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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.

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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 Realtor.org’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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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: http://cupcakecampla.bakespace.com/

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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.

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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.

 

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Handling Media Relations With Sensitivity: Video Interview

Thanks to Mary Fletcher at Conversations in Public Relations for talking with me for PRSA-NCC’s blog about the challenges in working with reporters and families of the fallen on behalf of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS).

In this interview, I talk about the Fort Hood shootings and the challenges faced with an office locked down, incoming media calls, and the 250% increase in calls by survivors seeking extra support. While sometimes people going through trauma don’t want to share their stories, for many, sharing can be a part of their healing. Open communication between reporters and communications staff is critical to working out details. Having agreement within an organization about how you manage media is also really important, so you can respond consistently to media requests and explain things clearly to survivors too.

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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.
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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.

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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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How Not to Flounder on Facebook: Tips for Your Nonprofit

Quite often, I hear about nonprofit organizations starting a Facebook page and floundering. They launch a Facebook page without consideration for the medium, the audience, or their own goals and needs for their organization. To make it even worse, usually someone in charge (who did not launch the page) has heard a rumor about another nonprofit that is raising thousands of dollars on Facebook with just a few clicks, and wants for you to do the same thing overnight, while continuing to do your other job responsibilities.

So how do you rescue your nonprofit from flopping around and become a tech-savvy nonprofit using Facebook with expertise? These five tips are a starting point to rescue your nonprofit from floundering on Facebook.

1. Set goals for your organization’s Facebook presence. What does your organization want to gain from being on Facebook? Do you want to connect with existing donors and supporters? Are you hoping to meet new donors and supporters? Are you planning to raise money for your programs? If you are mainly just trying to claim some Facebook turf because someone told you to – can you consider that maybe your organization could gain more from this form of communication? That you might see other dividends, in the form of closer relationships with supporters and a less formal face to your mission?

2. Keep the tone conversational. Facebook is an informal environment. This is the place where people share photos of their children, comment on sports teams, and play games like Farmville. Your tone should be conversational and not just PR-ese or news release copy. If posting a link to a press release or a program page, write a more informal comment with the post.

3. Ask for engagement.  Ask questions with a photo so your organization stands out. Invite your Facebook users to talk about things that matter to them and relate to your nonprofit’s mission. Acknowledge key dates and holidays that matter to your supporters.

4. Add Facebook to your organization’s website and email signatures. You would be surprised how many nonprofits forget to add a link to their Facebook presence to their website and email signatures.

5. Use a social media calendar. As nonprofits acquire Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts and compete for attention, the need for scheduling outgoing communications has gotten even more significant. It’s an information-heavy world, even for nonprofits. If you have two programs jockeying for Facebook time, schedule them over two days. Try to post regularly on Facebook – once per day is great. Look at your comments and “likes” – determine what is the best time for you to post information by the level of user interaction you attract.

6. Appoint staff time for managing your organization’s Facebook page. Yes, Facebook can be added to another person’s job responsibilities. But it does not take care of itself. Tending and feeding of this medium is required. Don’t forget to cross-train a few people and share the passcodes among the staff, so if someone is out of town or gets sick, you don’t have any way to update.

7. Do not set up your nonprofit organization as a person.  Setting up a nonprofit entity as a personal account on Facebook like a person violates the terms of use, and can get your account deleted. I am always amazed when I see groups on Facebook who are still doing this, and have heard some horror stories from those who have been busted. Set up your account as a nonprofit organization.

8. Familiarize yourself with the tools and monitoring capabilities. Set up notifications for comments so you can monitor them in real-time and not be surprised by a phone call from a higher up who just went on your page and found something alarming. Learn how to read the Insights reports Facebook will email you and look at the numbers weekly.

9. Design policies for commenting and posting on your nonprofit’s Facebook page. What comments should be kept on your Facebook page? If another organization posts information on your page and is trying to raise money, for a similar cause, do you leave it or delete it? If someone is posting a link to promote something that might be useful to your supporters/members, should you leave it, or delete it? If someone goes on the page and posts something obviously crazy, then do you keep it or delete it? And what qualifies someone to be banned as a user? If a researcher goes on your page and wants to solicit your members for research, are you ok with that? What about a reporter who is fishing for a story, comment or source? What about internal policies for your staff about what qualifies for a Facebook post?

