Controversy: NYT Reporter Discusses Gas Drilling Coverage, What Nonprofits Can Learn

See Urbina’s work in the New York Times – Drilling Down series

In a lecture at Cornell University this week covered by the Ithaca Journal, New York Times reporter Ian Urbina discussed the challenges covering gas drilling issues. He noted that while often it’s been reported as an environmental story, this story really is multi-faceted and has many dimensions impacting lives and communities.

Getting the information needed for his reporting was tough, and often took weeks of investigation. Chemicals and toxic materials can result from fracking techniques used to extract natural gas, and tracing what happens to that waste is an important part of the story as his reporting has developed. His stories have caused a push back from the natural gas industry, and Urbina believes his work has also contributed to the EPA monitoring the industry more closely.

Urbina’s reporting was the result of good old-fashioned journalism, but what can nonprofit communicators learn from Urbina’s lecture this week and reporting work on this important issue? Nonprofits working on important public issues like this one, often become information gatherers and draw attention that stimulates news coverage. Here’s a few ideas of what nonprofits can learn:

Get your facts organized. Collect data and document it. Not every reporter is going to be as organized as Urbina or be working at a news outlet with the resources of the New York Times. Be willing to share data and reports, as well as their sources, with reporters.

Don’t stereotype a potential story into only one beat. So often in public relations, we try to pitch a story to only reporters working a particular beat. Isolating a story into only one beat area may not be as productive as reaching out to another reporter, if the story has merit and other facets to it. That doesn’t mean you should pitch a story to a reporter that has clearly no interest whatsoever in the topic – but it does mean that if the story has other potential angles, you should consider approaching another journalist that you might not have considered before. It’s that unorthodox approach that’s refreshing, that might help sell the story.

Expect pushback. Good reporting that is honest and truthful can cause a response that you may not anticipate from others who don’t like it. Although Urbina does not reference this in his remarks, it’s likely that the nonprofit organizations and community groups working on this issue have also experienced a pushback from the industry, similar to what he’s experienced, for their efforts to inform the public. Expect for this to happen if you are doing good work. That’s why it’s so important that your facts are straight and your approach be aboveboard – if pushback happens – you want it to be because you were right, not because you were sloppy and didn’t know the facts.

Realize that stories have reverb. A good story – especially in a media outlet like the New York Times, is going to get attention and cause a ripple effect. Other stories and opportunities to educate the public about the issue will result. Don’t assume that one good story in a major outlet is a silver bullet and now you can stop your work to educate others and reach out. The reality is that one good story is just that – one good story. Take advantage of other opportunities to continue the dialogue and discussion about the issue.


Corporate Compassion Denied: The Hair Cuttery Takes a PR Mis-Step

The Washington Post’s Michelle Singletary opened up a big can of worms in its “Color of Money” challenge when it set out to write about Kelly D. Brown, an ex-offender who served her debt to society, trained for a new job, stayed out of trouble, and went out to earn a living as a hair stylist and support her son.

After Brown asked her employer, the Hair Cuttery, for permission to be photographed for a profile that Singletary was writing about ex-offenders and their bumpy road to financial security, she was fired. Even though Brown had revealed her felony conviction on her application for employment at the hair salon, the chain fired her, noting that Brown would have never been hired had her boss at the salon informed the human resources department of her criminal past.

This was a missed PR opportunity for the Hair Cuttery to demonstrate corporate compassion and a business doing the right thing for society. Here you have an employee, who by all accounts is liked by her co-workers and customers. She made mistakes in her past, long before she was a hair stylist. And now she’s thriving, thanks to the company’s willingness to give her a chance to prove herself as an employee. She’s about to be featured in a respected national newspaper about her struggle to reach financial security and support her young son – in a story that inevitably would have made her employer look like a saint. This is the kind of story public relations staff normally drool over.

The Hair Cuttery had the opportunity with this story to look like a corporate chain doing the right thing – they could have given permission for the photograph by the Post – and instead they blew it. They missed a huge PR opportunity to demonstrate their corporate values and gain exposure – the right kind – for their company. What was the worst thing that could have happened with a positive profile of Brown in the Post for her work at Hair Cuttery? Would they have been deluged with applications from ex-offenders? Would they have had customers running in fear from the stores? The chain would have come across as a compassionate corporate citizen, willing to believe that people can become better and change their lives.

Instead, they fired Brown and the Hair Cuttery came across as petty and even bureaucratic in the media. Spokespeople cited a mis-step by the salon leader (who did not inform the HR department of Brown’s criminal past), as the reason for her firing, and noted that they have a blanket policy of not hiring ex-offenders. The Washington Post has been deluged with calls and comments from readers supporting Kelly Brown and critizing the salon chain. One customer letter sent to both Hair Cuttery and the Washington Post said:

While I support your company’s concern for safety, I find it hard to believe that the decision to fire Kelly Brown was based on any real threat. Does your company believe that people can change? Do you always judge people for actions of the past, regardless of potential for present and future behavior?”

If ex-offenders cannot get legitimate jobs, they will be forced to return to lives of crime to earn money to support themselves and their families. Many of the letter writers who contacted the Hair Cuttery and the Washington Post to complain about Brown’s firing are now boycotting the chain.

What this episode says about our society is troubling. It says that mistakes are not forgiveable, even if you reform yourself and do your best to stay out of trouble and play by the rules. It says that a company would rather can an employee because of mistakes made in her past, than believe the better in people.


Crafting Fundraising Appeals That Raise Money Online & Everywhere: Chat with Experts Tuesday

Need ideas for your end of the year messaging to
invite donors to support your nonprofit? This free
chat on Tuesday 1pm ET has great experts.
Image licensed under Creative Commons.

If you are thinking about how to message your nonprofit’s fundraising appeals online and everywhere – then you might want to check out the Chronicle of Philanthropy’s free chat tomorrow on “Crafting Appeals That Work in Print, Online, Everywhere.” You don’t need a Chronicle account to participate, and the chat is on Tuesday, August 14 at 1pm Eastern Time. The guests are:

Geoff Livingston (@geoffliving) – he was among the first people I followed on Twitter and I’ve always found him pushing the envelope on social media and how it is changing how we communicate and relate to each other. Oddly, the Chronicle of Philanthropy promo for the chat doesn’t mention that the is the author of Welcome to the Fifth Estate on social media and co-author (with social media guru Brian Solis) of Now is Gone: A Primer on New Media for Executives and Entrepreneurs. He is a marketing strategist and co-author with Gini Dietrich of Marketing in the Round: How to Develop an Integrated Marketing Campaign in the Digital Era.
Brooke McMillan – she is the online community manager for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, also known as Livestrong. She manages the foundation’s blog, Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel and more. She did a guest post for Beth Kanter’s blog in 2009 on how the foundation uses social media that is insightful. So she’s been in the social media trenches a while and has a lot to share that other nonprofits can relate to.

I am looking forward to the chat and I hope you will attend to get new ideas and then brainstorm how to integrate them into your nonprofit’s fundraising plans for social media and everywhere as we approach the end of the year giving season. The Chronicle will post a transcript after the event for those who aren’t able to attend.

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


Cyberstalking Journalists: It’s Not Bad, It’s Background Research

If you want to actively work with journalists and pitch a compelling and successful story about your nonprofit organization’s work, it’s important to do your homework. While using the term cyberstalking may be a bit of an exaggeration on my part – you should use the internet to research the reporter you are reaching out to, and learn about their interests and beat.

Review their stories. You should review the stories journalists have written or produced, and get a sense of their interests and what they are assigned to cover. Use Google searches to look up their work, visit the media outlet’s website and search for their name, and review recent newspapers or broadcasts. It doesn’t make sense to pitch a sports reporter a story about a healthcare event, or to ask a reporter covering the military to cover an education story that is not related to the Armed Services.

Read their blogs. Many journalists today blog about their lives and work. This provides you with a window into their lives and interests. A great example is a blog by Jennifer Griffin at Fox News. She blogs about her family life, work as a reporter, and fight against breast cancer.

