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Get Help for Your Media Relations Program: Find an Intern

It’s been a tough time for those working to serve people who are experiencing homelessness or addiction. Public health measures have impacted how shelters can operate, how services are delivered and touched our lives in innumerable ways. So how do you move your media relations program forward in new ways if you are a little burned out?

One way to amplify your work, is to hire an intern to help with your public relations outreach. If your program is located near a university or college, find out if they have a public relations or journalism program. Students in these programs are often required to do internships to get real world experience. Here’s a few tips to help.

Decide what you want for an intern to do. Make a list of tasks. Writing press releases and social media copy, updating your website or blog, assembling a media list, interviewing people for stories or videos, distributing press releases, making lists of community partners, are all great ideas.

Determine if your intern will be paid or unpaid. You can offer a stipend or hourly wage. In my experience, you will get a better quality intern if you offer compensation, but a free intern can be very competent too.

List your internship with a college or university. Search on the school’s website and apply to list your internship. You might need to contact a department or professor to promote your internship or recruit students. Set deadlines for applicants and describe job duties.

Interview and select a student as your intern. Review the applications you receive and pick promising ones to interview (phone or zoom are fine). Ask questions about work habits, familiarity with your work (a smart student will cruise your website before the interview) and ask for a writing sample (something from a class is fine).

Orient and check in with your intern. Share background information to bring your intern up to speed and provide clear assignments with deadlines. Check in regularly to be sure that duties are clear and to answer any questions. Try to build a positive working relationship with your intern.

Do any needed evaluation. Sometimes interns will ask you to write a letter of recommendation or need to track hours. Keep notes or a list of assignments to help you draft it easily. Say thanks for all the work the intern does to help.

This column originally appeared in Instigate magazine, which is published by the Citygate Network.

Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, an independent PR practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media engagement, writing services, and creative design for publications and websites (contact to discuss your 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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Crisis PR: Advice for Associations

Associations have faced big challenges over the last year with the COVID-19 pandemic, so when I was asked to repeat my popular 2019 Association Media & Publishing presentation on crisis PR, I adjusted it to talk about communicating during the pandemic.

A crisis is anything that can damage the reputation of your association—anything that can cause a loss of trust, and any risk to the health, lives and safety of your staff, members, clients and other stakeholders. COVID-19 has potential to damage on all three fronts. You can see my original 2019 presentation on SlideShare.

Here’s a summary that AM&P posted:

“For a lot of people, thinking on your feet was really important after March. It still is,” she said. “The people who did well, who moved quickly, had done well around fast decision making. They had clear decision streams and were able to put out information quickly.”

As the crisis continues, “being honest and authentic still counts a lot,” she said.

Also, empathy wins in your communication, especially when having to deliver bad news to people. Do you have to cancel a popular meeting or event? “People notice when you acknowledge those losses” and disappointments in your communications, Neiberger-Miller said.

What if you made a quick decision but it was the wrong decision? Perhaps your first response didn’t resonate with members or the situation has already changed. “I think you just explain what happened,” she said. “Most people are reasonable.”

Also, you can walk it back and say something along the lines of: “We made the best decision we had with the information we had at that time. Now the situation has changed, and we’ve decided we need to take a different approach.”

What should associations be doing now? Build up your social media and email lists, she suggested. Your members are looking for information from you and at the same time many are overwhelmed by the news and will welcome the distraction.

“People will remember it,” if you are doing things to help them get through, she said.

Finally, be gentle and patient with yourself. “I’ve worked in a lot of different crises and I’ve never worked in one quite like this,” she acknowledged.

“That is something we don’t always talk about with crisis. Many are working long hours, juggling a lot to stress …. Plan check-ins with your key people. See what you can do to help give them breaks and relief.”

Anticipate PR Problems

COVID-19 has shown us that we need a plan for potential problems before they become reality. Neiberger-Miller offers the following tips for prepping for disaster:

·         Look for vulnerabilities.
·         Make a list of anything that could go wrong.
·         If your association has property, have a plan for different kinds of crises involving the building, such as a fire, natural disaster, gas leak or active shooter.
·         If your association has events, have a plan for a crisis. Use the same list as above and add others such as an attendee health emergency, speaker cancellation, speaker controversy and, of course, pandemic. Also consider protestors or rogue members who are unhappy with an association decision.
·         Remember to include people behaving badly in your planning. What would your association do if your event has a Me Too crisis involving a speaker, member or employee?

Build Your Toolkit

Now is a good time to put together your crisis communication toolkit. Having a folder—both physical and virtual—with the following information will help you get through the next crisis.

·         Access codes and passwords for your website press area, homepage and members-only section (plus the training or a cheat sheet on how to do the updates yourself).
·         Access to your association’s social media accounts. “This is no time for single manager accounts,” Neiberger-Miller explained.
·         Templates for press releases and statements built out for various scenarios.
·         Contact list for staff. Do you have everybody’s home and cell phone numbers? “When people were scrambling to shut down their offices, I think a lot of people got a big wakeup call about how siloed information really is,” she said.
·         Access to staff vacation schedule so you’ll know who is in and out of town.
·         Access to your media lists and media distribution system.

Don’t start from scratch! Neiberger-Miller shared three examples of association crisis communication toolkits:

·         American Camp Association 
·         National Mining Association
·         Produce Marketing Association

“You never know what your next crisis will be but if you have some of those pieces in place, it will be easier for you,” Neiberger-Miller said.

I was also featured in an article that ran in Signature, the AM&P magazine in January/February 2021.

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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Press Room Review: The American Heart Association & American Stroke Association

We are doing an intermittent survey of online press rooms, and are calling out the things we see that work that others can learn from. Today, we are looking at the American Heart Association & American Stroke Association’s comprehensive and well-stocked press room and highlighting some of its key features. The American Heart Association  is a national voluntary health agency to help reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

Makes it clear how journalists can reach staff. Their contact information for media relations staff is very comprehensive, and they also clarify who to contact for what type of information. One of the best things here are all of the phone numbers provided along with the email addresses. Not listing phone numbers in online press rooms is often a pet peeve of journalists. They also clarify on this page how to reach local chapters for information and where to go if you don’t need the communications staff and are not a journalist. This helpfulness surely assists people in finding the right contact.

Offers photos, audio and video. The American Heart Association & American Stroke Association’s press area does a nice job with photos, showing you a variety of images organized by topic, and they also offer audio and video. When you download an image, they also ask users to agree to the terms of use for the images, which is a great way to spell out how you expect for the images you offer to be used and ensure that they are used correctly. In case you are curious about their terms of use for images, here they are: ” Images, audio and videos from this newsroom site are protected by copyright. Permission to use this multimedia is granted to credentialed news media for non-commercial editorial purposes only. Any other use is strictly prohibited without prior written authorization from the Association. These images may be cropped and include the American Heart Association courtesy. Audio/video may be edited however AHA/ASA copyrighted animation may not be altered in order to retain accuracy.” They also have a great linking policy that makes it clear what the rules are for linking to their sites.

Makes it easy to find current news. There’s a latest news area on the press room home page, and then an option for more news, where you find all the different categories of news.

Provides an option for journalists to sign up to get on the embargoed news distribution list. Because the association issues comments or news under embargo, their press room has a section where journalists can sign up to receive embargoed press releases. I like this option for organizations that issue embargoed news regularly, as it levels the playing field for journalists. Association staff are not making guesses in a large media list about which reporters are the best to send embargoed information to and if reporters aren’t on their list, they aren’t put in the position of having to cast around and get the release from another journalist or organization that might have received it. You don’t see this type of feature often in nonprofit press rooms unless they deal with a lot of scientific news, so this is a great one to see. If you have questions about how embargoes and exclusives work, see my blog post.

Clarifies how information is used and distributed. This association distributes a tremendous volume of information. There are statistics updates on heart disease, the main issue the AHA works on, as well as lots of supporting fact sheets and materials for different populations. Because the association publishes medical guidelines and scientific statements on various cardiovascular disease and stroke topics, there is a lot of background information offered and available, including pocket cards for quick referencing.

Offers organizational tools for sorting information. Because they issue so much news, it’s key for this press room to have sorting capabilities. This is done with a content tagging system. At the time of this writing, it offers 1,305 news releases, information for 25 different conferences and meetings, and 4.731 pieces of multimedia. See this search page for a rundown on the voluminous variety of content available.

Links to social media. There’s a link to the association’s social media hub on the home page for the news room, allowing journalists to easily see what the association is sharing in real-time.

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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What the Media Really Think About Our Pitches: The Muckrack Report

Muckrack recently issued its 2021 State of the Media report, and there’s some key findings of interest to anyone working in media relations. The study surveyed 2,482 journalists in early 2021, so it has current information.

First, reporters are juggling A LOT. Yes, like the rest of us they are trying to work while toddlers dump apple juice on their keyboards and dogs bark and one kid is on zoom – but they are also keeping up with a lot of information. The average journalist covers 3 or more beats. What does this mean for corporate or nonprofit public relations pros? It means we have to “have it together” and be ready to offer great background information, research and more, in a concise and organized way.

And their coverage focus has been massively impacted by COVID-19. Ninety-four percent of them said that the pandemic has caused them to pivot their coverage in some way. Forty-three percent said some or nearly all of their coverage has been pivoted to angles related to COVID-19. Sixty-five percent said that they are doing more stories on health and wellness and/or COVID-19. A third (33%) said they’ve done stories about remote work and/or virtual communication. What this means for PR people is that if you can tie your story pitch into the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on society, or relevant health and wellness, there are good odds for coverage.

Experts and leaders are still valued for their credibility. The vast majority of journalists find academic subject matter experts and CEOs to be credible sources for reporting. So keep pitching and offering these spokespeople for interviews.

They also trust in-house public relations staff more. Significantly more journalists find company PR professionals to be credible sources than agency PR professionals (55% vs 34%). I suspect if more agency people could focus more tightly on niche pitching and developing journalist relationships in a given expertise area this number would shift higher. Least trusted of all were bloggers (13%), social media personalities (12%), celebrity spokespeople (12%) and self-appointed subject matter experts (11%).

Social media remains useful to journalists. 76% of journalists say Twitter is the most valuable social network  and  37% of journalists want to use Twitter more, Twenty-eight percent want to use LinkedIn more often, while 26% want to use Instagram and nearly a quarter (23%) want to use YouTube more. More than half of journalists usually or always consult a company’s social media when reporting on them, with 45% saying they usually check it, and 13% saying they always do. The big takeaways here are – get your organization and its spokespeople on Twitter and continue to feed content to the other major social networks and update your feeds.

Journalists also notice when their stories are shared. Nearly two-thirds (62%) of journalists track how often their stories are shared on social media. So when you share a story from your corporate or spokespeople accounts, it is often noticed. Continue sharing!

Being relevant still matters when it comes to pitching stories to journalists. Seventy percent of journalists said that offering a story that is connected to a trending topic makes a story shareable. Sixty-four percent said it helps if a story contains an image or infographic (so keep those images and infographics coming!). Data remains king – with 59% saying exclusive or surprising data making a story shareable. And 54% of journalists said it helps if a story can be localized or made relevant to their target audience. Twenty-four percent said it helps if the story contains a video and 20% said brevity matters. Ranking last on their list at 9% was a quote from the company spokesperson (often the most common item in a story offering).

Exclusives are still of high interest to many journalists. Seventy-eight percent of journalists say they are at least somewhat more likely to cover a story if offered an exclusive. 10% say no more likely, 12% say it depends and under 1% say less likely.

Because they get pitched a lot – and don’t always bite. The largest segment of journalists receives 1-5 pitches per business day. This equates to 5-25 pitches per week. And yes, often it’s not you – it’s them. About half of journalists write 5 or more stories per week. Among journalists, only 5% get three-quarters of their story ideas from pitches, while 14% get half and 61% get a quarter of their story ideas from pitches.

And why don’t journalists like our pitches? We know they prefer them short (think under 200 words). Unlike every other year Muckrack has conducted the survey, lack of personalization wasn’t the #1 reason journalists reject otherwise relevant pitches. Instead, bad timing and ‘other’ tied for #1 at 25%. Lack of personalization came in next at 21%. However, ‘Other’ consisted mostly of people who wrote in answers like ‘irrelevant’ ‘random’, and ‘not localized’, which could be considered subsets of ‘Lack of personalization’  Ninety-one percent of journalists prefer pitches under 200 words. Nearly half (46%) prefer 1-200 words and a quarter (25%) prefer under 100 words.