10. Remember – it’s about building relationships. Facebook is another avenue for communicating with supporters, donors, and the public. Ultimately, it is about furthering your organization’s relationships with these key audiences. To do that, your conversations on Facebook must be real and authentic, not just auto-feeds, pleas for money, and press releases. This is a format that rewards sincerity and invites sharing. It’s a great opportunity for many nonprofits to share their stories and missions.

These are just a few tips – here’s some additional online resources to help your nonprofit manage its Facebook presence:

Facebook Best Practices for Nonprofits by Heather Mansfield at Diosa

Nonprofits on Facebook

Facebook 101 for Nonprofits

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How the Top 50 Nonprofits Do Social Media: CraigConnects Gives the Scoop

Are the top nonprofit organizations using social media effectively and how are people responding? CraigConnects examined Facebook and Twitter postings by the top 50 nonprofit organizations in August and September 2011. All of the organizations in the study had net incomes over $277 million dollars.

Far and away, PBS had the most comments on Facebook with 17,205 comments during the two-month study period. It’s closest competitor was Planned Parenthood, with 6,577 comments, followed by the American Red Cross (5,336 comments), the Nature Conservancy (5,254 comments) and Susan G. Komen for the Cure (3,782 comments).

PBS was also the most “liked” on Facebook with 928,605 fans, followed by World Vision (656,152), the Metropolitan Museum (555,992), Susan G. Komen for the Cure (499,661) and ALSAC/St. Jude’s Research Hospital (476,270). PBS was a second in terms of Facebook postings with 211 posts in two months, compared with Food for the Poor’s 220 posts. Feed the Children made 209 posts, the United States Fund for UNICEF made 175 posts, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art had 120 posts.

No surprise – PBS ranked #1 in Twitter followers with 840,653 and was the most talkative on Twitter with 877 posts over the two-month study period. PBS ranked second in following others, with 174,137, behind the American Cancer Society (200,522).

It should be noted that even the smallest organization in this study, had a budget in the hundreds of millions of dollars. So they potentially had the funding and staff time to learn social media technologies and hire consultants to help them as they built social media presences. Yet for all their dollars, that didn’t necessarily mean social media success. A number of the larger nonprofits have low numbers – with YMCA of the United States with only 176 Twitter followers and Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home with only 134 Twitter followers. Both didn’t join Twitter until 2010.

But for an early adopter like Operations Blessing International Relief, early adoption of social media technology didn’t necessarily mean followers in the hundreds of thousands. Even after 3 years on Twitter, the organization only had 2,306 followers – a far cry from the American Red Cross’s 534,006 followers. The American Red Cross joined Twitter only 5 months before Operations Blessing International Relief.

What’s the good news in all this for average, run of the mill nonprofits? First, money did not always equate to dominance, even among these larger nonprofits. PBS ranked 31st in funding, yet was #1 in Facebook comments and likes. The researchers noted when looking at Twitter activity, that quality seemed to matter more than quantity. The researchers note that a commitment to fostering conversations and interactions, matters more than money, when it comes to the social media space.

Because the researchers at CraigConnects only looked at the 50 largest nonprofit organizations (in terms of budgetary size), the results may seem disheartening to smaller nonprofit organizations, who may be doing quite well at engagement in social media. In some cases, smaller organizations may have higher rates of social media engagement, simply because they are working with smaller communities that care about a cause.

See the infographic summarizing the report.

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How to Pitch a Blogger

A glowing post on a blog frequented by people likely to empathize with your nonprofit’s cause can be a PR bullseye. But how do you reach out to a blogger to talk about your organization and suggest a post or visibility?

First of all – you need to know what a blog is. It is an online “web log” or journal, written by one or more people. A blog may be devoted to a particular topic or niche group of interests. You need to read blogs that cover your field to understand how dialogue is structured and the topics that crop up.