Follow their twitter feeds. Many journalists are using twitter to promote their stories, interact with story sources/readers/viewers, and keep track of breaking news. Re-tweet info they post that is relevant to your organization. If the journalist is currently overseas on assignment (like Kelly Kennedy listed below), don’t pitch her for a story that means she needs to be on the East coast. Wait. Some examples:

Kevin Baron, Stars & Stripes

Michael Calderone, Yahoo News

Damien Cave, New York Times, Bureau Chief (Miami)

Phil Elliott, Associated Press

Sara Haines, NBC Today Show 

Kelly Kennedy, Military Times

Howard Kurtz, Washington Post

Jen Preston, New York Times

Ali Velshi, CNN 

 And I could go on and on. I currently follow on Twitter more than 150 journalists. I use the lists feature to keep my lists organized, and subscribe my nonprofit client twitter feeds to journalists that cover stories related to their work. Engagement with the media today should be about building relationships and offering compelling story pitches that relate to what the reporter is working on and interested in. The Internet is a great tool to help you do that.


DC Central Kitchen Staff Tell Nonprofits to Shape Up

In a fascinating kick-in-the-pants essay on Huffington Post, Alexander Justice Moore from DC Central Kitchen calls on nonprofits to stop settling for lower standards, abysmal wages, and begging for peanuts to pay their light bills.

He points out one of the key issues in the nonprofit sector – that far too many people start nonprofits without ever evaluating what the community’s needs are and resources available to meet those needs – leaving all nonprofits scrambling for ever-tinier slivers of one shrinking pie.

Rather, Moore reminds nonprofiteers to take pride in their work, strive to innovate the sector,  and expect fair wages. He writes:

Instead, let’s simply remind ourselves, our supporters, and our leaders that nonprofit does not, and should not, mean unprofessional, unproductive, or unpaid. When markets fail and government dithers, we are the women and men responsible for plunging into the fray and finding meaningful solutions. We’re private sector innovators infused with public purpose. When we stop diminishing ourselves, we might actually start to fulfill our missions.

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


Delivering Bad News for a Living: The Importance of Self Care

The Atlantic has an interesting story, “What It’s Like to Deliver Bad News for a Living,” by Carrie Seims on people who deliver death notifications, upsetting news, and fire people en masse – and the negative impacts these roles can have on their lives.

Seims cited research from 2006 (human resource managers tasked with firings amid rapid downsizing) and again in 2006 and in 2013 (oncologists forced to deliver bad news to patients) showing the negative impacts that being a deliverer of bad news can have. Feelings of depression, guilt, anxiety, stress, increased burnout rates, cortisol levels and emotional exhaustion were not uncommon.

At the same time, she also finds (at least one) person who notes post-traumatic growth can happen, even after delivering terrible news.

“I wouldn’t have seen the intensity of the colors of life if I hadn’t been a part of this,” said Denny Hayes, a human services director for the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office in Syracuse, N.Y., who has personally delivered more than 500 death notifications. “It’s been a rich experience—rich can be sad. Meeting someone in the midst of a traumatic situation is like cutting a tree in half and looking at the rings and the growth—you see the resiliency of the human spirit…….You enter the arena of suffering with people.”

Unfortunately, death is a part of life, and we far too often don’t realize how frequently death is in the media and we are engaging with those who are grieving or traumatized. As uncomfortable as it can make us, traumatic events and helping those going through trauma can also help us grow and become something more than we were before.

As someone who has often assisted people dealing with trauma in how they engage with the media, I would agree there is a high potential for burnout for those supporting and engaging with trauma survivors. I am often trying to help someone find a sense of control, who is trapped in a situation where they may feel very little sense of agency or ability to control a situation. For me, it comes down to trying to help, that I am trying to help someone in trouble find a sense of control and give them options.

I am sometimes walking alongside a person who is coping with something terrible that altered life permanently for them. You can’t walk in that and not have it stick to you, and not have your own demons surface. Self-care in this field is extremely important, and The Atlantic delivers some important reminders for those who deal with difficult news to take care of themselves.



DoGooder Video Awards: Open Nominations Jan. 12

The DoGooder Video Awards are back again and accepting nominations starting January 12, 2015. This is a great way to win kudos for your nonprofit organization’s video work over the last year.

The categories for this year’s awards include:

  • Funny for Good Award: For those creators who are doing good with a sense of humor
  • ImpactX Award: Honoring video that had a real on-the-ground impact last year
  • Best Nonprofit Video Award: Awarded to the best overall video created by a nonprofit organization
  • DoGooder YouTube Creator for Good Award: Recognizing the efforts of YouTube Creators who used their storytelling talents to support a nonprofit or social causes.

Submitting a video is a great way to improve views for your YouTube channel and video. More than 800 videos were submitted last year and there were thousands of votes. Want to know what makes a winning video? See last year’s winners and get more information.

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


Educating Journalists on Intimate Partner Violence

I spent several years on the Board of Directors for a local domestic violence prevention agency in Northern Virginia and worked with media for several years on the issue of intimate partner violence. While many of the reporters we worked with were great and wanted to share about our programs and how we were helping people re-start their lives after trauma – every now and then, one reporter would come along who would surprise me.

A major widely-read newspaper in the DC area refused to do a story about the agency unless they could publicly name, using first and last name, a survivor who had been through our programs. No amount of pleading, education about the nature of domestic violence, or practical reasoning could persuade the reporter and her editor to see otherwise.

The story stalled for months, with the reporter wanting to write something, yet the agency unable to locate a survivor who was in a place where she was comfortable about being named in a media story about domestic violence and not in a situation where doing so might jeopardize her safety. After several months, one brave survivor offered to do the interview.

The resulting story was quite good and informed thousands of people about our agency’s programs and the serious issues involved in domestic violence – but I’ve never forgotten the journalists and their intransience on the name issue. I have worked with other reporters who’ve understood these issues, even at the same newspaper, who were more willing to work to not identify a trauma survivor, than that particular duo.

Needless to say, I’m glad to see Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is offering a two-day workshop in New York next month to help journalists better understand how to cover intimate partner violence. Journalists, you can get more information about applying to attend on their website.  The workshop will:

  • Serve as a forum for improving journalists’ knowledge of critical issues such as the mental and physical health impacts of intimate partner violence; innovations in prevention and intervention; social, economic and legal implications, and responses by schools, public health institutions, and community and faith-based organizations;
  • Explore new research, reporting ideas and best practices with leading mental health, policy, and prevention experts;
  • Confront challenges — and identify opportunities — that exist for journalists pursuing these stories with limited resources;
  • Provide practical tools to enable journalists to successfully produce stories that examine the problem of intimate partner violence in diverse communities and serve to educate and encourage prevention.

Let’s all hope the workshop leads to better stories and broader understanding about the serious issue of intimate partner violence.


Facebook Organic Reach is Toast: How to Shift Your Strategy

Over the last year, the organic reach of Facebook page posts has plummeted – with nonprofit organizations, associations, small businesses and well-known brands struggling to connect with the fans they already have, much less reach out to people who don’t know them yet.

Organic reach is the total number of people who see a Facebook post that has not been boosted by paid advertising. The situation has provoked a lot of discussion. The change has provoked outrage from some of Facebook’s users – including personalities like George Takei of Star Trek fame and actor Rainn Wilson of “The Office” (who complained his posts were reaching only about 2.5 percent of his 200,000 Facebook fans).

The changes began in 2012 when Facebook restricted organic reach of content published by brand pages to 16 percent. Since then, the algorithm Facebook uses has reduced that reach further.  A year ago, a Social@Ogilvy analysis found organic reach of brand pages around 6 percent, a decline of nearly half from only four months before. For large pages with more than 500,000 Likes, organic reach hit 2 percent a year ago. And some are saying it will be zero eventually.

