publish. Find out how easy it is for people to charge up their devices at your event location – are electrical outlets readily available? Or will you need to add some charging stations for your attendees? Offer free wifi so everyone can stay online and easily participate.

Tip #3: Promote your event online in more places than just your website. Having a website for your event is a given. But make sure you talk about your event on your own social media channels. It can be very easy for organizations with a long-established running event to just “do” what they have always done because they know it’s worked in the past. But think outside the box. Share information via LinkedIn. Consider using free event management and marketing tools like EventBrite. Cross-promote from Facebook to Twitter and vice versa.

Tip #4: Create a social media directory for conference participants. You have to make sharing simple for people.  If you create a printed program for the conference – include Twitter handles for speakers in the program next to the presentation, and put the official event hashtag in the header or footer on every page.  I’m always amazed at how often I attend a conference, hold in my hand a beautifully-produced and mega-planned program – and there are no Twitter handles in it – reducing speakers at times to spelling out their handles for the audience’s benefit. If you have an app for your event (not uncommon nowadays) include social media for speakers, as well as social media handles for attendees (make sure you get permission to share information like this on your event registration and speaker forms).

Tip #5: Develop an expectation with attendees that they will get information via social media. Long gone are the conference newsletters and paper fliers we used to produce in the middle of the night to keep attendees informed (yes, I did do this for association conferences many years ago). If you are changing how you distribute information at the conference, tell attendees in advance and make it clear that you will put information out on a particular account and on the hashtag.

Tip #6: Use social media to excite and engage participants before the event. Do a Twitter or Facebook chat ahead of your event with a key speaker or organizer to excite attendees. Blog posts, short videos by speakers, and contests are all great ways to involve your attendees. Encourage your speakers to post something on the hashtag in advance of the event.

Tip#7: Pick a hashtag. Make it memorable but short. And put it on everything – you don’t want to risk confusion and end up with some content on the wrong hashtag. Start using the hashtag before your event. Do a tweetup when your event starts to encourage people to use the hashtag and be excited about sharing during the event. Display a running Twitter stream at your event. Ask speakers to reference the hashtag or include the hashtag on PowerPoint slides. Don’t be afraid to be creative. Do interesting things – hide a prize at the event – post a photo on the hashtag – whoever gets to it first wins the prize.

Tip #8: Let attendees ask questions via Twitter using the hashtag. You don’t have to do this at every panel or presentation, but encourage attendees to ask questions via Twitter, and ask moderators or speakers to read and answer some questions this way.

Tip #9: Create photos and video during your event. Send a staff member around with a camera/phone that can easily update to your social media accounts. Create a schedule for photos so you can easily update with key event photos. Ask attendees to write just a few words on signs that they hold up (like in our photo example from Girl Guides of Canada’s 2015 conference #GGCconf15). Gather sound bytes from attendees and share them on social media. Have a “drop in booth” with prizes for attendees who stop in and provide a sound byte or take a photo.

Tip#10: Make it easy to share photos DURING your event, but go one step further and use them to narrate the story of your event. Your hashtag should help collect photos on Facebook, FlickR, Tumblr and Instagram. You could also do a Storify, morning slide show, a roundup blog post, or a podcast or video. Then cross-post whatever storyline you create on social media.

Tip #11: Put conference presentations up on SlideShare. Get the PowerPoint presentations from your presenters and post them on Slideshare. Then share links in social media. I was genuinely surprised when I spoke at a conference on social media a few months ago and they had no plan for what to do with presentations after the event. I ended up putting my presentation on SlildeShare myself the day I spoke, so attendees could access it.

Tip #12: Reward the people who help create content. It takes a village to have a successful social media presence for a conference – and if you see conference attendees live-blogging, tweeting in a frenzy or posting photos like crazy – consider giving out a prize or featuring their work. Include their blog post in your round-up or e-newsletter after the conference, or tweet it out as a link on your official Twitter feed. Profile in an after-the-event newsletter the major social media activities that happened during the event and interview some of the people who participated – by holding up the positive, you are encouraging others to follow.

Talk to Us: How are you using social media to enhance participation in your events? Is social media generating more buzz for your events and why?

Photo credit: Thanks to Girl Guides of Canada for our featured photo showing attendees sharing inspiring messages at their 2015 conference on the hash tag #GGCconf15. Link to the photo here. Licensed under Creative Commons.

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

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5 Reasons Why Sending Out Your E-Newsletter as a PDF File is a Bad Idea

I’m still amazed when I get e-newsletters as attached PDFs sent via email, that arrive with a terse email and a big file. Amazed. Really. That people are spending so much time on putting content together to share – and then choosing to send it in a way that makes it hard for people to digest the content or share it. Sometimes the articles live in PDF exile, hiding out on a website inside gigantic files, but not integrated into a content management system – never living up to being the potential content generators they could be.