You need to understand the blog you want to pitch. Read several posts on the blog. Look at the comments and see which posts have tended to attract more comments or interaction. Read the “About” section if there is one. Try to understand who is writing the blog and what he or she cares about.

Comment on a post. Select one of the posts on the blog and write a brief and appropriate comment. DO NOT pitch your organization for coverage or visibility right off the bat. Just try to contribute to the dialogue that the blogger is trying to foster.

Pitch a story that will be of interest to the blog’s readers. The temptation is sometimes to beg – but the reality is that you will get covered by a blog, when the owner thinks you have a story of interest to his or her readers. Write a succinct email to the blogger and suggest a good story idea. Demonstrate in  your note why you believe his or her readers will be interested.

21 Tips on Pitching Bloggers

11 Tips to Pitching Bloggers

How Not to Pitch a Blog

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How TV News Changes Are Impacting PR for Nonprofits

To save money and maximize profits, many TV news stations are making radical changes to their staffing plans. Instead of keeping seasoned reporters and anchor people around, they’re opting not to review contracts on middle aged and older staff.

The departure of three well-known news anchor women in Baltimore from local TV news stations and the loss of sports staffers from the Washington market, certainly sparked consternation. Bob Papper, a journalism professor at Hoftstra University and author of a major media industry study, told the Baltimore Sun that finances are a big consideration for stations:

Stations have found they can do just as well in the ratings with one anchor as they have done for decades with two. And dropping an anchor who is making $200,000 to $250,000, as a veteran anchor in Baltimore can do, is an instant and significant savings.

“That’s four to seven positions or more,” Papper says of the $250,000 figure. “And as new media become more and more important — and those are young people being hired in many cases right out of school — that’s a whole bunch of positions you can fund by cutting just one veteran anchor who comes up for renewal.”

Today’s news operations are getting leaner and meaner, they’re hiring younger staff and jettisoning “seasoned” reporters and anchor staff, and they’re shifting their reporting styles to cover what’s popular. So what does this mean for communicators working at nonprofits who are trying to share their story with the media?

Don’t assume that a reporter will spend a lot of time understanding your issue or program. I went on a six hour shoot last year with a reporter who was covering a major story about one of my clients that had broad implications to thousands of people. It was the longest shoot I have EVER done with TV news – covering two locations in different parts of the city. The TV crew included a reporter, a producer and a camera operator. But that’s highly unusual. Typically, you can expect a reporter to stick around maybe 20 minutes to an hour. Sometimes a little longer. And nowdays, the same person might be operating the camera and doing the interviews.

Expect to see more pool footage in big markets, and make friends with the people running the pool footage operation. I held a news conference last week for a client at the National Press Club to announce a major settlement in a class action lawsuit helping veterans with PTSD who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I got a call an hour before it started from the local DC TV pool group. This organization actually sends a camera person, occasionally with a local producer from one of the participating stations, to events to film b-roll and collect interviews that are utilized by all four TV news stations in the Washington, D.C. market.
They were planning to arrive late (after the news conference) and were hoping that we could linger a bit so they could get some interviews. Of course – we lingered and talked with them. And sure enough, a story ran. I monitored all 4 stations to see which ones picked up the story.

Expect more solo camera people who double as reporters. It used to be you would see a TV news crew pull up in a van, and there would be a reporter in the passenger seat, usually talking on the phone setting up the next story. And there would be a guy driving who was often the camera person too. Increasingly, local tv stations are hiring young reporters who can shoot footage and gather interviews as solo operators, as well as edit the stories back at the station. My stepson was actually hired in this role for his first job out of college with a journalism degree, with a CBS affiliate. While he was sometimes paired with a reporter, he was often on his own to collect footage, voiceover the story and get it on the air.

The studios at WBAL in Baltimore.

Be aware of the time. TV news has always been very driven by the time of the daily newscast. Don’t expect for the reporter or camera person to linger for hours to get a few shots or wait for someone to get out of a meeting.But these changes in the TV industry today mean that the reporter often has even less time to try to understand your story, and is usually in a big rush to get footage on the air in time. The closer it gets to evening air time, the more stressed reporters are for time. If you are planning an event, don’t time it for right before the evening newscast.