And amazingly, your follow-up emails may not be as hated as you think – just wait about a week. Ninety percent of journalists say it’s OK to send at least 1 follow up email; 38% say 2 or more emails are ok. Eighty-six percent of journalists are OK with a follow up email within one week of the initial message. The other 14% prefer a follow up over 1 week from the initial pitch.

PR people need to watch how they pitch stories – email is preferred and journalists prefer Monday pitches before noon. Sixty-one percent of the journalists surveyed agreed with or believed strongly that the way companies share information with the media is outdated. Email is most journalists’ preferred pitching channel, with a whopping 94% saying they prefer to be pitched story ideas via email. Phone is the least popular channel with 66% saying they dislike pitch calls, followed by pitching on social networks like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. More than half (57%) prefer to be pitched on Mondays, with 20% liking Tuesdays and the other days of the week getting support in the single digits. Sixty-eight percent of journalists prefer to receive pitches between 5 AM and 12 PM EST.

And we also need to work on building better relationships with journalists. Only 6% of journalists see their relationship with PR pros as a partnership. Seventeen percent view it as a necessary evil. Eighteen percent describe it as ‘antagonistic’ and 59% describe it as ‘mutually beneficial, but not quite a partnership.

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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Resolve to Use More Multimedia In Your Media Relations

It’s tougher than ever to score a great news story in today’s climate. You are competing for space in a nationally-dominated media cycle during a pandemic while newspapers are cutting staff in an effort to survive.

But it’s not impossible to pitch a great news story, even in this climate. To stand out, you need to have a great story that is compelling and newsworthy, and you need to make it easy for reporters to see “how” they can show your story. Multimedia engagement is the way to do that and here’s tips to help:

Offer a Zoom or Skype interview. Television crews are not getting out as often as they used to, so make it easy for them to connect by offering a virtual interview.

Send photos with your pitch or news release. Select a handful of photos (only the best ones that illustrate something about the story) to send out. Remember that images should be high-resolution so they can be broadcast or used in print. Do not send images as attachments with an emailed story pitch as spam blockers may nuke your great idea.

Add sound or video files. Record one or two sound bytes with people who are key to the story and reference them in your pitch. Add these clips to your multimedia news package.

Call out numbers. Reference key statistics or trends in your images and sound bytes if you can.

Keep your files organized. Write captions for the photos and clips. Label the file names to match up with the captions (e.g. Photo 1: Caption XYZ) so it’s not easy to confuse them. Set up a distribution folder using Google Drive, Dropbox, Files Anywhere or another service so you can easily share images and video with reporters.

Amplify your multimedia game on your social media. This can be tough when you have limited resources, but do what you can to bump up your use of photos and video on your social media. Creating a multimedia package for your story pitch gives you more assets to share.

Organize a virtual panel or Facebook Live. Give people an insider’s look at your work. Talk about issues in addiction, recovery and homelessness. Bring together key people in your community. Ask a local journalist to emcee the panel and invite journalists to attend. Record the panel using Zoom or another platform and share the video.

Note: The author writes a column every other month for Instigate magazine, which is published by an association called Citygate, which aids and empowers religious nonprofits assisting people dealing with homelessness and addiction. The tips she offers in this piece written for the January/February 2021 issue are helpful for other nonprofits too.

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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Business Insider Features Ami’s Story on How to Rebuild After Tragedy

In a piece for Business Insider, Steppingstone LLC founder Ami Neiberger-Miller revealed the inside story on how we rebuilt our business after tragedy struck in 2007. On August 6, 2007, Ami’s brother, U.S. Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger, age 22, was killed in combat in the Iraq war. Ami and Steppingstone LLC’s creative director, Rick Miller, were notified of her brother’s death while on vacation at the beach with their older children, and then went to Florida to be with Ami’s family. Ami managed media relations on behalf of her family, which opted for a middle of the road approach that shared information about her brother’s life. On the day after the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery, Rick had emergency surgery on a Friday night for a hernia that doctors feared would go septic, which could be dangerous and even life-threatening. It was also their fifth wedding anniversary. How you bring back an independent practice after going through an experience like that is difficult, yet the tips Ami offers are timeless and apply to many people facing difficult circumstances or tragedies. Read the story here.

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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Facing a PR Crisis: Tips to Help

As I write this, nonprofit clients are cancelling fundraising events and telling staff to work from home. Due to the spread of coronavirus, they’re worrying about lost donations, scrambling to keep productivity up while working from home, and concerned about the safety of their staff, volunteers, and the people they help.

While none of us know what the future holds, now is a good time to review how to keep communication clear in uncertain times or if you are facing what we call in the business, a public relations crisis. A public relations (PR) crisis happens when your organization is (1) facing anything that poses a risk to the health, safety or lives of your staff, volunteers, clients or other stakeholders, (2) anything that can damage the reputation of your organization, and (3) anything that can cause a loss of trust in your organization.

Responding effectively to a PR crisis involves strategic thinking, honesty, and organizational skills. The first thing you should do is look for your vulnerabilities. Your facility, programs, events, staff, and even the people you help – can all be the sources for a potential crisis. Draft a few potential scenarios (just 1-3 sentences each).

Scenario 1 could be: Client staying in our shelter and participating in our programs tests positive for coronavirus.

Next draft the action steps you will need to take in response to this scenario. Your first priority in a crisis should always be to protect health and safety. Your reputation comes second. So your first actions might be, isolate client in xyz space or transfer to hospital/clinic (depending on conditions and availability). Your next step will be to contain the spread of the illness (follow your procedures and recommendations of the local health department).

With human health and safety now managed, you can turn your attention to communicating with others. Prioritize who to respond to, going first to the people most immediately impacted.  The key points to remember in any crisis communications are:

  • Never lie. Always be honest.
  • Never say “no comment.” Even if you have nothing to say, you can say something like, “I don’t have anything to add right now” or “We are still confirming facts about the situation and will update you as soon as we can” or “Our priority is on the health and safety of our residents and employees. We should be able to provide an update at XYZ time.”
  • Don’t just ignore the problem or pretend it did not happen. It will not go away.
  • Be clear and concise. Avoid vague language.
  • Say when you will update if you can’t make a public statement yet, and do the update at that time.

Draft materials needed for distribution. If it’s an event cancellation for your donors, an email notice of the steps you are taking to keep your facility and employees and volunteers safe, or a news release – aim for simple. Template press releases, email copy, and social media updates for your draft scenarios.

It’s also important to streamline your communications systems before a crisis. Someone in your office should always know the access codes/passwords for your website and how to do the updates. You should also have access to and know how to update your organization’s social media accounts, and have access to your media list.  Cross train your staff so you are not reliant on a particular person being in the office to communicate.

Have a streamlined system for sending out email and/or text updates for core audiences like staff, volunteers, clients and donors or community partners. Keep an updated cell phone and email list for staff and key volunteers, as well as easy-to-access schedules for staff and volunteers.

Note: The author writes a column every other month for Instigate magazine, which is published by an association called Citygate, which aids and empowers religious nonprofits assisting people dealing with homelessness and addiction. The tips she offers in this piece written in March for the April/May issue are helpful for anyone responding to crisis and uncertain times.

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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Holiday Time: Be Clear About What You Need

The holidays always bring out oddball stories at nonprofit organizations and if your nonprofit organization is a typical public-facing organization that serves people – you probably have a few.

There’s the phone call from the people who held a toy drive a month ago and want for you to distribute all the toys they collected two days before Christmas. And the people who baked mounds of delicious cookies and dropped them off the day after your huge volunteer event when there’s no where near enough people around to eat them. Or the people who left mounds of unwashed clothing in trash bags on the front steps of the shelter.

Sometimes these ill-timed acts of kindness can make one feel slightly grinchy. So how do you channel all of those desires to do “Do good” at the holidays into useful actions that help your organization?

Be clear about what you need in social media and in the media. As a matter of fact, be outright obvious. Put together social media copy and photos, as well as a news release that you issue to the media. I typically start this process with a press release.

The headline can be simple:

“5 Ways to Help People Experiencing Homelessness Before the Holidays”
“Christmas Toy Drive Underway, Nonprofit Needs Donations by December 10”
“Help Out At the Holidays: Volunteer Slots Available at XYZ Nonprofit This Year”

Provide a list of ways people can help. Crafters can knit warm scarves, hats and mittens for outreach. People can donate toys for children living in your facilities or for families who recently moved out of a shelter (even better, give them specific requests from the families). Others might make food that can be frozen and served later in the year. If you offer virtual volunteer opportunities, list them.

Help people visualize how donations make a difference. Due to health concerns with the COVID-19 pandemic, if all you can ask for is financial donations, tie the dollar amount to something a donor can visualize. Ten dollars provides a hot meal for 5 people. Fifty dollars buys a comforter, sheets and pillows for a new resident in our shelter. One hundred dollars buys high-speed internet service for the organization’s office for a month. Five hundred dollars buys a digital camera so you can improve your social media and website.

Work in a a few dates to spell out time frames. Here are some examples: Toys for our Christmas delivery program should be dropped off no later than XYZ date, We only have two volunteer slots available per week to assist with our street lunches and you can sign up at this website (add URL).

When it comes to volunteering, be clear about what is realistic given COVID-19 and your facility operations. If training is required, mention it. If volunteers cannot be in your facilities right now, say you are sorry and be firm.

Work in near the bottom what you don’t need. If you don’t accept homemade baked goods due to allergies and sanitary reasons, say so, and try to list what you can accept (e.g. pre-packaged food items from a store, gift cards). If you don’t accept clothing donations, direct them to a place that can take them.

Add to the press release your name, phone number and email address. Many organizations put a “boilerplate” at the bottom of their releases that talks about their history, mission and programs, as well as their website address and social media handles.

After finishing your press release, send it out via email to your media list. This is a list of reporters you keep who might be interested in your work, as well as the area’s news desks and assignment editors. Hopefully your list is in good shape.

Now it’s time to write up your social media posts, using text nuggets from the press release. Pick out photos to go with the posts or make graphics, and schedule the posts to run on your social media feeds. You can often run similar posts multiple times, especially if you schedule them to run a couple of weeks apart.

Let me know if being proactive about your holiday giving needs helps make your December a little calmer and more focused.

Note: The author writes a column every other month for Instigate magazine, which is published by an association called Citygate, which aids and empowers religious nonprofits assisting people dealing with homelessness and addiction. The tips she offers in this piece written for the November/December 2020 issue are helpful for other nonprofits too.

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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Sharing Your Story with the Media in the COVID-19 Era

While the lives of everyone in the United States have been dramatically impacted by COVID-19, you have an important story to tell. At a time when it’s especially critical that no one should be without shelter – you are helping keep those without shelter safe.

Every nonprofit organization today is facing communication and operational challenges in the age of COVID-19. Maybe you’ve had to shrink shelter capacity and eliminate communal meals to keep everyone safer. Maybe you are worried about how to keep the lights on and pay your staff. Maybe you are trying to contain an outbreak of COVID-19 in your shelter and need to communicate to the public how you are responding responsibly and with everyone’s safety in mind.

You may be facing all of these challenges, but you also need community support. Maybe you need supplies, volunteers or donations. Maybe you want to salute your staff, community partners, and volunteers for their incredible work for the last few weeks. Maybe you want to remind the community that your organization remains as committed today to your mission as you were when you started – and that you are persevering in these tumultuous times.

So how do you even get the attention of local news reporters and share your story, when it seems like national stories about COVID-19 and local government officials are consuming all of your local media’s bandwidth? And how do you stand out from the legion of nonprofit organizations who are all struggling to survive during the COVID-19 pandemic?

First, keep talking about what you are doing. Put together a news release that talks about your organization and its services right now. Mention the people you are helping, the needs you see in the community today, and include a call to action asking people to help. Point out how your organization is coping with COVID-19 and the challenges presented by the pandemic. Offer to provide interviews, photos and video to make it easy for someone to do a story.

Send your release to local news media outlets. At television stations, if you don’t know someone well, try sending your release via email to the news desk. Because stations are deemed essential, their facilities are still staffed. Call the news desk to follow up on your release a day or so after you’ve emailed it. Reach out to radio news desks in your area or morning shows. When contacting your local newspaper, send your release to the metro desk, local news editor, or the community news editor.