Facebook has discussed the decline, saying that the problem originated with exponential content creation – that as more content bubbles out, organic reach is bound to decline amid the never ending information onslaught. Even if Facebook did nothing, organic reach would inevitably decline.

The tide of news from friends, nonprofits and businesses produces a potential 1,500 stories in news feed for the average Facebook user, and as many as 15,000 stories for people with a lot of friends and page likes. But you don’t see all of those stories.

The other reason organic reach is declining is because Facebook decides which stories to show each user and prioritizes them, based on factors it calculates using an algorithm. Only 300 of the potential 1,500-3,000 stories make the cut and land in a user’s news feed, and there is no option to view your feed unfiltered now (there used to be).

In November 2014, Facebook warned page managers that “promotional” posts were going to be chopped from news feed starting in January 2015, and it happened. Facebook says the algorithm changes have cleaned out spam and improved quality over the last year in news feed, making it more engaging for users.

But the feeling many nonprofits and small businesses have is one of being choked out. A story in International Business Times called the situation “catastrophic” for nonprofits and discussed charities and their frustrations at being unable to share information with their fans on Facebook. No one wants spam, but the animal rescue that built a fan base now struggles to connect with those fans because of this problem.

Nonprofits are so concerned that a grassroots petition calling on Facebook to change its algorithm for nonprofit pages has sprung up, and garnered nearly 9,000 signatures. Other similar petitions have gained smaller followings. Ad Week interviewed six experts asking for advice to help nonprofits cope.

So presuming that Facebook makes no changes in its algorithm, what should we do? I don’t think leaving Facebook is an option for any nonprofits, associations, big brands or small businesses. It’s a social network with expansive reach. Many organizations and businesses have already invested considerable time and energy in building a Facebook presence and integrated that presence within their other marketing tools, so abandonment does not seem to be an option. Here are a few thoughts and ideas:

Up your post quality. Heed the advice and don’t post information that is self-promotional. Post content that speaks to the people who know you, your organization, your business, or your brand. Sharing content that touches the people who love you or your organization the best, will nurture a tribe of people who engage and interact with your posts. Be creative in what you post and invite discussion.

Look at Facebook Insights for your page and apply what you find. Really look at the numbers and data. Get help understanding the numbers if you need it. When you have interaction on your page, what time of day does it happen? What types of posts are people engaging with by liking, commenting or sharing? Repeat what is successful and working. Try what did not work well again, but maybe change the time you post, or add a photo, or shorten the text.

Accept that the free ride is over. Consider buying advertising (boost posts) for your Facebook page.  Facebook is now a venue where you may have to pay to get your posts seen. In many other venues, businesses and organizations expect to spend money (lots of money) to reach people. And the truth is – social media has always offered connective benefits and come with cost. Even if social media is an “added on” responsibility to someone’s full-time job, a full-time job for an employee or consultant, or being done by a volunteer (whose time is valuable), it has never been truly free – someone has always had to maintain Facebook pages and nurture communities for social media to thrive. You were investing resources in Facebook long before the organic reach algorithm change. Look at your budget and see if you can find $250 a month to boost your posts. After you spend some money on advertising, look at your analytics to learn how you can effectively target your ads to reach the people you want. Perhaps you only want to reach people within a certain geographic area, or people of a certain age.

Create an expectation in your fans that you will be distributing and sharing information on a regular basis that is useful, helpful, or inspirational. Having an editorial calendar to guide your content creation and dissemination is important now. Being predictable and reliable in your content distribution are also valuable. If you always post on Facebook a great photo with an inspiring quote on Friday that people look forward to and engage with, keep doing it – don’t skip a week. And remind people you are putting content on Facebook. Tell your fans that you will be distributing information on Facebook and remind them to like your page and to visit it for updates. Then deliver great content for them to engage with. You have to be more deliberate now than you used to be.

Beef up your other social media channels, blogging, text messaging, and email outreach. Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, and YouTube offer other ways to connect with and reach supporters. Blogging (add an RSS feed and offer an email subscription option on your blog) can give you another distribution stream for information. Email remains an effective way to distribute information to core customers and supporters who opt-in, and text-messaging (for short updates) is becoming more viable and affordable.

Talk to Us: What strategies are you using on Facebook now to be successful? Share with us your tips!

Featured image courtesy of Marco Paköeningrat and licensed via Creative Commons.

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


Facebook: Four Tips to Improve News Feed Ranking

Facebook page reach is on the decline, notes this article from TechCrunch, as people like more pages and add more friends. News feeds are increasingly log-jammed with updates and information, and nonprofits, associations and businesses are in greater competition for user attention. The article does a good job in summarizing the issues, nothing that:

The surplus of content and lack of space forces Facebook into the role of the ‘bad guy’ for filtering the feed in an attempt to show the most relevant posts (plus some ads). And so far, Facebook has done a terrible job of communicating how and why it filters the News Feed. The result is widely shared criticism like Eat24′s breakup letter to the social network that saw the company delete its 70,000-Like Facebook Page in protest of fewer and fewer of its fans seeing its posts.

The new $10 million question is: how do you get your page’s posts to show up in the news feeds of people who have “liked” your page?  Facebook uses a news feed sorting algorithm, known as EdgeRank, to sort your feed. These factors hinge on a host of personal factors, but they also include your page’s past popularity with users, what type of posts you have made that were popular in the past, how recently it was published, and how popular it is with the people who have already seen it.

What matters in the algorithm is how consistently you are sharing quality content that people care about. This means that page managers and the people writing content for Facebook posts need to work harder to craft quality posts that people care about.

Rule #1 – Don’t publish crap. The quality of what you post, is ever more important. That means no posts without photos, carefully crafted copy, and an editorial strategy for maintaining momentum on your page. Go for great copy and engagement every time.

Rule #2 – If you have boring or obligatory news, be creative. Many nonprofits include Facebook recognition for donors or program partners, who are increasingly requesting social media mentions as part of partnership programs. News of these projects – if presented in the tired old formula of “xyz gave abc” can be deadly for your Facebook news feed. Think creatively about ways to talk about partners. Use first person voices, photos, videos, graphics to punch up the interest level.

Rule #3 – Consistent publishing and page curation matter. The algorithm (and your page fans) do not care if your community manager went on vacation for two weeks – the page needs to be updated regularly and curated. Make sure you have backups trained and ready to step in when needed and an editorial strategy to guide them.

Rule #4 –  View your Facebook page as a community. Seeing your Facebook page as a community, not as just a static megaphone for information, is key to growing page reach in today’s climate. If you are building community, you are talking to people who choose to be in that community, and sharing information that they care about. While big numbers are great, the passion of the followers really matters now. This means you don’t ignore their wall posts or comments and respond to them. This means you come up with creative ways for them to participate in building content or sharing. And you should know who they are and be able to define your page audience. If you can’t answer, “who is your audience?” with more than “everyone” – then you have a long way to go.

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


Faith-Based Nonprofits: Study Says Reporters Don’t Understand Religion, Get Tips to Build Connections

Faith-based nonprofit organizations who want to share their stories in the media definitely have their work cut out for them – a new report reveals that less than one-fifth of journalists view themselves as very knowledgable about religion. Study findings:

A majority of both the public and reporters sampled believe that the media do a bad job when it comes to reporting on religion. More than half of the reporters surveyed (51.8%) and the public (57.1%) agreed that the “media does a poor job explaining the importance of religion in society.”

Reporters overall, don’t feel they understand religion well. One-half of reporters say the biggest challenge to covering religion is a lack of knowledge about the subject. Only a fifth of reporters say they are “very knowledgeable” about religion, and most of these are mainly familiar with their own religious traditions, not the wider array of faiths and practices. Yet, one-sixth of reporters say religion coverage is central to their job and one-fifth say it comes up frequently in their work.