It’s imperative that you be organized for a story pitch. Have your statistics, interview sources, and background materials ready before you pitch a story to the media. Be able to explain your issue clearly and succinctly to the reporter, so he or she can clearly understand what you are trying to say. They are more reliant on public relations staff today, than ever before, for the materials and research for a story.

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Integrating Social Media Strategies: Care2 Webinar Sept. 28

Getting your social media outreach and other campaigns in synch can be challenging. Care2 is offering a free webinar on Tuesday, September 28 at 2pm EDT on “Cutting Edge Integrated Social Media Strategies.” Here’s the description:

Join Alan Rosenblatt, Associate Director of Online Advocacy at Center for American Progress, Garth Moore, Internet Director at 1Sky, and Justin Perkins, Director of Nonprofit Strategy at Care2 for a discussion about cutting edge integrated social media strategies . Alan will discuss some of the latest techniques he has used for building community and cultivating superactivists at the Center for American Progress, and Garth will share a case study of using Care2’s new Social Network Tracker Data tool to rapidly grow 1sky’s Facebook and Twitter fan base via email campaigns, and identify and cultivate some of the highest-performing activists – both online and offline – in the process.

Register online to attend.

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Is the Kony 2012 Campaign a Flop? The Jury’s Still Out

Nonprofit Quarterly ran an interesting article about the Kony 2012 campaign fizzling out. The writer looks at several issues, including issues with Invisible Children effectively mobilizing its base for Make Kony Famous and Cover the Night  on April 20, questions about where the money raised is going, the fact that Ugandans (including some of the people appearing in the Kony Part II video) were upset by it and found it mis-represented their country, and the satires and lampoons that happened in the popular media based on the video and its creator’s mental breakdown.

It also raised a lot of questions about Invisible Children as a nonprofit, with the international NGO community asking where this small organization came from, that had produced this moving and emotional video that garnered the most hits ever on YouTube. I can’t help but think that some of the criticism, at least, was jealousy, that such a small group, unknown in broader circles, had stirred up such a ruckus. The crush of attention was so paralyzing that the film’s creator was hospitalized and images of him running naked in the streets became associated with the campaign and stimulated a flurry of additional media reports.

Instead of this being a nonprofit fairy tale where the bad guy gets captured and the good guys get what they came for, it’s become a case study in how rabid success can overwhelm a small nonprofit and its leaders.

It’s also sparked commentary from Ugandans and a new campaign called Stop the Pity by a nonprofit called Mama Hope which views the Kony 2012 video as feeding into stereotypes about Africans. They’ve released three videos using humor to create new perceptions of Africa and show it is full of capable people with the potential to support themselves.The aim is to create a new conversation about the continent and humanize the people who live there.

By and large, Invisible Children seems to be holding its own, but the organization is facing renewed scrutiny of its activities, memberships, fundraising, and work on the ground in Uganda. Invisible Children reported $13.7 million in revenue on its 990 with a significant amount held in assets (about $6 million) and a little more than 80% of funds going to program expenses. Charity Navigator gives the nonprofit a four star rating for financial management and a two star rating for accountability and transparency.  It’s Charity Navigator rating was lowered 15 points for not having an independent voting board with at least five members. The charity’s audited financials were prepared by an independent accountant, but it did not have an audit oversight committee. As a relatively young nonprofit founded in 2003, Invisible Children has still got some growing to do.

But is the Kony 2012 campaign a flop?

It definitely simplified the situation – and stirred ire among people who feel the Kony 2012 video mis-portrays their country and stereotypes Africans. But it also got Americans to talk about Africa a lot more than we have for a very long time. It’s garnered huge press attention in the United States and gotten people talking about something that to date, had never captured their attention before.

It did get us to talk about the warlord’s crimes. Kony and his weakened Lord’s Resistance Army continue to terrorize villages. Since leaving Uganda several years ago, they have targeted villagers in a triangle of forests straddling the Central African Republic, Congo and South Sudan. Since 2008, the LRA has killed more than 2,400 people and kidnapped at least 3,400, according to the United Nations. Last year the LRA displaced 466,000 people.