It helps to call and follow-up on your release a day or two after emailing it. If you get someone on the phone, say your name, your organization name, and why you are calling. Try to pique their interest by saying, “Our nonprofit organization remains committed to helping the homeless, and this is the worst possible time for someone to be without shelter. Here are the things we are doing…”

If you don’t get much response, don’t give up. Try again in a couple of weeks, with a different story or angle. Talk about a client you have assisted or a key staff member or volunteer. Watch the newscast, listen to the morning show, and check the newspaper pages. See if you can identify a section or segment they run regularly – e.g. volunteer of the week, nonprofit of the month, hometown heroes, etc. – where your organization’s story might be a natural fit.

In the meantime, continue to update your organization’s social media and website. Post photos and make videos about your work. You can film yourself talking about what you are doing and post it online. Sometimes a reporter is interested in your story idea and will visit your website or social media feeds. If they see that your feeds are updated and learn more there about you, they might do a story that reaches a bigger audience. If they visit your feeds and all they see is outdated information from last year and no images or videos, the odds of them doing a story are low.

Remember, the work you are doing right now is important. It’s caring for those who are the most vulnerable in our society, and that story deserves to be heard.

Note: The author writes a column every other month for Instigate magazine, which is published by an association called Citygate, which aids and empowers religious nonprofits assisting people dealing with homelessness and addiction. The tips she offers in this piece written in May for the June/July issue, could apply to many nonprofit organizations seeking to share their stories in the media right now.

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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Grab the Media’s Attention: How to Stand Out

Ami Neiberger-Miller writes a column every other month for Instigate magazine, which is published by an association called Citygate, which aids and empowers religious nonprofits assisting people dealing with homelessness and addiction. These nonprofits are often under-staffed and stressed to focus on their communications needs. So I keep my columns simple and try to make it easy for readers to pick up some best practices. Here’s what I wrote in July for the September/October issue.

I did a quick Google search for “rescue mission” and I’ve been impressed with how many rescue missions are doing new things, speaking out on issues impacting people who are homeless, and working hard to earn press coverage. How do you stand out from the crowd and attract media attention? Here are a few things I observed:

Do something new. Missions are winning press because they are dedicating new buildings, sharing a property purchase with the media, starting new programs, and inviting the public to help with fundraisers.

Invite the media to tag along to your ordinary activities. One mission was involved in a program with veterinarians to care for pets for people who are experiencing homelessness. The local newspaper did a beautiful photo essay showing the pets getting their checkups with the veterinarians.

Be true to who you are and talk about your work’s intrinsic value. One of the stories I read was tragic. A mission director was asked to comment on the murders of two people near the mission. They were both people she knew and had served meals to. One of her quotes in the story was, “When you come here you are a full human and we will make sure that you feel that way. You will feel safe. You’re going to feel loved. You’re going to feel encouraged. And we’re going to drive you to the success that you deserve.” In that moment, readers knew what the mission valued and hopefully, learned to better appreciate the people it served.

Be present. One of the stories involved a mission being denied a permit for a new facility with a veto from a new mayor. A later city council vote upheld the veto (reversing a prior decision in favor of the mission) and news coverage from several outlets doesn’t include quotes  or footage from the mission staff or its supporters. The one clip I could find showing anyone from the mission showed an attorney speaking about their intentions in the past before the vote. While it’s tough to speak out when things don’t go your way, more personal voices about why this location is needed could also help sway public opinion.

Be available. Another story was about a mission buying a new piece of property, and unfortunately there’s a quote in it saying the mission director did not respond to a request for comment. Now of course, sometimes people are busy or legitimately unavailable, but this was a missed opportunity to give a nice quote. This is a great reminder to always use a number with the media that is answered 24-7, so if a call comes in, you can respond.

Offer numbers. One of the stories highlights a program serving single women, which has a new facility opening in the community. The story is full of numbers. You can find out how much the building cost, how many square feet it is, how many women can stay in it, and how many more people are experiencing homelessness in the community. I would bet all of those numbers were shared with the reporter in a news release.

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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If There’s No Newsroom, What Does It Mean for PR?

The New York Daily News, recently announced that it is closing its iconic and bustling newsroom. Tribune Publishing said recently that The Daily News, once the largest-circulation newspaper in the country (and the storied prototype for The Daily Planet. the fictional newspaper where Clarke Kent and Lois Lane met), was permanently closing its physical newsroom at 4 New York Plaza in Lower Manhattan. The chain is also closing  four of its other newspaper  offices.

“We have determined that we do not need to reopen this office in order to maintain our current operations,” Toni Martinez, a human resources executive at Tribune Publishing, wrote in an email to the staff that was reviewed by The New York Times. “With this announcement, we are also beginning to look at strategic opportunities and alternatives for future occupancy.”

So if there is no newsroom (or if the newsroom is going to become more like a drop in coworking space in the future someday), what does it mean for public relations practitioners?

It means that relationships with reporters are more important now than ever. Because if you know reporters well, they’ll read your email, and you’ll already have their cell phone number. Reaching out to reporters has become more challenging during the pandemic, because desk phones (in the newsroom) are often not answered. And voicemail messages may or may not have cell phone information for reporters. Like everyone else, many print journalists have been working from home, doing reporting where they could safely outside the home, and juggling family and home life responsibilities.

If there’s no newsroom – it means that story ideas or reporting projects that perhaps were ruminated on more in community one-on-one in the newsroom, will be discussed in virtual environments. I once visited the newsroom of the Washington Post at its old headquarters, to broker an anonymity deal for someone who was trapped in an untenable position and was being hunted by the press. I negotiated with the reporter one-on-one, and then waited at their desk while terms were confirmed with nearby editors. On the spot arrangements like that are not common in this business, but they may be a thing of the past or more stressful to negotiate, if there is no newsroom.

I think the collaborative nature of the newspaper story development process  will not be dead entirely even if there is no newsroom. Editors will still check in with reporters – it may just be by zoom or phone. Stories will still be written but reporting will become more solitary, with reporters working from home a lot and venturing out to meet sources and get information. Check out this site https://seotoolscentre.com/sentence-rewriter to find a very useful tool to create better written content.

Even this year’s presidential campaign trail reporters are working by zoom and from couches.

For local news, the metro desk is a key hub. If you had a story or local event but weren’t sure who to pitch it to, you could call the metro desk, talk to the editor, and hope that your idea would be  assigned to a reporter. One of my questions is – what happens to the metro desk if there is no newsroom? Is the metro desk’s phone number now assigned to a cell phone that the metro desk editor has to monitor? Metro desk pitches may be relegated to email now.

Television and radio are likely to continue their newsrooms in some form because of the equipment they use and broadcasts they deliver with on-air reporting, although home studios are becoming more common for a lot of people (see the National Association of Broadcasters list of what stations are doing). Photographers will continue to go out and get images and video footage, bu may now be working from home to get them delivered.

Tribune Publishing has not ruled out re-establishing a newsroom in the future – but in an era where cost-cutting, declining ad revenue, and news has become more nationalized – the return to the daily newsroom in the future may look very different than it has in the past. We may all be pining a little bit for Superman to sail in to save the day.

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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Online Press Room: Turn Up Your Association’s Coverage

If you want to improve your association’s news coverage, your association’s online press room should be an information and resource hub for journalists. An online press room should share association news clearly, provide easy-to-find contact information for journalists, and make the life of a reporter easier. As always make sure that your company has network security and that you are using different technologies such as iam. Here’s checklist of items to have in your association press room:

  • Clear media contact for reporters – a phone number and email address that are regularly monitored should be listed. Some associations use a generic email like press@association… that forwards to a designated person or an entire team of people (extra tip: if a team is managing your media outreach work – make sure you have a good plan for triaging and responding to media requests). The phone number listed should be answered during regular business hours, ideally by a live human being. If this number can accept text messages, that should be indicated. The name for a press contact is also helpful for reporters, who may feel like sending a request to a generic press@ email address is a bit like screaming into the void.
  • Press releases – any press releases or statements your association issues should be listed. Some robust press rooms have a tagging system to organize content by topic. Many organize their press releases by date, with the most recent release appearing at the top of the screen.
  • Media list signup – add a feature where journalists can sign up to be on your media list and get your releases delivered to them automatically via email or RSS.
  • Past media coverage – many list stories referencing their association and its spokespeople in an area on their website. They may only be links due to copyright laws that won’t allow you to re-publish a news agency’s content, but they are still a great resource. Some reporters will review past coverage to see how someone looks on camera or speaks on a particular issue, long before they ever call you with an interview request – so be aware that these links sometimes are used to gauge your appetite for press friendliness and camera-readiness. Some associations will also list coverage by their members, usually on a separate page.
  • Information about key spokespeople – biographies, downloadable photos, and background information on what your association’s key spokespeople can discuss will help reporters decide to ask for an interview (or not). Don’t forget to include their job titles.
  • Member profiles/speakers bureau request information – if you have members who are trained and willing to speak with journalists, list their expertise and provide downloadable photos and information. I usually recommend that press contacts still route through the association’s press office, so you are in the loop and can help facilitate an interview with a member or speakers bureau participant if needed. This is also a great place to list contact information for speakers bureau requests.
  • Logos – your association logo, in multiple file formats suitable for online, print or video work can be available for download.
  • Photos – if you have key industry photos or event photos – pick your best ones for a photo library. Do not pick so many that it is tough for someone to look through your photo collection. Make clear any rights issues or terms of use (e.g. if you require credit for use) and provide captions/cutlines for all photos. Some online press rooms will make accepting rights a requirement for download.
  • Infographics – these can be very popular, especially with blogger and online outlets, and even newspapers will sometimes run them in an ad format in print or online. Provide your infographics in multiple file formats if you can – PDF high- resolution images and PNG graphics files will help a wide range of users. Be clear on where statistics/quotes in the infographics came from, especially if the source is not listed on the infographic itself.
  • Audio clips or podcasts – downloadable audio files, a link to an association podcast, or just an audio clip discussing the association’s history or a key issue can be a great addition to your press room.
  • Public Service Announcements (PSAs) – this is also a good place to put any PSAs that your association produces. Audio, video, print and online PSAs can share a lot about an issue and ask the public to take an action in response.
  • Op-eds/Commentaries/Letters to the Editor – you can highlight your opinions work in a special section if you do enough of this work that it makes sense to call it out (see below for an example).
  • Video footage – clips for download about the association or that illustrate the industry the association represents can be very helpful for journalists. If you don’t want to host footage on your website due to bandwidth issues, set up a playlist on your YouTube channel just for informational or press needs, and make it clear you can provide higher resolution footage by request.
  • Statistics – provide current and important statistics (cite sources) for your association and the industry you represent if possible. Graphics illustrating statistics can also be helpful for  – list or link to key reports from your association and representing your industry. Include source information, especially if the report is one your association did not create. If you issued a press release or statement about a report, try to include a link to it near the report listing so your response is easy to see.
  • Special access – if your association issues embargoed press releases on research or reports (like the American Heart Association) that information should go into your press room and you can invite reporters to sign up to get these. Also, if your association hosts meetings or trade shows and allows journalists to attend for free, post requirements, deadlines and procedures for requesting media credentials (it will also cut down the volume of calls about it right before your big event).
  • Glossary – if your association covers issues that are complex, uses a lot of acronyms, or simply works in an industry that has a lot of “insider” language and jargon, offer a glossary or terminology explainer to help reporters and others. This positions your association as an expert in the field and contributes to common language and definitions.
  • Enewsletters or publications – if your association produces an enewsletter or publication that is free and available to the public, list it with subscription options.
  • Social media channels – list your social media channels so they are easy for journalists to find -e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.
  • Tags – use the content management system on your website to your advantage if your association touches a broad range of issues . Tag press releases, reports, statistics, infographics, photos and other information so it can be easily located by anyone clicking on the tags.
  • An easy URL to remember – one thing that can help is giving your newsroom an easy to remember URL. The American Heart Association does this well – their online press room is simply newsroom.heart.org.

Now let’s take a look at some association online press rooms and see what we can learn from them.