– Reasons vary as to why reporters feel religion doesn’t get as much coverage as it could. One-half (50.2%) of all reporters say a major challenge to covering religion is a lack of knowledge of religion. Two-fifths say that a lack of time for reporting religion stories and inadequate space for such stories are major challenges (40.9% and 40.2%, respectively). About one-third (35.2%) say
that a lack of interest in religion is a major challenge to coverage, and about as many reporters (31.3%) say that a major challenge is they “Don’t know the sources” for covering religion.

The public and reporters are interested in similar topics when it comes to religion. For the public, the top three areas of interest are spirituality; religion and American politics; and local church or denomination news. For reporters, the top two interests are in religion and American and international politics, with spirituality ranking third.

TV news is not viewed as good at providing religion coverage -whether you talk to the public or reporters. And much of religious coverage is overly sensationalized, according to the public. Compared to other media formats, both the public and reporters rate TV news as the lowest in quality and quantity of religion coverage. The public and reporters rated news magazines most favorably (35.8% for the public; 41.6% for reporters), followed by newspapers (34.3% of the public; 32.0% of reporters), and then radio news (33.7% and 16.7%, respectively). Reporters were also asked to evaluate news agencies/wire services, and 24.9% offered a “good” rating. Interestingly, the public rates online news websites/blogs less favorably than reporters (31.4% to 42.0% “good” ratings), with reporters giving the highest quality ratings to online media.

– Some people – both the public and reporters themselves – believe journalists are hostile to religion. Almost two-fifths (37.1%) of the public agrees that the “news media is hostile to religion and religious people,” while one-quarter (24.6%) of reporters agree.

The public thinks religion news is too sensationalized. Two-thirds (66.5%) of the public believes there is too much sensationalism in religion coverage – a view held by less than one-third of reporters (29.8%).

A sizeable part of the public wants religion coverage. Sixty-two percent of the public say religious coverage is somewhat or very important to them. One-quarter of the public is very interested in religion coverage.

So what can faith-based nonprofits, who want to share the religious underpinnings of their activities, take from this survey?

First, don’t be disheartened, a lot of people want to know what you are doing. The survey found that 62% of the public say religious coverage is somewhat or very important to them.

Second, pitch visual and relateable stories that show community impact when you approach journalists. Visuals convey stories and numbers talk.  If you are doing an event, invite the media to come and allow them to film or photograph the event (people doing an engaging activity is always better than people attending a meeting). If your organization is doing something to address a community problem, be able to cite statistics, not just your motivation to fix something. If your faith-based organization has a ministry or works on large problems facing society (e.g. homelessness, drug recovery, low-income housing affordability, alcoholism recovery, hunger issues, divorce recovery, affordable childcare, afterschool programming, etc.) offer localized statistics that show the problem in your community if you can find them (or national statistics), and outline what your organization is doing to address the problem.

Third, think about how you can provide background information and be available to help reporters cover matters of faith in your community. Send out an email message to reporters offering your expertise on faith-based topics that you are qualified to talk about. Offer to meet one-on-one with the reporter to talk about faith-based matters. Offer to connect reporters with an area ministerial association or networking group so they can build a base of contacts in the faith-based community. Offer to meet with reporters in advance of a major event or holiday. Give them tip sheets before major holidays or events. Put together an FAQ that includes basic information about your faith as a one-pager (which you can also post on your website). When talking to reporters, don’t speak in religious jargon. Talk plainly and offer to explain unfamiliar terms.

For the study, researchers conducted a phone survey of 2,000 Americans and a parallel online survey of a representative cross-section of 800 reporters. The report was produced by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism and the University of Akron Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics. You can see the study online. I had trouble downloading it, but was able to just change the file name to .pdf and got it to open.

Thanks to Get Religion for the image.

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


Five Things You Can Do To Get Media Attention

Periodically in PR, we circulate reminders about things like 25 Things Journalists Think You Should Stop Doing Right Now.  It’s always a negative regurgitation of all the bad things public relations people do (admittedly I have seen some of my compatriots do some doozies and we as an industry deserve some rhetorical flogging for sure from journalists). But what if we flipped it toward the positive instead?  What are five things you should be doing right now to get media attention?

#1 – Advise clients when they really have a story. Be honest with clients about when they really have a story (or don’t).  Explain to clients what good story elements are. Just having a spokesperson who can comment on an already-done story is not good enough. What are the national trends that relate to what they can talk about?

#2 – Make sure your website and online press room are set up to provide information to reporters that they need. That means contact numbers and email addresses are easy to find and obvious (including after hours numbers). Stock your press room with press releases, backgrounders, statistics, photos, b-roll, and biographies so reporters can easily find what they are looking for.

#3 – Research reporters before you pitch them. Cruise Twitter, the web, etc. to learn more about the reporters you want to build relationships with and pitch stories to. Know in advance what a reporter’s interests are. Read what they write. Watch or listen to what they produce. Follow them on Twitter and re-tweet them.  Identify reporters in key niche areas that relate to the types of stories you want to pitch.

#4 – Be clear and concise when you pitch a story to a reporter. Be succinct. A good email subject line and a long paragraph may be all you have or need. If you can’t define a story within those parameters, maybe your story is not flushed out enough. A pitch is just that – a pitch – you can provide more details later if they are interested.

#5 – Be aware of the news cycle and realize that timeliness is key. Know the daily news cycle and how that impacts the journalists you are trying to connect with. Don’t pitch a newspaper reporter at 4pm who is on deadline, or a TV reporter trying to get a story on the air at 6pm. If there is major news – elections, disasters, public events of major importance – they will trump incoming pitches. Those are not good times to pitch a new story that is not related to breaking news events.  Be early – pitch your event well in advance of the date so it gets on planning calendars.

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


Five Tips on Using Hashtags Effectively in Social Media

Cramming your social media updates with hashtags may make you feel like you are in the know, but does it make your social media content more discoverable? I was on Twitter this evening and checking the hashtag for the town I live in outside DC, and found a realtor had posted seven listings in a twenty minute period for a rental property he is trying to show. While there was a little variety, three of the tweets were identical. The tweets sounded almost desperate, as if he was hoping that by volleying this vacant property into Twitter a lot, he might find a renter.

There are many ways to use hashtags and Twitter effectively in the real estate industry (see SproutSocial’s thoughts and’s field guide), but slinging machine gun timed tweets onto a hashtag is not one of them. To be fair to the realtor, some of what he was doing, completely matched what SproutSocial suggested, other than the timing with so many tweets in such a short period of time.

Here are some tips to help you improve your use of hashtags on your social media accounts.

Research the hashtags you want to tweet on. It pays to take time to research the hashtags for your industry and to understand the conversations that happen on them. Look at what conversations are already there and try to go along with them.

Know how hashtags are used on the social platforms you frequent. This excellent post by Ann Smarty on The Moz Blog provides a great summary of the differences and commonalities in how hashtags are used across Twitter, Instagram, Google Plus, Pinterest, Facebook, Tumblr and FlickR. While she thinks hashtags on Twitter are mainly useful for live-tweeting events or twitter chats, I do find them helpful for curating content in certain fields.

Create a hashtag for your organization or for a campaign you are doing. I’ve seen many organizations and businesses create hashtags either around a short slogan (my current favorite is #LikeAGirl and I was active on promoting the #ClayHunt hashtag to support veteran suicide prevention recently) or by using their name and the year. This enables your campaign followers or organization supporters to click on the hashtag and easily get updates. The use of a hashtag for an awareness campaign or special project also means you won’t have to create individual social media accounts for a campaign (my weary nonprofit communications director hat is coming out). Instead, the hashtag will steer all of the traffic for the campaign, but keep the brand value and followers on your official organization twitter feed.

Follow trends or current events through hashtags if appropriate. I had a nonprofit client use a custom hashtag and a secondary hashtag for the Super Bowl for an awareness campaign in 2014, and the response was tremendous (see our portfolio for more on this campaign). Hitching your wagon to a more popular hashtag can help you add new followers and expose your content to people you don’t know yet.