The campaign sparked officials to do something. A rare bipartisan effort to condemn Kony is underway on Capitol Hill. The Associated Press reported that US Special Forces are involved in the hunt for Kony (attention an advisory military mission might not have garnered, were there not a campaign drawing attention to it) and President Obama also affirmed his commitment to helping locate the on the war criminal and bring him to justice.

The campaign demonstrated the power of social media in a new way. The numbers are staggering, with 88.9 million views on YouTube for the original Kony 2012 video. In an interview with the Washington Post, Invisible Children’s founder says their original goal was for the video to garner 500,000 views in a year.

It also affirmed the ability of a nonprofit organization to stir attention. Is Invisible Children perfect? No. Is their video perfect? No. But have they gotten people to talk about an issue and weigh in? Yes.

I think the jury is still out on whether the Kony 2012 campaign is a flop. This fairy tale soap opera nonprofit saga still has a few acts 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 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.

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Keeping Your Website Re-Design From Sputtering: Tips to Help

It all starts so promisingly. You envision a website with clean design elements, clear copy that demonstrates your organization’s passion and uniqueness, and pristine navigation that directs clients, volunteers and donors to their respective pages. On this new website, no one will ever complain about not being able to find something, not properly showcasing a program or project, and users will understand how to interact with your organization.

Sketch of dcflamenco.com’s re-design in progress

Then you start the re-design. You enthusiastically meet with co-workers, gather input, get clarance from the boss, and start dreaming outside the box. You sketch flip charts full of navigational structure diagrams and mock up a new home page. You look at social media tools, photos, and think about best practices in web design and how your site will “speak” and interact with its core audiences.

Then,the reality of the re-design -with roll-out needs and time lines, people who must be “in the know” or want to offer feedback, and the sheer size of it – threaten to overwhelm you. Your enthusiasm – when the navigation looked so tidy, the new home page design was so awesome, and the ground rules for referreeing the home page seemed so clear – has  slipped away. How do you re-capture the heady momentum of early days and prevent your website re-design from sputtering to a slow and painful halt?


1. Block time. As much as you can. 
Doggedly schedule conference calls and planning meetings if you are working with a team. Don’t settle for just meeting – each person should have at least one accomplishment that moves the project forward to report. Block time outside of project team meetings to work on your tasks related to the re-design.

2. Listen to feedback, but don’t allow other voices to sabotage the project.
One thing a website re-design will bring out of the woodwork is a cacophony of voices – the program manager who thinks his program must always be on the home page, the obsessive compulsive editor who wants to approve every detail, and the doomsday naysayer who thinks the database will proverbially bite. All of these voices may have input to offer, but they can be momentum suckers. Meet with the people with concerns one-on-one or in focus groups, but do not allow the project to be steamrolled by a cumbersome project committee comprised of everyone with an opinion. Structuring a mechanism for listening to and responding to stakeholders can address their concerns and allow you to keep momentum.

3. Keep the dream team on task.
Hopefully, you asked your boss to help you assemble the team you need for the re-design – the real team to do the work – whether that’s staff, or staff plus consultants. Only put on the team the people you need to implement the re-design. If the team has been meeting for a while and feels stuck creatively – talk openly about your concerns and how to jumpstart your productivity. Maybe you need to look at new designs, take a break from your regular meeting format and do some exercises to expand your creative vision for the project. Maintaining a sense of community within the team, is an important part of keeping a large re-design project on task.

4. Draft a plan for the re-design. And follow it.
It’s amazing to me how often organizations – complex ones – with large websites – will start a re-design without a project plan in place. Sometimes this happens because of the creative process. One person started sketching and shared a vision, and others latched onto it and started moving forward. Sometimes it is easier to hold a committee meeting than to write a plan – but too many committee meetings and not enough action will leave you feeling like your wheels are spinning. It’s important to draft a plan for implementation with a time line for the website re-design. Hold yourself accountable to the deadlines in the plan. If you get off kilter or out of synch – whip out the plan and revise the time lines to something that is realistic.