The American Bankers Association offers a lot of information in their press room. They issue a lot of press releases and do many reactions to ongoing news. Given their front line role in talking about our turbulent economy during the pandemic, right now they are prioritizing that news at the top of their press room. They have a content management system that allows you to view releases by topic, and scrolling down, you can see a huge variety of  resources for reporters. This is a requirement for a robust newsroom online with a lot of content to keep organized. You can also see they offer clear contact information for reporters, photos for download, their media appearances, credentials for select events, media list signup and an RSS fee for press releases.

The American Bankers Association offers a menu of resources for journalists.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) even has a video in their press room that talks about how they can help journalists and gives examples! It’ s short one-minute video but it illustrates how the NAMI can help reporters. Their press room offers a lot of resources!

They also have a page with downloadable infographics and statistics on mental health. One tweak I’d suggest is offering their infographics in a graphic file format (like PNG files) so anyone wanting to display them doesn’t have to convert the PDFs. I also like their PSA section. I find their board and leadership information a little confusing, as the NAMI Leaders section is for members only, but you can access their board and executive leadership information.

The National Roofing Contractors Association has a nice online press room with just one contact listed for the media (which is fine). While they don’t issue a lot of news releases, it’s easy to find the media contact’s information and the page is easy to navigate. Three news releases are highlighted with photos in the press room (the most recent) and the rest are listed. If your association is smaller and doesn’t issue a lot of news, this is a good example to consider.

 

The National Automobile Dealers Association does a nice job of listing media contacts and how to reach them in their online press room. The four people who handle this role for the association are listed on the press room and press release web pages, with photos, desk numbers and cell phone numbers offered. Clicking on their names gets you their email addresses. Their issue multiple news releases per month and also economic reports, and you can easily find information by date. Their setup gets the job done.

One of the more interesting ideas the California Life Sciences Association has applied to its press room is they keep together all of their op-eds, giving the op-eds a listing on their own page. Clearly this was something they focused on more in 2019 as they’ve not posted any new op-eds for 2020, but it’s a great idea. They also list member news on another page from their own press releases. It appears their information has not been updated for about 7 months, which seems a bit concerning. That’s one challenge with online press rooms, you have to keep them current.

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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Finding Hope: Marking Our 17-Year Business Anniversary During a Pandemic

Stacked rocks, or cairns, like the ones in the photo above, are often used on trails to show that you are on the right path. Cairns are markers guiding you forward to the correct trail. When navigation is difficult, the cairn helps you find your way so you don’t get lost. Today, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to decimate the U.S. economy and alter our lives in ways we never imagined, we are also marking a milestone.

On this day, 17 years ago, Steppingstone LLC came into existence. What began in 2003 on an old kitchen table in the basement became a thriving small business offering public relations and writing services. Three years after I started Steppingstone LLC, my husband, Rick Miller, joined me in the business, adding creative services for graphic design, branding, and website development. One new client was overjoyed to find us – declaring we were the “unicorn” she had been seeking, because we bundled together the messaging and strategic expertise in public relations she was seeking, with the creative skills and execution her association needed. That combination has made us a valuable asset to many organizations and nonprofits.

And now, we are surviving the pandemic. It’s not been a smooth ride. All of our clients have had to make some changes. Some have had to lay off staff or scrap plans completely and retool their approaches. Others have postponed campaigns or done something new. A few have noticed when our 10-year-old daughter picks up the phone and answers (we pay by the call).

And it may not be the year we thought we’d have, but we are surviving. And why is that?

We’re a small business, so we have multiple clients. If one client puts work on the back burner, hopefully someone else is getting ready to do more.

People trust us. Business survival in today’s climate of uncertainty is not just about numbers. It is also about relationships and trust. It is about working with people and organizations where they are at and nurturing relationships over time. We’ve placed a lot of our “stock” so to speak, in people and relationships.

It’s also about helping business owners and leaders make tough choices when they may not have any good options, and helping them find a path forward. And we are even helping some of them find opportunity in unlikely places. Even in a pandemic, there is still room for creativity, hard work, and great content to shine.

Survival for a small business in today’s climate is also about hope. That’s the rock at the top of the cairn on our trail – hope. We have weathered tough times in the past, and somehow, this little business has always made it through. We’ll drink a toast tonight to 17 years in business and look to the future – because we know there is still so much more amazing work to do.

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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Pandemic Style PR: Flaunt Public Safety, Pay a Price

When the owner of the Grille at Rose Hill in Gaithersburg, Maryland took to Facebook to denounce a customer for complaining to the county health department that the restaurant’s staff were not wearing face masks (mandated in the county where the restaurant is located right now) and for placing customers too close together, the public response was swift.

NBC Washington did a story about the incident. The Washington, D.C. media market is the 8th largest media market in the United States, meaning this story was bound to get tons of attention. Add the fact that people have more free time on their hands than usual, and this story was destined to only get bigger.

The potential threat of this situation was completely ignored by the business owner. The restaurant owner refused to reveal his name in a phone interview with NBC Washington, and continued to insist his staff would not wear masks, even though doing so violates public health orders right now in the community the restaurant serves. It was not hard for the TV station to find a few upset customers to go on camera. He took down the original Facebook post (but not before the TV station had screenshot it) and instead told people to direct their comments about the restaurant temporarily closing for a few days to the County Executive and the Governor of Maryland. In 24 hours, more than 1,300 people have posted comments on the post, most of them excoriating the restaurant owner for his lack of commitment to supporting public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

So what could the restaurant owner have done instead? Let’s assume the restaurant owner made the first Facebook post in a fit of anger, and then realized he needed to spin on a dime and change his messaging after NBC Washington called asking for an interview. If his reaction had been, crap, I’ve gotta turn this around or I could lose my business completely, what could he have done? The better strategy would have been:

  • Apologize when you need to and correct errors. The owner could have added a comment and edited the original Facebook post attacking the customer and posted instead an apology expressing remorse. He also could have offered the complaining customer a gift card/free meal, pledged to follow the public health rules by having his employees wear masks and seat patrons apart, and promised to comply with public health mandates.
  • Own it. The owner also could have used his or her real name in the social media response, and appeared in the TV interview – lending credibility. A remorseful, not angry tone, from a small business owner, could have gone a long way to diffusing this situation and averting the news and social media nuclear bomb it became.
  • Talk about (and demonstrate) your commitment to public health and safety. Realizing that this incident was now jeopardizing public trust in his brand to deliver good food and safe service, the owner could have talked about his restaurant’s commitment to health and safety. He could have posted videos on his Facebook page showing servers in masks and pledging to fix the problem. He could have talked about how tables will be spaced apart in the future, and shown how tables and seating are sanitized, how often staff wash their hands, etc. to restore public trust.

This story contrasts directly with another story in the Washington, D.C. market today about the Abyssinia Market & Coffeehouse, located in Alexandria, Virginia. The owner reopened her store this week and a customer came into the store who refused to wear a mask, which is required right now under local government mandates. She politely asked him to wear a mask, indicated she was trying to keep the neighborhood (and all of her customers) safe, and offered him a mask. She also had signage posted at the door asking customers to wear masks. He vandalized the store, spit at her, cursed at her, and called her “you people” several times. He was late arrested by the police and the restaurant owner intends to press charges.

This owner talked with the press using her real name and talked about her commitment to public safety and how this scary incident made her feel.  She comes across as credible, trustworthy and as someone we should all want opening a coffehouse in our community. The public is responding by donating money to a GoFundMe campaign to help the coffeehouse, and posting positive comments on the news story on the Alexandria Now website.

While both of these restaurants are in the news for very different reasons, they also illustrate one of the key rules of pandemic style public relations. Successful PR in this day and age must support public safety and health.

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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Pandemic Style PR is Here to Stay

We are now months into the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and if you are like us, you have been juggling a lot. Overnight, some of our clients went into crisis mode. One had to lay off people right away and needed help in crafting the messaging. Another put a project on hold. One cancelled a major fundraising event and a slew of other activities. Some clients struggled to get their staffs online and working productively while managing new projects and crises that were being thrown at them from all sides. We dove in to help wherever we could.

And there were also glimmers of success and a new normalcy too. One client found its messaging even more relevant in the pandemic age, so its work accelerated – with retooled messaging, more media outreach, and new infographics. Another nonprofit client still found a way to hold its much anticipated May event, albeit in an altered and socially distanced form. Yet another nonprofit client radically adapted its operations to the pandemic (they work with people experiencing homelessness so you can image how tough running shelters and job retraining programs is for them in this climate!) and found that some of the people who rejected help in the past, were now more open to receiving help, because of the pandemic.

Somehow, I even managed to wrack my brain and write two magazine columns on public relations during the pandemic to help faith-based nonprofits navigate these murky waters – all while working full-time from our home office, supervising schooling for a little human, and trying to dream up creative family dinner menus (update: Rick says our menu has been a little too weird lately. Send pizza gift cards if you want to help him out!).

It’s been an interesting ride so far and here’s my take on it. Pandemic style public relations (PR) is here to stay. The reality is that even with states opening up quickly, many things in our lives will be very different, for a very long time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  And while I might wake up still occasionally hoping I’ve been in an episode of Groundhog Day set to loop and this is all a dream, the reality is that the effects of this pandemic will be with us for a long time. Here’s how I think the communications landscape will re-shape and what doing pandemic style PR will mean:

Long-term planning is out. Because the pandemic has injected a current of uncertainty into our world, long-term and multi-year  planning in detail is simply not possible. Public relations plans can have modest short-term goals, but longer-term planning remains challenging in an environment where crisis can still rule the day.

Public safety and health are key messages for everyone. We are all health communicators now. Plans need to be in place to ensure that if facilities, offices, stores, or programs are open, people are safe. Be able to explain how you are keeping employees, customers, clients, and others safe. Be able to talk in detail about required policies for safety and the steps being taken for safety. Ensure that all of the staff can voice what the policies are and how they will work, and are empowered to implement them. Be prepared with signage, web announcements, and social media to talk about how people are being kept safe.

Crisis planning is in. There is still a hefty need for well-developed crisis plans for contingencies for all sorts of organizations. As businesses and offices reopen, employers need plans for how to open safely and also how to respond if operations are restricted or shut down again by local governments. Communication trees should be active and in place now thanks to remote work, and  decision-making should remain streamlined and nimble to adjust as circumstances change.

Remote work is here to stay for white collar employees. Tech companies like Twitter and Microsoft are not the only ones embracing working from home for the long term. Many employers are viewing remote work as a way to keep employees safe and they’ve been surprised to find out how productive employees can be while working from home. Employees are also finding in some cases, that working from home helps them manage family life and work responsibilities. The offices of the future will have fewer communal workspaces, lots of sanitizing, and more separation between employees. There’s also going to be more talk about how to help employees find remote work energizing, and connecting.

Be willing to do what you’ve never considered before. This is the time for true “out of the box” thinking. Not the kind that we talked about for years at really boring and overpriced seminars with lots of jargon-dropping – but real honest-to-goodness creativity that bucks the old way of doing things. Instead of cancelling their conference and dramatically dropping the registration fee for a watered down virtual event (which many were doing), one trade association made their conference even LARGER online than it would have been in real-life and charged the full registration fee. They also recorded all the workshops and set things up so you could take literally every workshop if you wanted to, for the next year, if you signed up to attend. They were wildly successful. Because they did something they’d never done before and thought of a way to do it.

Messaging should be reviewed regularly and come from a place of integrity.  We all need to ask hard questions about relevance and importance when planning messaging for brands and companies in this new environment. Irrelevant messaging is still out in a COVID-19 world, but your organization or company’s fans do still want to hear from you. Due to the Black Lives Matter movement, brands and companies are now rethinking how they’ve approached diversity and equity, and some of them are reckoning with shortcomings, privilege and outright racism. These conversations were long overdue, and it’s important now for brands to get their messaging right and for them to speak from a place of integrity and even vulnerability.

Find ways for people to feel connected, without being together. One of the biggest challenges nonprofit organizations, employers, educational institutions, and many others are facing  in all of this- is how to help people feel together, while they are still socially distanced apart. The pandemic has decimated much of community life, but there’s been lots of great examples of communities coming together online and through social media during the pandemic – from school spirit rallies with photos on social media, to golf cart parades and zoom happy hours. People still need to feel connection and crave it.