When talking with nonprofit organizations or small businesses that are doing this, I often hear a variety of excuses. Sometimes they express worry about retaining their brand look and feel. Often they don’t know a lot about the software and services available now for e-newsletters. Sometimes the excuse is budgetary – they ran out of money to print and mail the newsletter, so they kept doing everything the same (the layout, the formatting for print) and switched to a PDF file delivery system. Hello?! You had a financial crisis so extreme that you had to stop printing your newsletter so you just kept doing everything not involved with printing the same – it’s time to make a change. Doing a PDF file should be a one week stop gap measure, not a by-default shackling to an old way of doing things.

Disseminating a newsletter via pdf file hurts you in a host of ways.

You are setting yourself up for abysmal open rates. A pdf newsletter or news release sent via email can’t be tracked. You won’t know how many people even opened your e-newsletter.

Spam filters will block your e-newsletter. A wealth of spam filters today sequester and annihilate attachments. Your email with a pdf attachment may land in a junk folder and never be seen.

Your email database is a hot mess. Let’s face it – if you are sending out your e-newsletter as a PDF attachment, you are likely juggling an unwieldy email database of some kind. Perhaps it’s an association member database, or an excel sheet you manage. A band aid/homemade email list distribution system is more vulnerable to being labeled spam by annoyed users who report you for spamming them, and could lead to you being blacklisted by Internet Service Providers (which will make it even harder for your emails to reach their destinations).

You don’t know which pieces of content in your e-newsletter are of the most interest to your readers. Even if readers open your pdf e-newsletter and read your content, you have no way to know what they find of interest. Email newsletter software today can give you detailed information on which articles are the most clicked through and elicit the strongest response for your readers. A PDF e-newsletter means you will continue to be in the dark about what your readers truly like.

Shares are limited. If someone reads your e-newsletter and wants to share it – expecting them to forward a PDF attachment hurts social sharing. It’s also more complicated for someone who is inspired to share to post information on social media if it’s tucked into a PDF. Your dreams of going viral are dashed.

Content is less likely to be packaged as digestible nuggets. If you have the option to place a 1,000 word explosion of verbosity in a PDF newsletter, you can – and some will.  Sequestering your content in a bulky PDF means you are less likely to structure the information in digestible content nuggets. If you run that article on your website (slimmed down and written in web copy style of course), it would earn a SEO brownie points for you. The tidied up version written in web style would draw more readers and be skimmable – written with headings and bullets to draw out key points. Placing the article on your website would also be more efficient – sparing you from having to excise the copy from the PDF after publication and re-format it for your website.

So what do you do instead of issuing that bulky PDF e-newsletter? An html e-newsletter, sent with a mail service like Constant Contact or Mailchimp, can help you better organize your content, improve deliverability, and provide up-to-the-minute tracking on click-thrus and open rates. So what are you waiting for? Declare yourselves free of the PDF leviathan today.

Resources to Help
The Nonprofit Email Marketing Guide: 7 Steps to Better Email Fundraising and Communications – Network for Good
How to Create an Email Newsletter People Actually Read – HubSpot

Talk to Us
What works for your e-newsletter?
Did you make a transition away from a PDF file type of newsletter to an HTML newsletter? What worked for you?

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

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Six Completely Avoidable Media Relations Mistakes

Intuition and strategy play big roles in media relations. There are times that you need to listen to your gut, and times when you just have to execute. But it can be easy to make a mistake, even while executing an awesome strategy. The last thing you want to do is introduce a problem that could have been avoided. Here are six common media relations mistakes that are all completely avoidable, with advice on how to sidestep disaster and be successful.

Mistake #1:Missing the mark with email pitches. The big media databases are great, but if you are doing a big pitch or news release send out, make sure you de-dupe the list before hitting send, so reporters don’t get your pitch multiple times in a row. And if you are doing a mail merge and trying to personalize your pitches with Dear XXX, make sure everyone has a name or a default filler that won’t be offensive.

Mistake #2: Pitching a reporter who has nothing to do with the topic you are pitching. Thanks to social media and the Internet – you can now find out what reporters ate for lunch, who their favorite sports teams are, and of course, what they cover. Look up what types of stories reporters cover and approach only the ones that might be interested. Yes, even with research you can sometimes make a mistake. Your odds of coverage (and relationship-building with journalists) will go up, if you don’t use the “spray and pray” method of news release distribution.