5. Facilitate conversations – to get approvals and keep the re-design moving forward.
Sometimes a re-design sputters because the project team is waiting on valuable feedback from above. The team is eager to move forward, but their early drafts and versions are waiting on critical approvals. Park your butt outside the boss’s office. Get on the calendar. Do what you have to do, to get designs and copy approved. While you’re waiting, keep the team moving forward on the project implementation plan, as much as possible. Sometimes the re-design sputters, because of technical glitches. Perhaps an outside company was hired for the re-design, but the organization’s internal IT staff will need to maintain the pages and critical technical components must be in synch in order for the transition to be seamless. Getting all of these people talking to each other can be really important. You may have to facilitate these conversations and continually ask if follow-ups are happening.

6. Keep your focus on what’s important.
Remember why you started the re-design in the first place. You wanted a website that clearly communicates with volunteers, clients, staff and donors. You wanted a site that not only spoke to people, but allowed them to speak back through social media components. You wanted to have a website that truly showcases how your organization makes a difference in the world Sometimes writing down a few keywords – of what you really want in a web re-design – and putting them up in your office – can be a big help. Cheesey? Perhaps. But when you get stuck in the muck – an inspirational note may help restore your focus on what’s really important.

Your nonprofit organization’s website is your window to the world. If your website re-design sputters – you can get unstuck and get back on track.

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Legal Protections Extend to Social Networking Site Features

We PR people often have to protect our clients from, ahem, themselves. And social media sites offer plenty of opportunity for clients to do a great job promoting themselves and the companies and organizations they work with and support. Unfortunately, they also open up an abyss of trouble.

Recently, as part of a copyright infringement case, a federal court ruled that comments and messages to a restricted set of users on a social networking site are protected from discovery, reports the National Law Journal.

According to the writers:

The ruling could permanently change the way “social networking” sites are viewed by businesses and those involved in litigation. The decision also appears to offer the first in-depth analysis on the effect of “privacy settings” found on many social networking sites and whether information is protected from discovery by federal privacy laws.

One of the biggest things about the decision – privacy settings matter – the court ruled that private messaging features on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace, are private communications, similar to email messages. It also ruled that wall posts on Facebook and MySpace to only a restricted number of people, are protected.

For more information about the case, look up Crispin v. Christian Audigier Inc., 2010 U.S. Dist. Lexis 52832 (C.D. Calif. May 26, 2010).

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Livestrong Foundation After Lance Armstrong: Will It Survive?

CBS News has an interesting piece on the Livestrong Foundation and its efforts to dis-entangle itself from disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong and launch a new identify apart from him. The news story and the charity’s efforts beg the question – will one of America’s most well-known charities survive a crisis of epic proportions, or go by the wayside for good?

Now I’m not so sure. In the past, I have praised the Livestrong Foundation for making many of the right moves in handling the crisis precipitated by Lance Armstrong and thinking about its own longevity, so it could continue to help cancer survivors. But today, I can’t do that.

Their website sets the right verbiage with a dominant “Mission Above All Else” greeting site visitors. And the online features about cancer survivors with touching personal stories are prominent. But their actions don’t exude the right tone for a charity on a comeback.

If  I had been hired to give Livestrong advice on how to work its way out of the trick box the charity has landed in, I would have suggested that they tally up the number of people who want their money back. Then look at their rainy day fund, and start writing checks. While most charities don’t give refunds on donations, the reality is that  some donors feel cheated – and a few are so disillusioned that they have launched a lawsuit to try to get their donations back. The amount of headache that such a lawsuit will cause, the dirty laundry that it will unearth, the financial cost it will entail, and the media stories that will continue to link the charity to Lance Armstrong’s misdeeds, could do significant damage to a struggling brand. The CEO’s “on point” message –  that “a small, tiny percentage of people” want their money back – is also a big target. If only a few people want their money back, then why not apologize and send out some checks? And move forward with a clean slate.