Admit mistakes and move forward. Because the pandemic has hurled a lot of chaos across industries and companies, many are making decisions with lots of unknowns. Communications is simply not going to flow at times, as smoothly as communicators would prefer. If you make a mis-step, admit the mistake, apologize if needed, clear up the mis-understanding and move forward. Keep going.

The news media will continue to operate pandemic-style. That means many reporters are still working from home. The ones who are going out – are typically television reporters and photographers covering major events and protests. Prep your spokespeople for Skype and Zoom interviews because in person interviewing is simply not a given anymore. Giving journalists advanced notice, pitching relevant stories to the right reporters, and providing lots of resources  will all still be key.

Do your homework, before you pitch a story to a reporter. The news media cycle remains relentless and 24/7 and it’s been operating on hyperdrive since March. The fall election cycle will make the intensity even worse. Doing your homework is a lot more than looking up reporters by topics in a media database – it means looking at what they are covering and doing now, today. Many have been reassigned or seen their beats change due to the pandemic. It’s more important than ever that what you have to say be relevant to the issues at hand. Reporters didn’t have time for off target pitches before the pandemic, and they really don’t now. They need stories that are relevant to how people are living today.

Non-pandemic stories can still break through. The Black Lives Matter protests calling for justice and stimulating much-needed and long overdue conversations in our communities, are a testament to how a story can  break into a news cycle, even in a pandemic. Fueled by viral video, righteous revulsion for inequities, and a cry for justice, this movement opened our eyes to horrific injustices and biases – and I think it will keep pressing forward and transform our society in ways we didn’t expect. Brands talking about equity and eradicating racism should put their actions behind their words.

Keeping employees informed and empowering them to make decisions will be important. Employee communication has never been more important than right now. Front line employees who interact with the public should be able to explain how safety is managed to customers. They should also be empowered to resolve small complaints or inconveniences for customers on their own – so no one is standing for a long time at a cash register trying to get a problem resolved through an elongated chain of command. Even with white collar employees working from home in many cases, the rumor mill can still operate full steam – keeping employees informed and connected is more important than ever to avoid problems.

The reality is that pandemic style PR is here to stay – and successful professionals will be retooling their work, constantly on their toes, and working in the best interests of their clients and the public.

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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Resources to Help During the Coronavirus Pandemic

We’ve compiled the following list of resources to help nonprofit organizations, associations, and small businesses during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

For Nonprofit Organizations
Note: Check with state and local organizations for nonprofits and foundations, as some are offering webinars and information tailored to local needs.

Coronavirus Advice for Nonprofit Leaders (20 Degrees)

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Resource Guide (Association of Fundraising Professionals)

Coronavirus Resources (Minnesota Council on Foundations)

COVID-19 Preparedness for the Cultural Sector (Mass Cultural Council)

COVID-19 Tools & Resources for Nonprofits

COVID-19 Webinar: Legal Strategies for Nonprofit Meetings (GWSCPA Nonprofit Symposium)

Families First Coronavirus Response Act: What Nonprofit Employers Need to Know (Exponentum)

Hard Times, Hard Decisions: 7 Things Small and Midsize Charities Should Do When a Recession Looms (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

How Charities Can Make Working From Home Work for Everyone (Chronicle of Philanthropy)

Maintaining Conference Sponsorship Revenue (see blog posts at the top of the page, NY Partnership Professionals Network)

Nonprofit Insurance and COVID-19 (New York Council of Nonprofits)

Nonprofit Resources for Remote Work During the COVID-19 Outbreak (Tech Soup)

Nonprofits and Coronavirus, COVID-19 (National Council on Nonprofits)

Responding to the Coronavirus Outbreak: Resources to Help Nonprofits (Philanthropy.com)

Understanding the Videoconferencing Tools Available to Your Nonprofit (Tech Soup)

Virtual Gala Webinar (Washington Performing Arts)

What Nonprofit Board Members Should Be Doing Right Now to Address the COVID-19 Situation (Board Source)

For Associations

10 Best Practices for Communicating About Association Events During COVID-19 (PCMA)

About COVID-19 (Coronavirus) (Events Council)

Associations Prep and Debut Virtual Conference Options (Associations Now)

How to Help Your Meeting Participants Get Comfortable with Virtual Events (Associations Now)

How to Manage Your Newly Remote Workforce (Associations Now)

Issue Roundup: Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) (ASAE The Center for Association Leadership)

Leading During an Epidemic: Communicating with Staff and Members (Associations Now)

Maintaining Conference Sponsorship Revenue (see blog posts at the top of the page, NY Partnership Professionals Network)

Working Through Event Postponement Details (PCMA)

For Small Business
Note: Check with your local or state Chamber of Commerce, small business development offices, area tourism or visitor’s bureaus. Many are compiling resources and offering webinars and other types of resources to assist small businesses locally.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Small Business Guidance & Loan Resources (Small Business Administration)

Coronavirus Small Business Guide (U.S. Chamber of Commerce)

Coronavirus Small Business Hub (SCORE)

Facebook Small Business Grants Program (Facebook)

Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (CDC)

Running a Food Business in the Face of COVID-19 (Common Wealth Kitchen)

Small Business Relief Tracker: Funding, Grants And Resources For Business Owners Grappling With Coronavirus (Forbes)

Small Business Resources in Response to Coronavirus (National Federation of Independent Business)

For Communicators/Public Relations Professionals
Note: Check with IABC, PRSA, FPRA, and other professional organizations for additional resources.

Coronavirus Crisis Comms Triage Toolkit (The Communications Network)

Self-care for PR Professionals (or Anyone Else) During the Coronavirus Pandemic (Steppingstone LLC)

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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Self-Care for PR Professionals (or Anyone Else) During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Self-care is important. Many public relations professionals I know have been scrambling for the last couple of weeks and very busy working to issue information about how their organizations or businesses are being affected by the Coronavirus pandemic. Many are now working from home and juggling family responsibilities while trying to keep up with conference calls, rethink social media strategies, practicing social distancing, and guiding their organizations and businesses through turbulent times.

How can a busy communicator (or anyone for that matter) engage in self-care, when so much is being thrown at him or her? Yes, you should be following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) if you are in the United States and your local government authorities, but how do you really care for yourself in such a stressful time? Here are some tips to help:

Be intentional. Every morning when I get up, I make a point of saying to myself as I get out of bed and set my feet on the floor, that I accept this day and what it brings. It literally takes seconds to do, but it’s an important part of my daily routine.

Change up your schedule if that helps. I get more stressed out trying to write and focus on heavy duty communications work when kids are awake and needing attention. Getting up early – so I can knock out important client work and writing, makes a huge difference in my outlook for the day, because by the time they get up, I’ve already cleared some items on my list. Yes, that means I need to get to bed earlier the night before (not easy) but getting more sleep also means that I am not as stressed.

Connect with others by phone or text outside your home. It doesn’t have to be another PR person who can commiserate with you necessarily, but just someone you want to talk to. Call a friend, a relative, or someone else just to check on them and talk about how things are going.

Be willing to let some things slide. Do I want a blanket fort in my dining room for say, 3 days? Not really. But if it makes my daughter happy and keeps her occupied and imagining something (instead of watching TV), I’m ok with it. Letting a few things go is not the end of the world – it is simply surviving the world we are in right now.

Prioritize your own self-care. If you are a parent or a caregiver for someone else, you may tend to put your own needs last. This is not the time for that. You will be a better, more present and more engaged caregiver or parent if you can take care of yourself.

Limit your media exposure where possible. Admittedly if you work in PR, you are probably trying to keep up with news developments all the time. But the volume of news coming out can be overwhelming and much of it is concerning or alarming. Try to set a time for regular news updates (I do morning, lunchtime and evening) and pay attention to how you react to the news. If it makes you more anxious, do some breathing exercises or try to plan some time to exercise right after getting updated.

Focus on your breathing, meditate, or continue or renew your religious faith practice. Meditation apps and breathing exercises are easy to locate online. Using these daily can help anyone manage their stress. Some people like to start their day with a meditation or breathing exercise. Now is also a good time to renew or continue your religious faith practice.

Get good nutrition. I admit I’ve been stress eating a bit. And I’m baking a lot lately with my daughter because we are stuck at home and we both love to bake. Try to eat fruits and vegetables every day and pay attention to nutrition. Keeping fruit on my desk helps me stay on track (having those chocolate squares in my desk drawer is not a good idea).

Appreciate beauty and goodness. Even in these crazy times, there is still beauty and goodness in the world. Look up pictures of beautiful places, look outside your window, and look for examples of goodness around you. I try to find “do good” stories that I share on my personal Facebook page each day that highlight kindness and helpfulness in the world. Spotting something good or beautiful reminds us that we are not alone and that there is still much to appreciate in this world.

Get some exercise. Do online workouts or yoga if you are indoors. Try to schedule time on your calendar for movement. If you use a pedometer, try to get your step count up. Get outside if you can and go for a walk. Our daughter’s tae kwon do studio is offering online video lessons that the entire family can participate in.

Find joy. Reconnect with an old hobby or find a new one to enjoy. It might be as simple as posting little reviews of what you watched on Netflix last night, or something like baking, puzzles, exercise, painting or something else. Be intentional about seeking out things and activities you enjoy.

Allow for humor. These are serious times we are living in, and we all need some humor and laughter in our days. If you are working from home with kids – try having a daily knock knock joke or a family dance party.

Spend time in nature. If it’s safe for you to be outside, now is a good time to be in your backyard or out in nature. Find time for a hike (remember to practice social distancing) or go on a walk around town. Just walking our family’s dog up and down the street where we live helps me disconnect from work for a few minutes at the end of every day. Then I come in and finish getting dinner ready and spend time with my family. I spent several hours over the weekend working on my vegetable garden, with the goal of getting ready for spring planting in a few weeks. Just looking at it during the week, makes me happy, because I know how much I’ve already accomplished. I’ve also noticed a lot more bird sounds and paid more attention to the daffodils coming up in my yard. Nature is a great stress-reliever, so the more time you can find outside, the better.

Seek help if you need it. Even if you are practicing social distancing, there are still ways to access professional mental health services from home. Many counselors will talk with you over the phone or do a videoconference session with you. Talk with someone if you need the extra support.

More resources:

7 Meditation Tips & Mindfulness Apps with Free Tools for Coronavirus Anxiety (Mashable)

Coronavirus Sanity Guide (Ten Percent Happier)

Counselor Shares Tips for Maintaining Mental Health Through Coronavirus Response (WAVE3)

Health and Wellness Apps Are Offering Free Services to Help Those Coping with Coronavirus (USA Today)

Manage Anxiety & Stress (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – CDC)

Practicing Self-Care in the Face of Coronavirus (Psychology Today)

Resources for Nonprofits, Associations & Small Businesses (Steppingstone LLC)

Self-care in the Time of Coronavirus (Child Mind Institute)

Try These Tips to Reduce Stress and Boost Your immune System (Thrive Global)

You Can Take Care of Yourself in Coronavirus Quarantine or Isolation, Starting Right Now (The New York Times)

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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Communicating in the Coronavirus Age: Tips to Help

How do we communicate successfully in the Coronavirus age? We are having conversations now with clients that just a few weeks ago would have been unfathomable, due to the Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the United States. Small businesses are coping with catastrophic financial implications and struggling to survive. Associations are suddenly reassuring their members and holding webinars to help them navigate shifting circumstances. Nonprofits are cancelling in person events, shifting programs online, finding their fundraising options drying up in many areas, and worried about extinction. People are anxious, working from home, and worried about the future, their loved ones, and their livelihoods.

Be true to your mission and values in talking with core audiences. Now more than ever, your core audiences need to hear you are staying true to your mission and values as an organization and they want to know how (and if) you are working. I’ve been checking in with current and former clients, making sure people have what they need. Because one of our core values is service. Our mission is to help nonprofits, associations and small businesses communicate more effectively. And the reality is that the Coronavirus pandemic and its far-reaching effects will impact everyone we work with and radically re-architect how the U.S. economy and society operate in the immediate future.

Be honest. It’s time to be real. Talk about how the crisis is impacting your nonprofit, association or business. If your staff are working from home, talk about how you are providing services and how the crisis impacting your operations. If you need to suspend parts of your program or operation, talk about what is on hold and why. If your business is a restaurant that is still able to offer curbside and pickup orders, talk about what you are selling and how you are supporting your employees.