Don’t use too many hashtags. On most social platforms, too many hashtags become annoying. Instagram users seem to be the most forgiving of multiple hashtags, but on Twitter more than two hashtags seems to be too much. Remember that hashtags are there to help others find and curate content – whether that’s in the moment or over time. They are not the essence of content. Hashtags should not get in the way of the message you want to deliver – they should enhance it.

Talk to Us: What are your favorite hashtags to use for your organization and why? Do you have any additional tips on using hashtags effectively? Share below.

Featured image courtesy of Maria Elena and licensed via Creative Commons on FlickR.

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


Free TechSoup Webinar Sep. 13 on Using Mapping Tools to Show Nonprofit Impact

If you’ve ever wondered how to use location technology to illustrate the impact of your nonprofit’s efforts, there’s a number of ways to illustrate your work creatively now available.
TechSoup, the awesome website that offers technology news and support for nonprofits, is offering a free webinar on Thursday, September 13, 2012 at 11:00am Pacific Time (2pm Eastern Time zone). You can sign up here.
The webinar will focus on using Esri’s GIS tools and have two speakers – David Gadsden from ESRI’s nonprofit organization program and Andrew Schroeder, Director of Research and Analysis for Direct Relief International. Gadsden will also discuss the suite of tools available through TechSoup’s partner program, including Community Analysis, a cloud-based application.
Schroeder will discuss how they used Esri’s GIS tools during the 2010 Haiti earthquake disaster recovery effort. He’ll also explain how Direct Relief International built upon those tools to collaborate with UNFPA and the Fistula Foundation in the construction of the Global Fistula Map.
A fistula is a hole in the birth canal caused by prolonged or obstructed labor that leads often to a stillborn baby and other health problems for the mother. For every woman who receives care for an obstetric fistula condition, 50 go without it. The interactive map allows you to see where care is available, what circumstances contribute to this condition, and what you can do to help.
This screenshot shows the Global Fistula Map.
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

Getting to Know News Reporters: Professional Organizations

One way to get to know news reporters and understand the issues they care about, is to follow or join the professional organizations they are involved with. Thanks to Twitter, Facebook and the web, you can often keep up with an organization’s professional activities, conferences, awards programs and networking events easily.

What types of organizations should you look for? There may be a local media club in your city or community or a Society of Professional Journalists chapter. Professionally, there are several organizations at a national level for reporters working in particular beat areas.

Association of Food Journalists
Association of Healthcare Journalists
Capitol Beat – An Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors
Education Writers Association
Garden Writers Association of America
Investigative Reporters & Editors
Military Reporters & Editors – The Association for Military Journalists
National Association of Science Writers
Religion Writers
Society of American Business Editors & Writers
Society of Environmental Journalists
Society of Professional Journalists
National Press Club

Some professional journalism organizations allow public relations professionals to join as associate or affiliated members. If you join an association, it’s important to know their guidelines and rules. If you join a professional organization to network with journalists – remember – it’s not about selling you or your organization.

It’s about building relationships. It’s also about learning, so you can better understand the issues and topics that journalists care about. Ask questions. Try to listen more than you talk. Tred gently if you are just getting to know people in the group. Pitch in and participate. Volunteer to help with a project. If the organization has an awards program, pay attention to who wins, and congratulate them.


Getting Your Nonprofit or Association CEO on Social Media: Five Tips

Getting your nonprofit or association CEO and key leaders engaged in social media can be tougher than it looks. Some are leery of social media or don’t understand it. Others, want for social media to be something they can delegate to others. I even met a nonprofit CEO who didn’t like having his own social media feeds because he felt the nonprofit’s official feeds were more important and that people should pay attention to them, not what he might say.  A news article on how CEOs are embracing social media has drawn  interest in the nonprofit community recently, so how do you convince your nonprofit CEO to get on the social media bandwagon personally? Here are five tips to help.

Realize the power of personality. Nonprofit and association CEOs are often tireless advocates for their organizations and interests – that dynamism and passion should not be absent from social media. Your association or nonprofit’s leadership has a voice that it exercises on a regular basis – in media interviews, at public and internal events and meetings, and in countless ways within your organization. That leadership voice needs to be present in the social media space, because donors, volunteers and people who benefit from nonprofits are there. Social media users have relationships with people within organizations, not just with the organization itself.  An organization’s official Facebook community or Twitter feed – as insightful and moving as they can be in sharing about the organization and its work- are not individual people. The power of a passionate leader’s personality in social media is significant and adds to a fuller view of your nonprofit or association, and does not detract from it.

Choose the correct social media vehicle. I think one thing that scares CEOs is they worry that they need to be on many social media platforms at once. The platforms you select should be contingent on what works best for your organization’s communication goals and audiences, as well as your CEO’s comfort level. Blogging is a great tool for CEOs – but sometimes people feel like they need to write a lot, so it appears daunting to them (and something they then want to delegate to the communications staff). Facebook pages are a great place to promote a blog post or CEO Twitter feed. Twitter requires very minimal writing and is easy to update quickly via a smartphone. Even a busy CEO can find time for one tweet per day. LinkedIn has added the Twitter like update feature, which is helpful.  Don’t under-estimate the power of a one-time (well-advertised with plenty of advance notice) CEO chat on a Twitter hashtag or your Facebook page or website.

Accessibility and transparency matter today. Having a social media feed – whether it’s a blog post or a Twitter feed, sends the message that the leadership in the organization is listening and engaged within the social media sphere – where any ordinary person can set up a free account and talk to them. It also tells people that you operate transparently, can take questions (and criticism) and are reachable by ordinary people. Especially in a larger nonprofit or association, projecting this type of accessibility (and responding to questions and comments) can really help build audience perceptions of credibility and responsiveness.

It positions your organization’s leadership voices for other environments. The direct nature of social media allows you to communicate your message without filters. Many other people who matter to nonprofit and association CEOs are on social media too – donors, volunteers, stakeholders in the organization, bloggers, supporters, partners, and the media.  If your CEO has built a reputation for talking credibly on an issue in social media, he or she is more likely to be asked to comment by the media, to partner on a project by another organization, etc. If your CEO can tweet about a breaking news issue and say something intelligent – you are upping the likelihood of being asked for a media interview by reporters covering the story.

Offer to help. Often people are afraid of things they don’t know a lot about. It may take a little tutorial by the communications staff or some helpful writing prompts to get a CEO started in social media, but many find that they like the social media environment. Check in with your CEO after he or she starts using social media and see how it’s going. Offer to help. Some might need a little ghost-writing help, but it’s best if content comes directly from the CEO.

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


Go Inside the World of Morning TV News Bookers

Image courtesy of TVGnus

The Washington Post ran an interesting article this week looking at morning TV news bookers, and their frantic rush  to reach out and book people who’ve experienced trauma or crime – often unknowns who have never been on television before or never dealt with the media. The rapid pace of bookers and their cut-throat competition for “gets” can add to trauma and contribute to sensationalism.

Yet there is some humanity in the business. Sarah Boxer with CBS (who reached out to me following the Fort Hood shootings in 2009) told the Washington Post:

“You try to make it personal,” said Sarah Boxer, a CBS producer. After a tragedy, “people are stunned and shocked by what has happened, and doing a live interview is not the first thing on their mind. You want to make them comfortable and let them know that you’d be honored if you would tell us and our viewers” their stories.

In the aftermath of the Giffords shooting in Tucson in January, Boxer left cupcakes on the doorsteps of victims’ families along with a personal note. She struck up a relationship with a man whose son had died. She said he later expressed his gratitude for her humane handling of the situation by writing a note to her reading, “Thank you, cupcake girl.”

For more on TV bookers see:

12 Talent Bookers Who Keep New York Talking – The Hollywood Reporter
Jaycee Dugard: TV Networks Scramble for Interview as Book is Published – Huffington Post
Race to Secure Rights to Miners’ Ordeal is On – Broadcasting & Cable


Going the Extra Mile: Watchwords for Agencies Serving Youth from the Sandusky Second Mile Scandal

When I used to work for a youth-serving agency, I kept crisis plans in a folder in a drawer near my desk. One of them was for what to do in the event of a child abuse allegation against a staff member or volunteer.