Mistake #3: Going out too late with a press release. Being Johnny-come-lately on a news story is no fun – because you know you deserve to be at the party and instead you show up while the band is packing up. If you anticipate releasing information because of an announcement or action by someone else, hone your email list of journalists, get your release approved in advance (even if you have to write multiple versions based on what the announcement might be), and streamline your approval process.

Mistake #4: Not coordinating with other parts of your organization, or not having it together. Known as “shoot yourself in the foot syndrome” this mistake is completely unavoidable. This is why you check the links in the press release (to be sure they all work). This is why you make sure the web page form for orders, or conference registrations or what have you, are correct and working. This is even why you make sure your own email address works if someone hits reply (had this happen with an ad agency rep today who pitched me for advertising for a client, I hit reply and it bounced back as undeliverable).

Mistake #5: Having a spokesperson who is not “on,” not available or too heavily scripted. Sometimes spokespeople have bad days.  Media training can help a spokesperson be prepared and avoid sounding like a person auditioning for a one act play of his or her own creation. But having a deep bench helps a lot too. If you only have one or two media spokespersons, consider training a few more people.

Mistake #6: Begging for coverage. Asking a reporter to write a story about a nonprofit organization or small business, simply because it would “help” the organization or business, is not ok. Far too often when I talk with small nonprofits, and even sometimes small businesses, they talk about how coverage would help them be known more in the community, aid their fundraising, help them sell more of xyz, and enable them to connect with more people.  The truth is – reporters care about none of these things. Journalists are not in the “do good” business, nor are they waiting around to promote someone’s business. They are in the business of storytelling. They are interested in shedding light on unknown problems, in finding interesting people to profile, and want to hear about businesses that are doing innovative things.  Don’t ask because you need it – ask by sharing a great story that you hope the journalist will want to share too.

Talk to Us: Have you made any of these mistakes? What media relations mistakes do you think people can avoid?

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

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#NGOFacts Campaign Shares Stories, Factoids from Nonprofits

The hashtag #NGOFacts encourages nonprofit organizations and charities to increase awareness by sharing interesting statistics, facts and success stories about global development. The campaign was featured by The Guardian, which has a global development professionals area online. This is a great opportunity to share your work and it doesn’t involve writing a long report, or even something as long as a news release. Just find a great photo, add a factoid (under 140 characters), and use the hashtag #NGOFacts. Statistics, facts and success stories are all great suggestions for sharing (and try to include a photo if you can).

Many of the tweets are interesting and get attention:

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Talk to Us: What do you think about the campaign #NGOFacts? Do you think it’s effective? Would you tweet on this hashtag for your nonprofit organization?

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

Thanks to ongood.ngo for our cover image.

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Research Says: How to Get Your News Release Read (And Used) By Reporters

The  annual PR PowerLines survey of journalists was published in January 2015, and the results offer tips on getting your news release read (and used) by journalists, that can assist small business owners, nonprofit workers or association professionals.

Tip #1 – Send press releases to journalists via email. Email distribution for press releases remains king, with a whopping 88% of reporters saying they prefer releases this way. Only 5% said they want press releases via standard mail and interestingly, 0% said they want to receive releases via social media or wire services. So where should you invest your energy, time, and money? Spend it on making sure you have good email addresses for the journalists you want to work with, and only send them information they want to get.

Tip #2 – Add assets to your release – think backgrounders, bios and images. Eighty-five percent of journalists surveyed said they would like backgrounders, biographies and supporting information with press releases. Seventy-eight percent said they want high-resolution downloadable images.

Tip #3 – Really, really include a high-resolution image (or a link to one) with your press release. High-resolution images (or links so they can be easily downloaded) make it more likely journalists will pick up your news and share it. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they are more likely to cover a story if it includes images. Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they are responsible for creating some online content, so easily transferable assets continue to grow in importance.

Tip #4 – Include more assets with your release if you can (think shareable). Journalists also expressed interest in other assets accompanying releases, including  blogs (47%), information about brand’s social platforms (41%), web quality downloadable video (40%), relevant infographic (40%), embed code for video (38%), downloadable logo (37%), low-resolution downloadable images (33%), and embed code for individual images (33%).

Tip #5 – Make sure your press release has a web presence, BEFORE you send it out. One journalist commented: “Press releases should have a web presence to make them shareable on social media. I’m shocked at how few PR firms understand this basic interaction requirement.” So get your release posted in an online press room, before you hit send. Even if a reporter does not cover the story – maybe you’ll get a tweet!

Talk to Us: What works for you? What do you  include with your news releases?

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

Thanks to Pixabay for our image.

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