Internal communications matter now more than ever. It’s also super important right now for your internal audience – your employees or volunteers – to be well-informed. Keep up those all company-wide email blasts. Make sure you know how to access your email lists. Do everything possible to streamline communication internally so employees feel in the know. For staff and volunteer communications internally, beef up conference calls and videoconferencing capabilities. Some organizations are even holding weekly coffee hours or happy hours via videoconference so staff can get some of that valuable “water cooler” time to socialize and reconnect.

Deliver bad news in a personal way. If you need to deliver difficult news – like layoffs or pay cuts – try to do it in a way that is gentle or personal – even if you can’t do it in person. That might mean spending time on the phone, or doing an all staff call, or writing a heartfelt email that explains the situation. People can understand the tough times we are all facing and the real realities that many businesses and organizations are facing. But bad news should be delivered in as gentle a way as possible, and employees should hear it from you first, not from the news media, your social media accounts, or from gossip. Your other core audiences – such as customers, donors, members, or volunteers – should also hear it from you directly if possible.

Adjust your messaging to be relevant. Evaluate social media campaigns that were scheduled and pause or shift to draft status anything that is not appropriate to run right now. Does that mean every post needs to be about the Coronavirus? No. People still need other types of information and if you have something useful to say, you can still say it. But you should evaluate what you have scheduled, and plan to adjust things so you aren’t tone deaf. You might need to plan your social media content out week-by-week, instead of scheduling large blocks of content ahead of time – the situation is shifting too much. Ad Week has commented on how this event is going to separate the bottom of the barrel marketers from the professionals, and that’s true. Continuing to operate as normal is not going to work in this environment. You should also look at mailings that are going out, publications being printed, campaigns you are planning, and even events you are now moving to online venues. Everything should be examined by using the question, “Does this still matter now at this point in time to the people we serve?” If it still matters, see if the messages or images need to be adjusted or tweaked to be more relevant.

Be clear in your communications. Realize people are managing a lot. Many are struggling with job losses. Others are working at home for the first time and managing family life too while working. Many are anxious and worried about the future. Clear communication helps – it can get through foggy minds and distractions. It may be more important to be clear, than to be fast. This is a mistake I’ve especially noticed school districts are making. In the rush to get information posted for parents and guardians, the information is sometimes not very clear and then people have to ask questions about it. Package information in small chunks, not big information dumps. Post it on a web page dedicated to the crisis and make it easy to find on your website. Some have done that by simply posting an update on their home page. Others have an entire web page dedicated to information updates.

Be repetitive. If you have something important to say, realize that people may need to hear things more than once right now. There’s a lot of information coming at people – with news updates and social media conversations on overload, people are drowning in information. If you want to talk, you need to be gentle, but you also need to be repetitive. That means you might need to share tips and information in multiple ways – post them on your blog or website, tweet them out individually, do multiple Facebook posts, send them in an e-newsletter, or post them in other locations. You need to post information where people can find it again later. The tidal wave of information and the volume of things many people are processing and managing, mean they are overwhelmed and they may simply miss it. They might need to return to your content later, so it make it easy for them to find.

Watch your tone. People around us are getting sick. Entire cities are on lockdown. Your tone should not be doom and gloom. But it shouldn’t be tone deaf either. Speak matter of factly about the situation. There is even some room for people to find some humor when appropriate. A good case in point is the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. They put their security guard in charge of their social media accounts while the staff are working from home, as he’s at the museum regularly. His fish out of water tweets are hilarious and brightening days for many.

Tailor media outreach to what’s relevant for right now. Keep press pitching right now tailored to story ideas related to the Coronavirus pandemic. Maybe it’s about the impact of the pandemic on your organization, association, or small business. A local pizza restaurant gave out food to first responders and anyone laid off recently. This was an excellent example of a small business giving back in turbulent times and helping others. A nearby business, Catoctin Creek Distillery, is giving out sanitizing alcohol and retooling to make hand sanitizer soon and has picked up press attention just from updating their Facebook page. Some organizations are still offering robust services through staff working from home and want to remind the public that they are still there and ready to help. I received an excellent e-newsletter from the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter yesterday, reminding me that they are still working to help domestic violence and sexual assault survivors from home even if they aren’t seeing people in the offices right now. I’ve seen a few small businesses remind the public that they are still open or have been deemed essential – that’s important when so much is shifting and people aren’t really sure what’s going on.

Build up your online and social media capabilities. Now is the time to extend and enhance your online and social media capabilities. Your customers, donors, volunteers, clients and supporters all need to hear from you.  Your social media accounts and website are critically important to keeping people informed. You might need to convene a team meeting on Mondays to plan out messaging and online activities for the week, or think differently about how you will do something online. Many nonprofit organizations have had to cancel fundraising events that were scheduled for the spring. Try to consider how you might do a fundraiser online instead and engage people in showing their support for your organization. For example, if you were going to hold a charity race, run or walk – try doing the event online instead. Encourage people to walk or run from home, from their yards, or in their communities if they are able to be outside safely. Use a hashtag to collect pictures and comments. Many are at home and looking for things to do to help others, so try to think of ways to help people express their support for your organization or cause while at home.

We’re posting a page of resources to help, that we will continue to update, and are also issuing some advice on self-care for public relations professionals.

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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Interview with Impact Lab: Ami Neiberger-Miller

Impact Lab invited Steppingstone LLC’s Ami Neiberger-Miller to interview for a podcast interview with Key Elements Group LLC President and CEO Lynette Zimmerman. In the interview, she talks about messaging and working with reporters to improve coverage of suicide in the military. She also discusses her own family’s experiences as a gold star family, and how she got back in the office and working again after a personal tragedy in 2007.

She also talks about working with journalists and supporting trauma survivors in sharing their stories. She was asked to weigh in on recent coverage of gold star families in the news: “If you had told me five years ago that this is how America would learn what a gold star family is, I would have told you, you were crazy.” Ami talks a bit in the interview about news coverage of grief and loss, as well as coverage of gold star families.

The interview wraps up with a conversation about influencers in our daily lives. She mentions other women working in public relations who mentored her, as well as the Independent Public Relations Alliance within the PRSA-National Capital Chapter.

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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Small Business & Nonprofit Strategies: Interview with Ami Neiberger-Miller

The following interview was published by Mint.com and offers some advice from Steppingstone LLC’s Ami Neiberger-Miller:

We are living in interesting times as far as the business world is concerned. The inter-connectivity of the Internet allows smaller businesses to compete with the majors with many of the same tools and resources.

That means even the smaller businesses must have a clear, streamlined business strategy in place to even survive, let alone flourish and achieve their goals.

Steppingstone LLC is a dedicated PR firm that is specifically focused on small businesses and non-profits, helping them get to where they want to be.

Steppingstone LLC’s Ami Neiberger-Miller took a moment to tell us about this interesting point in history and how to take advantage of it, and also share some insights and behind-the-scenes glimpses into Steppingstone LLC’s methodology to help you streamline your own business strategy.

Can you tell us a bit about Steppingstone LLC for people who aren’t familiar with your company? When did you get started? Where are you based out of? What inspired you to start your own marketing company?

My touchstone phrase this year for our company is “Be inspiring.” I want for us to be inspired by the work we do through public relations, writing and creative design services, and for us to be creative about doing it.

I founded Steppingstone LLC in 2003, and while we are based in the Washington, D.C. metro area, we have clients outside the D.C. market and even around the world. I started the company because I noticed that many organizations, especially nonprofits, associations and small businesses, struggle to communicate effectively. I find that many people who call us are often stressed and do not see how their daily workload helps them accomplish their goals. Many people feel like they are “treading water” in a sense, but not getting their organization or small business where it should be. Our role is to relieve them of that stress, deliver quality services and resources, and take them toward their goals.

What do you feel differentiates you from the other marketing companies that are out there?

I find that many clients struggle with strategy; they know they need a website or a social media presence or media outreach, but they do not know what they want to get out of those things. We are different because we work to help a client focus on strategic objectives, not just a list of tasks. We talk about audience and being strategic in outreach and messaging. We also value personalized service. It’s important to us that you know the real people who work on your account.

Who is Steppingstone LLC’s main audience, and what are some ways you meet their specific needs?

Nonprofit organizations (staff and volunteers tasked with communication or development/fundraising functions), professional association staff, and small business owners are our primary audiences. We meet their communication needs in a variety of ways. For a nonprofit organization, that might mean that we manage media relations on their behalf and coordinate all of their engagement with the press, or oversee a campaign for them. For an association, that might mean we are designing a printed publication for them or helping them draft a social media engagement strategy (when they had none). For a small business, that might mean that we work collaboratively with them to design a website that sells products and presents their brand story well, and also write a publication or materials that they need.

You wrote a blog post recently about Facebook’s Organic Reach being toast. First of all, why is that? Secondly, what are some ways that you advise people to adjust their marketing campaigns?

In my blog post, I discussed how Facebook uses algorithms to show you the content it thinks you want to see, and how Facebook recently changed its algorithms to show more content and fewer posts that are ads or self-promotional. Even if you “like” a page and it updates regularly, you may not see it in your feed if Facebook thinks you prefer other types of content. This loss of “organic reach” has caused some consternation, especially among those not accustomed to paying for advertising to “boost” their Facebook page posts. Many of the people who invested time and resources into building an audience on Facebook now feel like they can’t reach that audience because of these algorithm changes. But you can adjust your strategy on Facebook and elsewhere to be successful.

First, your posts need to be useful to people and focus on providing helpful information, not just consist of ads or be purely self-promotional. Looking at your page insights to see what posts are getting traction (and what time of day people are engaging) is also helpful. Consider spending a little money to boost posts and see what the results are. You should also create an expectation among your supporters that you will share valuable and useful information on Facebook. Then encourage them to deliberately visit your Facebook page while improving your other social media and email channels too.

You also wrote a post recently about seven good reasons for a company to have a blog. What are a few of those reasons? How can a blog bring in new customers and help to establish an identity within their industry?

A blog forces you to think strategically about your field and your industry, so it’s a great professional growth tool; but it also shows your personality and thoughts in a public forum. It provides content you can feed and cycle onto social media; and I have had clients remark to me that they read my blog, and had reporters call me because they read a client’s blog and wanted to interview someone who wrote for that blog. So blogging can add a lot of value to your bottom line and your brand. Read more in my blog post.

A little after the new year, you had a post about five behaviors to avoid on Twitter. What were a few of these behaviors and why avoid them?

Educating yourself about Twitter and how it operates was one of the tips I offered in that blog post. It’s important to not only talk about yourself on Twitter. I see this often with new book authors, business owners or nonprofits joining Twitter. The newbies post every 5 minutes a commercial reminder telling the world to buy their book, offer their services like an ad, or share only about donating money to a cause. You need to answer the question of “Why?” Why should someone care about your book, product, business or organization? Educating yourself about Twitter, hashtags and how people connect and relate in that forum can go a long way to helping you plan your strategy.

Which social media sites do you prefer for actually getting new customers and sales?

I find that all social media sites can help build your brand and share who you are. But some platforms are more effective depending on what you are selling and who you want to talk to. I personally prefer to use Twitter, LinkedIn and my blog on my website to attract new customers and followers, but we also use Facebook for our business and other platforms. I think you have to think about social media channels as building relationships that can lead to business.

Can you give our readers five quick Twitter tips to increase their followers and raise brand awareness?

  • Try to tweet every day, at least a few times.
  • Share information that is useful to others.
  • Re-tweet other people you find interesting.
  • Participate in a Twitter chat once a week on a topic that relates to your industry – this gets your username out there for others to see.
  • Be yourself – even in 140 characters or less – personality can show.

Do you have any advice for businesses or marketers to showcase their product or business without being pushy or spammy?

Do things that are fun and show your excitement in what you post. If you are excited about what you do, other people will be too. Talk honestly about what you are doing in your business and share your products. But do that within the context of talking about your industry and your brand and sharing content from other people, too. That doesn’t mean you need to share your top competitor’s tweets on your feed, but try to mix up your content stream so a variety of information is being shared. Also, try blogging to give you more content to share in social media.

In your experience, what are the best times to post on Twitter for businesses? What about Facebook?

Twitter I find is very active in the morning and afternoon, but that afternoon stretches into early evening because of the time zones. I use auto-scheduling software to help me keep information going out all day. One could argue that posting in the off hours – late at night or on the weekend – will get you more attention because you are competing with fewer people for attention.