Thankfully, I never had to use that particular crisis plan. But every agency serving young people should heed the lessons from the recent implosion of the Second Mile, over allegations of child sexual abuse by the charity’s prominent founder, Jerry Sandusky.

Sometimes the best PR is prevention. Public relations staff  can play a key role in asking, “what if?” about policies and procedures, gently nudging organizations to improve and make themselves better. Here’s a few observations emerging from the Sandusky Second Mile scandal that every charity serving young people should consider:

Check your screening procedures and safety policies for all adults interacting with young people. Most agencies serving young people today, thankfully, have put in place screening procedures that include federal and state level background checks against sex offender registries for staff and volunteers working directly with young people, as well as management policies that ensure young people are never completely alone with one adult.

Codify the policies and make sure that staff and volunteers are trained on them and understand them. Ensure that mandatory reporting procedures for suspected child abuse are clear and in place. Take allegations seriously – something that didn’t happen at Second Mile. Good policies and procedures that everyone is aware of and follows, can make it more difficult for abuse to happen.

Go one step further. Put in place safety education programs for the children and teens who are involved with your organization. A guide to help organizations and communities evaluate programs is available for free online from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (disclosure – I have consulted for many years with NCMEC).

Look at who really interacts with young people. Don’t assume that founders or “non-youth program staff” are exempt from all contact with young people. Position or celebrity are no excuse for non-compliance with agency policies when it comes to child safety. If adults are spending significant time or having contact with young people, they also need to comply with the agency’s background check procedures and child abuse prevention policies.

It may feel awkward to ask a board member or staff member who only works occasionally with young people to go through background screening or training, but awkwardness is no excuse. The situation with Second Mile should be a wake up call that obliterates any objections to background screening and training, for good.

Review your board and governance procedures – nowAn analysis by Sumption and Wyland found alarming board management practices, employment and governance issues within Second Mile, that surely played a role in fostering an environment where a predator could operate and child safety policies were circumvented. It can take time to address board deficiencies, legal snafus and governance issues. Don’t allow old governance problems to fester because they are difficult or time-consuming to address.

Preventing the victimization of children, should be an important consideration for every charity that works with young people. We should all heed the lessons of the Sandusky Second Mile scandal, and go the extra mile to ensure we are providing safer environments for young people.


Great Fundraising Idea: Cupcake Camp LA

Sweet treats will benefit nonprofits this Saturday in Los Angeles. Cupcake Camp LA will benefit nonprofits and let the public sample cupcake confections from a variety of bakeries at a family-friendly event that is reasonably priced.

Many of the amateur and professional bakers participating in the event will be debuting holiday and wedding themed cupcakes. Yum!

Proceeds will benefit:
–  Angel Acres Horse Haven Rescue – an equine rescue organization that works to dispel myths about rescued horses – many of whom are not old, sick and tired – and could go on to other pursuits besides being a delicacy on someone’s plate.

– InvisiblePeople.TV – an organization that shares the story of the “invisible” among us – the homeless. What we learn through their stories is that they are people too.

– American Tortoise Rescue – an organization that works to save turtles and tortoises, thousands of whom are illegally brought into the United States to be sold as throwaway pets. The organization offers permanent sanctuary to abandoned and lost tortoises, as well as those that are confiscated by law enforcement and require temporary housing.

One of the nice things about the website for this event, is they have short profiles written for each charity, as well as YouTube videos – so attendees can check out the charities being supported. Site visitors can also donate individually to the charities or through the event website.

There’s also Cupcake Camp LA badges available on the site to spread the word, as well as recipes. It’s a fun and low-cost way for the public to raise money to help some great nonprofits and have fun.

Get more information:


Grief in an Olympic Spotlight: Bode Miller’s Emotional NBC Interview

Twitter and media critics pounced last night on skier-turned-reporter Christin Cooper and NBC for airing an emotional interview with bronze medalist Bode Miller, where Cooper asked about his brother who died and his emotions. Miller handled the interview as tears slid down his cheeks and he finally bent over to cry with cameras rolling and Cooper sympathetically trying to pat his arm. Viewers saw him walk away weeping to his wife. The whole scenario should be used in training at journalism schools to help reporters understand when the lines are too far.

Al Tompkins from Poynter weighed in on the interview, and felt that Cooper wasn’t really listening to what Bode Miller was saying. Different questions could have given real insight into what makes Bode Miller tick, not just elicited his raw emotions. Tompkins noted that the tight video shot was done deliberately to zero in on emotion. Tompkins observed:

“the lesson here is not whether it is ethical or unethical to use video of an athlete crying. The question is whether you really listened to what the subject was saying. Ask questions that help the viewer / reader / listener go beyond the raw emotions of the moment to a deeper understanding of what is behind those emotions.

Roy Peter Clark puts it this way, “You know you are stepping over the line when the public’s attention turns away from what the subject is saying and turns toward what the interviewer is saying.”

I watched the interview and saw glimmers of my own life experience. My brother, US Army Specialist Christopher Neiberger, was killed in action in Iraq in 2007 at age 22. I have done dozens of interviews over the years as an advocate for families of fallen troops and supported many bereaved families and trauma survivors in navigating difficult emotional territory in talking with the media. I’m no Bode Miller, but I do know that grief is part of life for a long time after you have lost a loved one, and that emotions can get the better of you, even at times when you think you should be your happiest.

Bode Miller has lived his life on a public stage for many years. This was not his first media interview and it was his sixth Olympic medal. A medal that he won after a hard year that included enduring the tragic death of his 29-year-old brother, Chelone Miller, a promising snowboarder who suffered a seizure.

Asking about his brother initially was relevant to the interview because Chelone’s death was part of Miller’s Olympic biography. And Miller starts off strong and references it, saying, “This was a little different. With my brother passing away, I really wanted to come back here and race the way he sends it. So this was a little different.”

Cooper may have gotten on shaky ground by assuming a familiarity with Miller that  impaired her professional judgement. And Miller may have also lowered his guard, because after all, his interviewer was a well-known skier that he likely knew before this interview happened. But this was not a chat between friends. It was an interview for the exclusive NBC broadcast of the Olympic Games.

Miller looked to me like he may have been trying to soft-pedal the interview as he realized after mentioning his brother’s death out loud (and realizing that he was on thin ice emotionally), saying it was  “a long struggle coming in here. And, uh, just a tough year” when asked “Bode, you’re showing so much emotion down here, what’s going through your mind?” To me, that looked like Miller was trying to keep the lid on his emotions while answering Cooper’s question.  He did a good job. The NY Times thinks the interview should have stopped there, and I would agree. It was enough.

But Miller stayed in the interview and  Cooper continued, saying, “I know you wanted to be here with Chelly experiencing these games; how much does it mean to you to come up with a great performance for him? And was it for him?” She used his brother’s nickname and the question pushed him a bit further and he began to leak – as we say in the bereavement community – with tears trickling down his cheeks as he tried to answer. He responded,  “I mean, I don’t know it’s really for him. But I wanted to come here and uh — I don’t know, I guess make my self proud.” And then he wiped away his tears.

Having now made an Olympic medal winner cry – it was time for Cooper to stop – but Cooper didn’t.  Now the interview became cringe-worthy. Instead, Cooper asked who he seemed to be talking to when he looked up in the sky before he started his run down the mountain and what was up with that. It was a question that would seem to have the power to take a grieving person over the edge. And that’s when he crumpled to his knees and leaned on the fence that separated them.

To me, Miller’s reaction looked like a classic grief burst. In the bereavement community, a “grief burst” is that moment when you thought you were having an “ok” even-keeled normal functioning kind of day when something happens – it might be a song, a smell, a thought, something someone says, an over the top experience like winning your sixth Olympic medal – and the emotion surges anew. The feelings can come in an emotional torrent as fierce and strong as what you experienced when you first found out your loved one had died. Their intensity can be bewildering and unpredictable, reducing us in what should be a shining moment to emotional mush – to our knees. A moment that reminds us of our mere humanity.