I would also recommend that the Livestrong Foundation seriously consider ditching the color yellow, which is still featured prominently on their website and permeates many of the products and fundraising events for the organization. I’m sure plenty of branding experts told the foundation’s PR staff that their equity in yellow was so high, that they would be crazy to abandon it. And I’m sure many of their supporters and the families they serve still love yellow because they associate it with the foundation’s work that has touched their lives. This is the organization that got millions of Americans to wear plastic yellow bracelets and launched a nonprofit envy-craze for awareness bracelets that has never fully abated.

But here’s the problem -yellow = Lance Armstrong. The color yellow is so well-known for its linkage to the winning jersey of the Tour de France and associated with Lance Armstrong, that the color yellow is a “scarlet letter” for the Livestrong Foundation. So long as yellow permeates the Foundation’s branding, the taint of the Lance Armstrong scandal remains for those who aren’t sure they can trust the foundation.

If the Livestrong Foundation is going to survive, it needs to soothe the wounds of its supporters, abandon the last vestiges of its relationship with Lance Armstrong, and chart a new future built around its mission.

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.

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Lowering the Stress Load: One Working Mom’s Ideas

My life as a public relations consultant is pretty busy – there’s always press releases to write and send out, reporters to call, campaigns to design, websites to overhaul and clients to work with. But I’m also a working mother with a toddler, a husband, and three grown stepchildren. I work from home a few days a week, and I bop around Washington, DC visiting clients usually 2 days a week. As a working mom, I know I need some breaks for me – but they can’t be lattes mutliples times a day – because that will make me both fat and mega-caffeinated. Here’s a few things I try to do to keep myself happy and operating on a lower stress level.

Lower the overall volume of email I am handling on a daily basis. I was getting way too many emails on a daily basis that were just crap – filling up my phone and email account with junk I had to skim over and delete – every day. I am unsubscribing like crazy from stuff I don’t need. Leapfrog emails promoting their products? Gone. Driscoll’s berry promotion emails? Toast. Amtrak weekly updates on my account? Over. Jetblue/Travelocity/Expedia/Orbitz promotional emails? See ya the next time I am planning a trip. Thanks to all the deleting, I’ve lowered the overall volume and made it easier for important messages I care about to attract my attention.

Get some exercise. Sometimes this feels counter-intuitive (what – add one more thing to our schedule 3 times a week?!) – as I am giving up time with our toddler sometimes in the morning to go to the gym – but I’ve found that I’m a happier and better Mommy and worker bee when I’m healthy. I’ve also added walks with the stroller and my daughter to my exercise mix. I’ve combined gym time with reading time for my book club (making gym time much more appealing for me) too, which has made going to the gym less onerous. I joined a gym in October and while the holidays did a number on me getting to the gym to work out – I did manage to lose a few pounds, and I feel better about myself.

Read a devotional once a week. I resolved for years to read a devotional a day – and every year I failed at doing that. Starting with a goal of one a week – I can handle. Blogger and virtual friend Susan DiMeckle, an attorney and mom with three kids, has started publishing a Friday devotional for working moms on her blog and Facebook. Susan is also the author of Chasing Superwoman (which I reviewed on this blog). Susan talks about many of the issues that I wrestle with as a mom and a person of faith. Her Friday devotional topics coming up:

January 13:  Do Working Moms Have More Guilt?

January 20:  Why Do You Work, Mom?
January 27:  Working Moms: Do You Feel Alone?

Drink herbal tea and water more. Have less coffee and virtually no soda. While I still have coffee every day, and I LOVE a great latte (coffee is the one vice I will probably never give up fully) – I’ve discovered that hydrating more makes me happier and less stressed out. And while giving up soda was a stretch for me just because I had a soda habit for about 20 years – I find I am happier without it.

Schedule stuff for you. I do Saturday morning breakfasts with my girlfriends and bring along my toddler, who everyone loves to play with and see. I also go once a month to a book club discussion – which keeps my head out of work stuff to some extent (without this book club – I would never read ANY books not related to PR, social media or nonprofit management) and helps me stretch my mind and interests a bit.