Facebook is very active toward the end of the work day, in the early evenings, and on the weekend. So if you publish a blog post on Monday morning, you might want to wait until Monday afternoon to share it. I wrote about these “golden hours” on a blog post in 2012, and I think much of the advice still holds. The most important piece of advice, though, is to do what works for you. Facebook pages provide analytics, and you can tell from your Twitter feed when you are being re-tweeted or getting interaction. Keep doing what works for you, and don’t be afraid to try something else if you need to.

For more updates from Steppingstone LLC, like them on Facebook, follow them on TwitterPinterest, and connect with them on LinkedIn.

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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Writing an Effective Letter to the Editor: Tips to Help

Writing an effective letter to the editor can be a great way to share your reviews and inspire others to take action. Perhaps there’s an issue in your community news or in the national news that you want to comment on. Maybe you are upset about something happening in your community or want to draw attention to a problem. Or maybe you want to offer praise for something a public official has done to address an issue.  A letter to the editor that is well-written can get your point across, catch the eye of public officials, and further community discussion of an important issue.

Putting together a great letter to the editor is not difficult but competition for available space is fierce. Even compelling and well-written letters with amazing perspectives can go unpublished. So how can you stand out from the crowd? I’ve written letters for myself and on behalf of clients, and they’ve been published in the New York Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and many other publications. Here are a few tips to help you write an effective letter to the editor:

  • Check the newspaper’s guidelines and submission requirements. Most newspapers post their policies for letters to the editor on their website. Take a look at the requirements, paying attention to submission directions and word count requirements.
  • Reference what you are responding to. Many letters to the editor respond to an article in the newspaper, or perhaps a quote or comment in an article. Letters often reference this point up front, drawing a connection to the prior story.
  • Start with a feeling. Many people like to start their letter with a feeling. Some sample starters are: I was disheartened to hear… I applaud efforts by…. I thoroughly endorse… I am overjoyed to… I am dismayed by…. I am sad to hear… I am thrilled to see… I heartily agree… I strongly disagree… I’m perplexed by…. I’m confused by…. I am so grateful for….
  • Keep it brief. Many published letters to the editor are under 250 words. Try very hard to stay within the word count guidelines if you can. This can be tough when you are passionate and knowledgeable about a subject. Shorter letters have a better chance of being published. so it’s to your advantage to be brief.
  • Write well. Be professional in your remarks. Your writing should be articulate and knowledgeable.  Yes, your letter is a nugget of opinion, so your personality can shine through. But you always want to come across in the best possible light, so take the high road while sharing your take on the issue.
  • Focus on one issue in your letter, not several. Some letters do just “vent” about a topic, but great letters may also offer a statistic or story.  Some issue a call to action or heap praise (or shame) on a public official or business.
  • Check your facts. While you are offering an opinion, truth still matters – and not just your version. Any evidence offered, research cited or statistic quoted – you should be able to back up with a reference. If chosen for publication, the newspaper staff may ask for your sources, and it needs to be better than “an internet meme.”
  • Be timely. Getting a letter in print is almost always aided by timely submission. That means you should get to work right away! If you are responding to an article published today, try to submit your letter to the editor today.Waiting more than a few days nearly always means a letter will not be published.
  • Use your real name. All newspapers require letter to the editor submissions to use your real name. You may also want to list your professional title or the organization or business you work for, if they are relevant to the topic at hand. This also covers your bases. If you don’t mention your affiliation with the topic or organization, someone else may notice you didn’t reference this information and write a letter to the editor the next day criticizing you for “hiding” this information. Disclose if you are doing business, volunteering, or working in some capacity for an organization or business that touches on the topic. Many organizations have a formalized approval process for letters to the editor, so check with your communications staff if you want to write a letter to the editor on behalf of an organization before hitting send.
  • Include your phone number and email address. The newspaper staff will usually call to confirm your name for the submission, and review any edits with you. They will not usually publish your contact information.

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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Recruiting Volunteers to Help Your Nonprofit Organization

According to the Corporation for National Community Service, just over a quarter (25.3%) of Americans volunteer. That’s 62.8 million volunteers!  On average, each person volunteers 32.1 volunteer hours per person, per year, which comes to 7.9 billion hours of service, the equivalent of $184 billion.

Religious activities are the most popular volunteer activity, accounting for 34% of all volunteer hours. Twenty-six percent of volunteer hours support education and 15% aid social services. Health related fields get 8% with civic duty, sports and the arts getting the remainder of hours donated.

Volunteers can assist your clients and staff, while amplifying your nonprofit organization’s programs and services. Here are a few tips to help you recruit volunteers:

Tip #1: Ask. People like to be asked to volunteer. Ask in person at community events, outreach activities, and open houses. You should also ask for volunteers through your website, social media, or e-newsletter. If you have a volunteer application, background check requirements or a list of volunteer opportunities you are seeking people for, add them to your website under a “Volunteer” section. Always offer a clear call to action

Tip #2: Be specific about your needs. Some people will respond to a general request for volunteers, but it often helps if they can visualize the opportunity available. Saying “we need volunteers” is very different from saying “we need a youth group or community organization to help pack lunches on Saturday for 40 hungry people” or “we need someone to tutor youth in the computer lab after school for two hours a week.”

Tip #3: Use the media to recruit volunteers. Issue a news release inviting people to volunteer . Include quotes from current volunteers about why they volunteer, list possible volunteer roles, and be clear about how someone can sign up. Many newspapers also run brief volunteer opportunities as a column, list, or community section and you can submit yours.

Tip #4: Ask current volunteers to help you recruit additional volunteers. Many people volunteer because they are asked by a friend, so involve your current volunteers in recruitment. Former clients may also be another key group to reach out to because they want to give back to others. Community partners are also a great place to recruit volunteers from.

Tip #5: No may not mean never. Some people will say yes right away when asked to volunteer. Others may need a little more time to get to yes. Don’t be a pest, but do be gently persistent if you think someone could help.

Tip #6: Be able to talk about how a volunteer role impacts your mission – and most importantly, real people. Volunteers need to know that what they are being asked to do – no matter how mundane – serves your organization’s mission and helps people. Help them see how their actions relate to the overall cause.

Tip #7: Use structure to spell out expectations. Job descriptions can help volunteers understand what is expected. Make sure new volunteers are oriented to the task, have the tools needed, and know where and how to ask questions. It’s also important volunteers understand your policies, training requirements, and background check requirements.

Tip #8: Praise your long-term volunteers. Acknowledge your long-term (and short-term) volunteers by providing ongoing recognition. Share photos, short blurbs, or volunteer profiles in your e-newsletter or on your website. Appreciation doesn’t have to be a large or fancy event. It can be as simple as a thank you note for volunteering with a small gift item.

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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Updating or Changing Your Logo: Thinking it Through

Your logo represents your company visually.  It’s an identifier, not a mini-seller you are sticking on everything. A visually strong logo should identify at a glance your company, association, or organization. Your logo is an important part of your brand so visit this page. It makes a major impact on how the public, consumers, the media and others think about your organization but it rarely should describe your business. Paul Rand says that “a logo derives meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around. A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it represents is more important than what it looks like. The subject matter of a logo can be almost anything.”

With so much riding on your logo, how do you update or change it? Maybe you’ve expanded your products and services, combined with another group, or simply outgrown your logo. Sometimes you’re the communications person and all you’ve got for your logo is some old graphic file you found on the server that’s not really looking great.  I once got a call from a larger client who had lost their logo files – as in lost all of their high-resolution quality logo files. Fortunately, we had their logo images on file, had updated the logo, and were able to send the files to them.

Business Insider has a great article showing popular logos and how they have changed over time. There are some big surprises! Here are a few tips to help you assess your logo situation and think strategically about making changes or updates.

Be honest about your logo. Evaluate how the logo is used . Organizations make massive investments in their logos and build their brands around them. Logos hold equity for a brand, so a change is something to consider carefully. Sometimes the concerns about the logistics of a logo change or replacement overwhelm considerations about the logo itself. But it’s important to look at the logo and ask some hard questions:

  • Accuracy – Does the logo accurately convey what you do? Is the logo more about values? Personality? Activities?
  • Feelings – What feelings does the logo inspire for you? Is it a symbol you are proud to put on your materials, clothing, building, etc?
  • Perception – How do other people, outside your organization or company respond to the logo? Are their feelings similar to yours or different? Can they tell from the logo what you do? Who you are? What you represent? Is it simple enough that people can understand it, while unique enough to set you apart?
  • Current – Does the logo’s color scheme, presentation, rendering appear to be current with modern design trends?
  • Simplicity – Does the logo identify your business or organization? Does it do it with simplicity?
  • Timeless – Does your logo work well today? Will it work well tomorrow?
  • Memorable – Will people remember your logo? Does it stand out in some way as distinctive?
  • Versatility – Does the logo render well and accurately without any pixcelation? Will it fit correctly for the uses you need it for, without being stretched? Can it be sized small, large? Will it look nice in a digital format? On the side of a building? On a publication?
  • Sizing – Does the logo render well in multiple formats? And is it understandable in those formats? Can your logo work well on your website in a header bar, on a banner or presentation slide where it’s enlarged, or

Set up external research on your logo if you can afford it. Do some focus groups  to find out how people view your logo – include people who know nothing about your company or organization and people who know it well. If you are trying to sell products to consumers, attract new members or reach out to the general public to raise funds or recruit volunteers, then you’ll want to ask the core audience you are trying to recruit what they think of your logo. There are companies that can help you conduct focus groups and research your logo at a local or national level. I sometimes get hired by companies to run focus groups. Logos and taglines always seem to be a hot topic for those.

You should also consider your internal audiences. Sometimes employees, members and staff are invested in a logo too. They are also often the people most affected by a logo change – as letterhead, publications, newsletters, websites, promotional products, signage, wall art, and more can all be affected if the logo is updated or changed. They may have their own ideas too. When I worked for 4-H I worked with a lot of our local organizations on understanding how to correctly use our logo. I was horrified to find a chapter that was essentially hacking off part of the logo and replacing it with clip art. While they were trying to customize the logo to fit different topics, the end result looked terrible.

Be prepared to deal with emotions. Logo discussions can be very emotional. More than two decades ago when I was a young college student serving on her first board of directors with a local Habitat for Humanity affiliate, I led an effort to change their logo that completely failed. Yep, total failure. Our logo looked clunky and crude, and my communications committee worked for several months on considering a logo change and a graduate student at the University of Florida’s public relations school even did focus groups for us – showing our logo of two hammers building with a t-square and our affiliate name.

Focus group participants – over and over – said the logo looked like the hammers were beating each other and hurting each other -not working together. Given our organization’s mission was to bring people together to build houses with people in need, this data was concerning, as the logo was used on everything – our newsletter, website, etc. My committee recommended changing the logo to a new, crisp clean image, and focus group tested several proposed options.

I went to the Board meeting armed with data thinking this was a slam dunk to get our logo change. I had not counted on the founders of our affiliate – an older married couple who showed up for the meeting and were very worried about the rumored logo change. They made a passionate plea to the board to keep the old logo, sharing a touching story about how an old friend had helped them create the logo when they first started the organization on their kitchen table. It didn’t matter that we had data about how ineffective the logo was, or what the focus groups had said. It was very clear from the board discussion that this would totally fail. Reluctantly, I withdrew my motion for the new logo to be adopted and we never tried to change the logo again. My critical error was not in wanting a new logo or listening to the research – it was in not preparing key audiences for the idea of a new logo and helping them understand why we needed it. The issue became moot several years later when the national Habitat for Humanity office enforced a policy that made the local affiliates give up their own original logos.

So how do you know whether it’s the right time to refresh or completely change your logo? Only you can answer this question fully. But I would say that increasingly, we are seeing trade associations and fraternal societies change their logos because they often find that older logos simply don’t scale well in a tech savvy society. How a logo looks on a cell phone screen or iPad is just as important as how it looks on a flag over a building. We’ve also seen organizations sometimes change a logo because they are making a major change – perhaps merging with another group or wanting to update their look.