Bode Miller had a grief burst on camera during what should have been one of the most victorious moments of his life – surely a moment fraught with emotion, but doubly edged because of the year he had had and the loss he had experienced. Most of us, don’t have our “grief bursts” on network TV.  Most of us have them in private without cameras rolling, or we are forced to seek solace in bathrooms, cars or other places where we can be out of sight.

Miller’s emotional moment on network TV reminds us that grief and loss and human emotion – they are part of the makeup of who we are. Sometimes these feelings do come surging out – whether or not we will them to – and at the end of the day, we can be ok. Because the burst passes. It ends. Miller didn’t stay that way. Thank goodness. Most of us don’t.

Miller handled the situation valiantly – walking away finally from the interview – and even jumping to Cooper’s defense this morning after she was criticized for going too far, tweeting, “My emotions were very raw, she asked the questions that every interviewer would have, pushing is part of it, she wasnt trying to cause pain.”

The reality is that Bode Miller has had a way worse experience than having his emotions bubble out on network TV.  His brother died. At age 29. And that moment surely overshadows a little kertuffle over a  pushy reporter’s questions in a media interview.

Photo: Bode Miller talks with his wife, Morgan, after an emotional NBC interview and winning his sixth Olympic medal. Thanks to AP for the photo.

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


Guest Post: Legal Tips for Associations and Nonprofits Engaging in Social Media

Treat all content as if it will be published forever. It is a near impossibility to remove information from the Internet, so think twice before posting any content you might regret later.

Respect others’ copyrights and trademarks. Avoid copying and pasting pictures and logos from other websites without proper permission.

Keep it confidential. Be careful not to post confidential or private information of your members, clients, or business partners, and avoid posting photos of other people without their permission.

Keep it civil. Antagonizing others on the Internet can lead to hard feelings, and if information you post is false, your organization could be liable for defamation. Spirited debates are fine, but being respectful of others helps to avoid conflict.

Adopt a policy on social media. Give your employees rules of the road for commenting about your organization or topics relating to your organization online, whether on work or personal time. For example, employees should not comment on behalf of the organization unless they are authorized, and should not let participation in social media interfere with their work. This can be part of a general policy on communications about the company.

Consider your employeees’ rights. Be careful when making employment decisions based on employee social media use. Federal law limits most organizations from restricting their employees from discussing terms and conditions of employment on social media, and information employees post to their social media pages could implicate anti-discrimination laws.

Review social networking platform terms. Many prominent social networking sites have rules governing what you can and cannot post, which an affect your marketing strategy. If your organization maintains a presence on a social network, keep these rules in mind.

Reprinted with permission. Presented by Bret Cohen, Esq., Privacy and Information Practice, Hogan Lovells at the PRSA-NCC Third Annual Public Relations Issues of the Day for Associations and Nonprofits, on November 6, 2013

Thanks to Creative Commons for licensing this featured image. The license and original image can be found here.



Handling Media Relations With Sensitivity: Video Interview

Thanks to Mary Fletcher at Conversations in Public Relations for talking with Ami Neiberger-Miller about the challenges in working with reporters on behalf of an organization called the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, that works with gold star families who have all lost loved ones serving in the Armed Forces. These losses are often violent, sudden, and unexpected – so families are coping with the affects of the loss for a long time and rebuilding their lives.

Because virtually all of the families involved with TAPS have suffered trauma, media relations has to be conducted with a great deal of sensitivity and caring. Honest  communication between reporters and public relations staff is critical when working on a story and talking about potential news coverage. Ami talks about the variety of reporters she’s met – from those having very prescriptive requests, to those that operate with a degree of caring.

Having agreement within an organization about how you manage media when the stakes are so high is also really important, so you can respond consistently to media requests. Ami focuses on giving trauma survivors a degree of control of their own voices and situation. While sometimes people going through trauma don’t want to share their stories, for many, sharing can be a part of their healing. But for others, privacy is really important and necessary.


Also in this interview, Ami talks about the Fort Hood shootings and the challenges it brought. the TAPS office at Fort Hood was locked down – with staff locked into the office with widows and children who were supposed to go on a field trip that afternoon. Reporters were calling Ami at the main TAPS office in DC and trying to get a sense of what was happening on post. We were issuing information to reporters as we knew it, and doing the best we could.

The TAPS Call Center experienced a 250% increase in calls by families of fallen troops seeking extra support due to the shootings. Because of the publicity around the shootings and so many service members died, and because military death notification operates according to very specific protocols, every gold star family in America knew that that evening, a group of new families would be getting the dreaded “knock on the door.” This led many – even those with losses from years before – to remember their own notifications and for those feelings to re-surge. As a result, TAPS brought in extra support staff with mental health training to assist in talking with families.

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.



HBO’s The Newsroom: What We Can Learn

Sorkin’s The Newsroom offers a renegade yearning for
journalism by ideals, not ratings

HBO debuted last night a new Aaron Sorkin creation called The Newsroom which is drawing plenty of critical fire while spewing delightful dialogue onto the airways.

The plot: Evening news anchor Will McAvoy has stirred trouble for himself by lamblasting a student who asks why America is the greatest country on earth. In his view – it’s not. He blames his tirade on vertigo medication but he was distracted by a woman in the audience he thinks he sees, holding signs that say “it’s not but it could be.” You find out that he’s pulling in a hefty paycheck but lost any predilection for cutting edge speaking truth to power journalism. While McAvoy’s on vacation, his boss, played by the superb Sam Waterston, ships out his executive producer and staff to another rising star. McAvoy’s ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale,who has just returned from 2+ years covering the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is brought in to run the show. Just as the newsroom personality ego war heats up, a breaking news story hits the wires pulled from the real headlines – the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The news team must battle their own dis-trust of each other and the clock to pull off an hour long show that looks beyond the surface details reported by the Coast Guard and exposes many of the real problems the country will face.

While providing an imperfect picture of a real cable TV nightly news show operating today, the show offers some insight that nonprofits and others seeking to work with the news media can learn from.

Booking on breaking news is super fast. A great resume with credentials to talk about a topic and the ability to answer a phone call or email right away can make the difference in being the expert on air – and being the guy watching the show at home. When news on the Deep Water Horizon spill breaks, viewers hear executive producer MacKenzie McHale quip, “book whoever answers first” when her staff rattle off names of renowned geologists who might be potential guests discussing the environmental impact of the spill. The first guy with credentials and not in a meeting who can answer the phone will be the guy booked and talking on air.
Even the big boys follow what others are reporting – and yes, tips from sources do exist. The initial news of the Deep Water Horizon spill arrives in the network news room via the news wire feed and it’s reported initially as a search and recovery mission – but it doesn’t take long for the staff to figure out that there’s an environmental disaster mushrooming from a spill of this magnitude (tipped off by friends of one of the new staffers having his rocky first day on the job) and to start raking for details. It’s common for stories to feed and mushroom at a national level. Interest from a major show can draw the other networks into the story.
Speaking truth to stupid: Do people really fear journalism is dying? Sorkin certainly conjures ghosts of Kronkite and other titans of journalism with a call to “Reclaiming journalism as an honorable profession” in the show. Many reporters today lament the shrinking time they get for stories, the limited resources they have to pursue them, and the emphasis on entertainment and first to get it coverage, over in-depth analysis. The show’s characters drink Sorkin’s idealistic Kool-Aid happily, and I think a lot of viewers will too. 
One interesting dynamic the show brings out that commentators have not noted much – the dilemma of what networks and media outlets will do with a generation of journalists who have spent the last decade in the trenches of war overseas covering US troops. One can hardly expect for these journalists to return to newsrooms and be satisfied with reporting news about Lindsay Lohan and the Kardashians. McHale and her battle-hardened team come across as trying to define a new mission – one to remake journalism according to its ideals, not its ratings and worst excesses.
Do news people really speak in the delightfully erudite rapid fire dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin? Not really. But there is a yearning among many for journalism to return to its roots of yesteryear. 
Ami Neiberger-Miller is a public relations strategist and writer. She is the founder of Steppingstone LLC, a virtual and independent public relations practice near Washington, D.C. that provides public relations counsel, social media advice, writing services, and creative design work for publications and websites (portfolio). Ami blogs frequently about media relations, social media, public relations and other issues. She also reviews books on her blog about public relations, nonprofit life, work-family balance and social media practice. Follow her on Twitter @AmazingPRMaven.