Get one-on-one time in with your children. And your spouse. Keep a routine and stick to it. We live in a world where hyperconnectivity means people expect us to be “on” all the time. I’ve told clients that I go off the clock at 6pm and unless they have a media emergency of mega-import – that family time is not getting interrupted. Yes, there are exceptions, but they are not every day. I’ve also found it’s challenging for my husband and I to get time together – so scheduling a babysitter a couple of weeks in advance forces that one-on-one time for us to happen. We are also trying to eat at home more and out less – which gives us more time together as a family – and is cheaper.

Got tips or ideas to share? Moms who are out there – what are your tips for lowering your stress level and being happy?

Oh the life of the working at home mom. I have done this.
And so have many other women too! See my ideas on
keeping the stress load manageable.

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.

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Making the Most of #GivingTuesday – Tips to Help Your Nonprofit

Disgusted at seeing Wal-Mart shoppers duke it out on CNN for Black Friday deals? Want to see charity come back to our holiday season? Arriving on the heels of CyberMonday, #GivingTuesday is a movement to create a national day of giving on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Consultants, nonprofits and others have been tweeting excitement for the event on hashtag #GivingTuesday for weeks, but if your nonprofit wants to participate tomorrow, you still can. Here’s a few tips to help.

Communicate clearly what contributions can do, so potential donors can visualize the impact of their gift. Many nonprofits keep a set of examples like this on file as part of their standard fundraising materials, but if you don’t have them on file, now is a good time to draw them up. What will donations of $10, $25, $50, $100, $1,000 do? Write out a basic list that you can tweet in small bursts. Try to connect the donation with the impact that your organization is working toward.

Fire up your Twitter account and draft tweets today for tomorrow. Tweet under hashtag #GivingTuesday on Tuesday, December 3, 2013. Stagger your tweets out across the day, so you overlap into multiple time zones. Communicate your organization’s mission clearly and share how others can help. Using a service like Hootsuite can allow you to advance program tweets over the course of a day and set up a campaign to run on Twitter in a few minutes. If your day tomorrow is full of meetings, the campaign can still roll out without you being chained to your computer or smartphone.

Write one great story of how your organization is making a difference that you can share online. Many organizations keep a few success stories on file for this purpose, but if you don’t have one, now is a good time to draft one. If you have a blog, an easy way to update your website, or a Facebook page, share one good story of how the organization is helping someone. Aim for a personal story. Write 1-4 paragraphs on someone who has benefited from your organization. Then add a paragraph at the end about how the organizations helps many more people, and cite current program numbers, statistics, etc. Now make an ask – explain what giving can do to help your organization. Link to a donation page on your website. Add one great photo to accompany the story that showcases your organization. After publishing, you can share this story on Twitter, Facebook and other venues.

Monitor Twitter and other social media sites on #GivingTuesday and amplify. Watch for tweets that mention your organization. Re-tweet and favorite those who support your organization. Thank those who share information on Twitter about your organization. Recognize any new followers that start following your account by doing a simple “Thank you to our new followers @…” post on your Twitter feed. Share the impact of #GivingTuesday on your Twitter feed in real time – if that includes calls from people wanting to volunteer, donations that arrive for your organization, etc. Comment back on Facebook to those who post and watch your blog for comments.

Cross post information about #GivingTuesday on your website and other social media accounts. Post information about Giving Tuesday and your organization’s participation on Facebook, Twitter, your website, and other accounts.

Don’t despair. #GivingTuesday worked last year.  According to organizers, “Blackbaud processed over $10 million in online donations on 11/27/12 – a 53% increase when compared to the Tuesday after Thanksgiving the previous year. DonorPerfect recorded a 46% increase in online donations and the average gift increased 25%. More than 50 million people worldwide spread the word about GivingTuesday – resulting in milestone trending on Twitter.”

Track your results. Pull donation records from last year for the Tuesday after Thanksgiving. Compare how donations measure up this year. Don’t forget to track non-monetary aid – like Twitter shares, offers to volunteer or in-kind donation offers. Using these numbers, put December 2, 2014 on your calendar, so you can plan ahead for participation for next year.

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.

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