If minor updating can bring the logo into better use and retain the elements you like without making the logo too clunky or like a Frankensteined project – then it’s not too hard to hire a designer to do simple updates that clean up the edges and provide you with clean files. Sometimes just simple graphic tweaks can modernize a logo or clean up that old design file you found on the server and get your logo looking fresh and crisp and the changes may be subtle but will give you better tools. We’ve done many of these projects for clients, and produced updated or modernized logos for them along with style guides and training plans to help them get staff up to speed quickly on logo changes.

But at other times, a full re-design is required. If your logo is outdated, complicated, and confusing to others and to you, it may be time to consider a larger or complete redesign of your logo. We’ve worked with organizations on updating and re-designing completely their logos. We find that frequently, organizations have often disliked their logo for a long time before calling a designer. Don’t suffer for years with a bad logo – consider making changes to improve your brand and you’ll see some better results. I promise.

Logo Design Process

Logos may be small, but they require creativity and serious thought. Consider hiring a professional graphic designer to update your logo. A typical process used by a graphic designer to create or update a new logo is the following:

  • Design Brief. The designer interviews or asks questions to the client about the current logo and goals for an update or new one. The designer creates a design brief.
  • Research (client specific). The designer researches the industry, its history, and competitors. You wouldn’t want to end up with something that looks like your competition!
  • Reference. The designer now researches current logo styles and trends that may be relevant to the design brief. The goal is not to give you something that is trendy but to give you something that works for your needs and to know what is out there.
  • Concept. This is the most important part of the process, as the designer is sketching and conceptualizing the new logo.
  • Reflection. Often designers re-visit their early conceptions and refine them a bit more before showing them to the client.
  • Presentation. The designer shows the best proposed draft logo(s) to the client and they discuss it.
  • Revisions. If revisions or adjustments are needed, the designer revises the draft logo based on feedback from the client.
  • Delivery. The designer delivers the logo and support files for it to the client.

Note: If you ask a designer to come up with three or more concept logos, they can, but expect to pay for their time in coming up with a smorgasboard of choices. Some designers use a one best design concept which focuses heavily on meeting a client’s needs and producing a design for client reaction and then refinement. It’s always best to ask before hiring how the designer approaches this process and to know up front what you will see when this reaches the presentation stage. Personally, I prefer the one best design process as it helps us hold down costs, keep deadlines on track, and delivers what clients really need. If you’ve hired a designer for their creative expertise, it’s important to listen to what they have to say about what works.

You will also want to have a plan in place to introduce the new or updated logo. This plan is often linked to a timeline. Plans should be carefully worked out to arrange for signage to be changed, for letterhead to be swapped out (or used up), for website and social media channels to be updated, and for staff to be trained or updated on how and when to use the new logo. A logo roll out can be as simple or complicated as you make it. Many organizations use the introduction of a new logo as an opportunity to update branding and style guides and to re-train their staff in how to properly use their logo and express their brand.

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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Hiring a Graphic Designer: Questions to Ask

Do you need to hire a graphic designer to update your logo, lay out a publication or brochure, or re-design your website? Graphic designers are creative types, and that creativity is necessary for them to do a good job. A successful designer is creative, skilled and caters to your needs. Nowadays, you can go online to a variety of online marketplaces and find people who claim to be graphic designers who work for cheap. Generally, you get what you pay for. If you want a creative person with up to date knowledge and skill sets who acts with professionalism, then you should expect to hire a professional.

Here are some questions to ask to help you make a great selection. Remember, the goal is to find the best designer for your project, not to find the best designer on earth.

Technical skills. This can be tough for a non-creative type to judge, but focus on asking questions around how their skills can fit for your project. Ask how they see their skills helping you with your project and ask for details.  If you are planning on a logo design (or any design for that matter), knowledge of typography is particularly important, as this can make or break your logo (literally). If your business or organization is heavily invested in a particular website software, is the designer familiar with this software and able to get you to your goal?

Experience. An experienced designer can describe the process flow for you and be as creative as a younger one. Don’t hold age (or lack of it) against anyone. Find out how long have they been doing design work and what their experiences have been.

Their design process. Every designer is different, so it’s important to understand the process the designer uses to create what you need. What does their design process look like for the project you are seeking a designer for? Do they follow a particular process for logos? For publications? For website development? Do they present a variety of designs? Do they use the one best design process (a process we use at Steppingstone LLC to best meet client needs and hold down cost overages)?

Portfolio. Any graphic designer should have a portfolio of completed work to show you. How strong is it? Have they completed projects similar to yours? Don’t make a choice based on a portfolio alone, especially when it comes to more collaborative ongoing work. Instead, ask more questions. Ask about the most complex brief they’ve received, what the challenges were, and how they responded to the ask. You want to try and get to the “why” behind a design, which shows you more customization, listening skills, and a designer who is willing to go the extra mile.

Professionalism. You want to hire a professional who works well with you and your team (if you have one). How do they present themselves? Do they respond to you quickly and efficiently? How do they communicate? How have they worked with other organizations or companies similar to yours?

Time Frame. Get a sense of how your project will flow and how you and the designer will interact over the proposed time period. When are they available to do the work? How long will it take to complete your project? At what points in the process will they need input from you?

Financials. What will the project cost? Some designers price by the project, and others by the hour. Some give discounts for ongoing work. The price usually reflects the level of service and the quality of the product that you will receive. In most cases, you get what you pay for. Do they work with a contract?

Inquisitive. A good designer asks a lot of questions and looks for details. How many questions does the designer ask about your business? Questions should revolve around your company or organization’s history, brand, target audience, and goals. Be prepared to share background materials, files and branding or style guides with the designer.

References. A good designer should have quality references to provide to you. Do they have positive testimonials from previous clients? Are they able to provide you with names and companies that you can call to verify their references?

Industry experience. It’s an added bonus if the designer has experience working with others in your industry but this should not be a deal breaker if they don’t have it. Many creative minds can get up to speed quickly!

Your gut. Remember that you are looking for more than just a specific skill set. The designer’s personal style, creative process, and workflows are just as important as skills—and don’t always come across in a proposal clearly. Look at portfolios, ask lots of questions, and make a selection based on who you think will do the job best.

If you need to hire a graphic designer, we hope you’ll consider Steppingstone LLC. Our creative director, Rick Miller, has an amazing set of skills and a great portfolio of work. Contact us to discuss your project.

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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Preparing for a Media Interview: Ten Tips to Get Ready

It’s important to be well-prepared for a media interview so you can convey your key message and represent yourself and your organization or business well. Some people might get nervous or feel like their old “test anxiety” from school is surging back when they are getting ready for a media interview. Others may be cocky or over-confident and think they don’t need to prepare at all (spoiler alert – this is not the way to approach a media interview). You want to do your best, so get ready for a successful media interview with these ten tips.

Research the media outlet and the reporter. Look at the website for the media outlet. If it’s a television station or radio station, watch or listen to a few stories to get a feel for them. If it’s a newspaper or online media outlet that publishes stories, read a few stories. Obviously, if you are a coach giving an interview about your team, it would help you the most probably to look at sports stories. If you are a business owner talking about your business for a standard profile they always run, look at the business section and previous profiles. If you are a nonprofit or association leader, use the search function on the media outlet website to see if there are stories involving other organizations similar to yours.

It’s especially important to review stories by the reporter who will interview you, Check to see if the reporter has social media accounts and look at what types of things the reporter typically posts (approach not in a stalker way, but in a “let met get to know this person and how they approach their work” kind of way). Note what types of questions the reporter typically asks and the stories that seem to interest the reporter the most.

Get specifics on the interview. Confirm the date, time and location for the interview with the reporter. Will the interview be live or recorded? This matters because the stakes are higher when an interview is live. If you flub an answer and want to take a second pass at answering a question you can do that if the interview is pre-recorded.

It’s very important to know what the story will be about, and what angle the reporter is taking. Who else will be interviewed? Will it be someone you know? Someone you oppose? Will you be on-camera or having photos taken? Is it s talk show where you will need to be a guest for a set period of time and engage in lively banter, or a 10 minute stand up interview outdoors? The details matter as they influence how you will prepare, what you will wear, and what talking points you review.

Don’t think you can wing it. Many people think that because they are an “expert” they don’t need to prepare for an interview or they can “wing it.” This is not a good idea. Even if you know your topic inside and out, you should still prepare before an interview. You can be a great expert, but if you give long-winded responses, you may not be happy with the short segment the reporter opts to use.

A little practice might help you get your talking points in order so you can be succinct and convey your key message. Metaphors are important for radio because they help listeners visualize the point, so think ahead about how to illustrate a tough concept with words if you are doing a radio interview.

Know your talking points. Given you know the topic for the interview, you should be able to write down 1-3 core messages that you want to relay to the audience that will watch the story. It’s important to keep these talking points simple and clear. You should avoid jargon and what you say should be understandable to a lay person who knows nothing about the topic.

Remember, you are the expert. That’s why you were asked to be interviewed. Do not just memorize your 1-3 points and then repeat one of them verbatim every time a question is asked, especially if this doesn’t really answer the question. The ideal response to a question is one where you work in the talking point while you are answering the question.

Stay in the right mindset. Media interviews are successful when subjects are clear, concise, and interesting. This happens if you practice, are confident with the topic, and have your head in the right space when you do the interview.

Practice before the interview. Delivering great quotes is good for you and for the reporter. Reporters love good sound bytes. Action words, descriptive metaphors, statistics, and emotion all can make for great sound bytes. Draft some sample questions and rehearse how you will respond to each question. The best way to rehearse is with another person who can pose the questions to you, and then for you to respond aloud. Friends can be very forgiving. Time yourself if needed to see if you are pithy enough in your answers.

Practice how to deal with a “pregnant pause” – if you have finished answering a question, wait for the next question patiently, rather than continuing to talk to fill the silence. Sometimes people make mistakes or talk too long when they insert additional information during a pregnant pause.

If you are concerned about a hostile question, plan a bridging strategy. You never want to repeat negative comments back in a response. So if asked something that takes a negative tack, use a bridging phrase like “That’s an interesting question, but the real point to consider is….” or “We find the most important issue is…” or “Here’s the real problem…” or “Let me emphasize that….” or “With this in mind….”

Conquer your nerves. If you are truly nervous, it may help to rehearse with a friend or colleague, or to hire a media relations coach (like me) to help you get ready.  It helps if you can get at the reasons why you are nervous and address them. We find clients are nervous about a media interview because: they’ve never done an interview before, they don’t understand how the media works or how journalists think (it’s not as scary as you think), they are worried about being mis-quoted, they fear they will get something wrong, or they worry they won’t present themselves or what they represent well.  All of these things can be addressed through education, training and practice with a public relations professional.

For some people, visualization is helpful. Try rehearsing your talking points and responses to possible questions in front of a mirror. Put on the clothes you plan to wear for the interview. Practice with a friend or media coach. Remind yourself why you are being interviewed. You are the expert, the spokesperson, and the right person for this interview.

Occasionally people are nervous about an interview because they are in a bad situation – perhaps something tragic happened to them and they are the subject of unwanted media interest, or they have a complex prior history and want to advocate for something good now, but they’re worried their past will damage their credibility now. Perhaps their organization or company made a mistake and now they need to answer to the public and others for it and the stakes are high. My advice is if you are in a difficult situation, seek out the help of an experienced public relations professional who can help you prepare for the interview.

Avoid being overly self-promotional. It is not the reporter’s job to do an “ad” about your business or organization. It is the reporter’s job to create a story on a topic and you were asked likely asked to be interviewed not for your organization to be featured, but because you have expertise to share about the topic at hand. You should avoid being overly self-promotional. Even so , it is often ok to wear a shirt, pin, or name tag from your business, nonprofit organization or trade association.

Consider the optics if the interview is taking place in your home or business. Ahead of time is when you should tidy up and get ready to show your best to the world.

Plan what you will wear and how you will style yourself. You will need to pay more attention to your body language and how you look if you are doing an on-camera interview or having photos taken. As a general rule, avoid loud or busy prints. Lean more conservative in fashion if in doubt (unless of course, your brand is to be way out there). Focus on being neat and tidy. Avoid logos and sayings on clothing that don’t relate to the topic at hand. If makeup is offered to you for television, plan to accept in our current era of high definition television.

Make plans to arrive a little early. Make sure you know the location and figure out how you will get there. Set an alarm to remind you what time to leave. Plan to arrive a little early. The last thing you want to do is show up flustered and late.

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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