Heed the Postal Prime Directive (And Your Direct Mail Shop): How an Event Promotion Got Off Track

I love reading the lighthearted e-newsletters written by Ellen Paul at Paul & Partners. Ellen knows postal regulations backwards and forwards – and is a direct mail maven. She’s also great at helping organizations raise money through the mail, but sometimes clients come along who don’t heed her advice. In this guest blog post below, she shares how a client project to promote an event went off the tracks and how not to make similar mistakes.

Dear Upset Customer,
I am truly sorry that your event announcement did not arrive until after your event. I am sure that not having your audience aware of the event until two days afterward did indeed have a dampening effect on your turnout.

I can only imagine how many dollars you lost at the door. And I don’t wish to imagine your boss’s reaction to a largely empty room.

If you need help with editing your resume, please let me know. I’d be glad to help.

In the meantime, let’s look at my job log to see what went wrong.

Event day minus 10. You came to me with another rush project. I know you were on a budget-you’re always on a budget-but opting to mail at Standard rate this time is penny wise and pound foolish. You certainly will save a lot of money in postage. Hurrah for that! Even a cheapskate like Scotty, intrepid engineer of the Starship Enterprise, would appreciate the effort. But what you’ll save in postage you’ll spend in extra time in the mail. You need warp drive. You won’t get it.

It’s always a time-versus-money equation at the post office. Ignore that basic rule-the Postal Prime Directive-at your peril. At this time when the Post Office is in flux, you should be super sensitive to the PPD.

I did warn you that the post office is cutting staff and closing facilities to trim costs. Smaller staff means longer delivery times. Delivery is less predictable than ever. Even First Class is taking 3 days; mailing at Standard when you have a short window of opportunity is like hugging an angry Klingon warrior. No good can ever come of it.

Yet somehow you thought your mail would be exempt from the Postal Prime Directive: More Postage, Faster Delivery; Less Postage, Slower Delivery. It was my first clue that you were suffering from Magical Thinking.

Oh yes, you still don’t have your data or artwork ready.

E-Day minus 9. You want me to Guarantee (your word!) that your mail will arrive “in home” on a specific day. I can’t and I won’t. I’m not nuts, after all. Once we drop your mail at the post office we have no control of it. It drops into a black hole, a time warp, and who knows where or when it will come out on the other end.

Still no data, but you sent some of the artwork today. Now we’re making modest progress.

E-Day minus 8. You want us to put a note on your mail piece requesting the Postmaster to deliver on a specific day. And we did. But will the Postmaster see your magical message? Probably not. Will he act on it? Nope, again. But it makes you feel better-like Bones’ placebo makes a sick man feel healthier. It’s more magical thinking.

You sent your data today. That’s good. But you changed your artwork twice. That’s bad.

E-Day minus 7. Today we had to fix your newest artwork-your third-again. It lacked an address panel and didn’t allow for bleeds. And of course, it was full color, not the 2-color you had initially asked for and we had spec’d.

We’re losing time in printing. But finally data is moving ahead. BTW, sending data at 5:00 last night is like sending it first thing today. Nothing happened overnight, but now we can get on it.

E-Day minus 6. Finally on press. We’re waiting for materials to dry so we can start addressing. Your event is only 6 days away, and I have an intense feeling of dread. You refused again to let us mail at First Class because your budget won’t allow it. My anxiety increases.

E-Day minus 5. We’ve taken your mail to the post office today, but I fear you’ve lobbed the fatal photon torpedo at your own promotion. Your event is less than one week away and your announcements are just going out.

Mailing late is courting disaster under the best of circumstances. Mailing late and mailing at Standard is a lethal combination. Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock are down for the count on a hostile planet circling a star going super nova, and the transporter is out of commission. Yet somehow Kirk and Spock (with able assistance from Scotty and Bones) always seem to pull off a miraculous rescue at the end. Maybe the post office will do the same for you, I theorize hopefully.

Yikes! Now I’m using your Magical Thinking!

But no, it didn’t happen. The Post Office delivered two days after your event-but still ahead of its performance standard.

I’m so sorry. We did everything we could to make your mailing a success. We advised, we counseled, we wheedled, but you remained adamant in your decisions. I guess this job was star-crossed from lift off.

We tried to pull off what no man has pulled off before. But the realities of the Postal Prime Directive, poorly prepared artwork, and an intransigent, ill-prepared client spelled doom. And that’s all she wrote.

Next time, listen to your mailshop when they try to give you good advice.

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


Holiday Cards: Forging Relationships with Reporters

This holiday card by Pasado’s Safe Haven shows a rescued pup

It’s the holiday season and many nonprofits sent out weeks ago their infamous “end of the year” fundraising appeal letters, aiming for last-minute holiday donations from well-wishers (who also don’t mind getting a tax write-off). Many nonprofits focus on end of the year fundraising, but have you ever considered the value of simple holiday cards for relationship-building with reporters?

I’m always surprised when I encounter nonprofits that don’t send out holiday cards. Some view them as a stodgy antique from the past, or as a luxury they simply can’t afford (after seeing what the larger nonprofits do when they specially order holiday cards with their logos and program images and lamenting that they could never afford anything half as nice). The big boys have a point – holiday cards can help nonprofits build relationships with donors, the media, supporters, and partners.

For some nonprofits, a holiday card image can be a great opportunity to be a little playful with your mission and cute – in a way that nonprofits often can’t be. Even if you don’t have a big budget – printers today have more options for customizing cards – including simple layouts where you can pop in your logo. While it’s better to send a card that reflects your nonprofit’s mission and work – even just a regular box of Hallmark cards will work just fine. Pick something in tone with your organization and its work.

As a public relations professional who works with a number of reporters on behalf of nonprofits – I see a lot of value in sending holiday cards from the nonprofit to the reporters they’ve worked with throughout the year.
I constantly remind nonprofits – media relations should be about forging long-term relationships with reporters. Sending simple holiday cards are an easy way to foster and build those relationships.

It’s rare in our society today, that people hear the words “thank you” and sending a card is a great way to express your gratitude and wish them a happy holiday season. Many people today only get holiday cards from vendors selling services, not people who just want to say thanks for support or help.

The holiday card is a great opportunity to thank reporters, producers and others who have helped the agency throughout the year. Conveniently, it also reminds reporters about your organization and what you are about. When they return to their office after New Year’s – there your card will be – hanging in their cubicle in the newsroom – a reminder to call you about that story – and a reminder that you are a decent person who knows how to say thank you – and isn’t just in it to sell them another story.

Keep what you write in the card short and sweet – thank them for their help this year and wish them a happy holiday season. This is no time to pitch a story, followup on a call, request a donation, or ask for a correction. Just be neighborly and gracious.

And yes, some people did already send out their holiday cards this year and it’s December 14th today – but you still have time for this year to send out a few cards to reporters you want to thank. You don’t have to do a lot – just send a handful to people you worked with this year on stories.

A number of nonprofits also raise money (and awareness) by selling holiday cards for supporters to mail out to friends and family. The card shown above by Pasado’s Safe Haven shows a rescued pup wearing a fun Santa hat, and they sell these cards to raise funds and awareness. Don’t forget to mark your calendar for next year’s holiday cards – so you can get started earlier if necessary.

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