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Media Relations & Suicide Prevention: What I’ve Learned

Two months ago I went to Florida to support media relations for the TAPS National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar. It was a time of healing, sharing and comfort for hundreds of people grieving painful losses.

I still remember the first time TAPS held the event in San Diego in 2009.  It was the first time the organization devoted an entire weekend program to the needs of military families grieving deaths by suicide. In 2009, the congressionally-mandated Department of Defense Task Force on Prevention of Suicide in the Armed Forces arrived ahead of the event and held a field hearing to listen to families grieving these terrible losses and gather data on how the system could improve and prevent future losses. It was like a huge ball of pain sat in the hotel that weekend with us – the pain of these families was so present that when I called my husband, I said it felt like the walls of the hotel were crying, there was so much pent up sorrow pouring out of these families. My role included prepping families to share with the task force, working with media on-site, and even working with Sesame Street which was creating a video about the experiences of grieving military children. I arrived home to Virginia emotionally wiped out.

Over the years. I have supported dozens of military families grieving deaths by suicide in sharing their stories with the media. And I learned a few lessons that I think are insightful for anyone working in media relations with trauma survivors.

You have to feel it. You can’t do PR for something like this, if you don’t empathize. I had suffered my own loss when my brother died in action in Iraq in 2007, but my experience was very different from the experiences of these families grieving deaths by suicide.  My pain was mine, and theirs was theirs. I wouldn’t begin to say I understood how they felt. I knew loss and my brother was killed in action while serving in Iraq with the military, but I didn’t know the stigma and shame that so many of them carried because their losses involved suicide. And I could see how that stigma affected their pain and perspectives.

I was deeply struck by these military families and their pain. It was so palpable. The  speakers, workshops and support groups at the events clearly offered them a lot of help. But it was in the quiet moments – when I sat with a family in the art therapy studio, or encountered a young widow smoking outside who was angry at her late husband, or saw a family sob a river of tears over a photo in a slide show – that their sorrow came surging forth, threatening to drown us all.

It would be easy when faced which such emotion and sorrow to shut down. But I don’t think you can antiseptically detach yourself completely from suffering. No matter how thick an emotional barricade you erect – these stories would still get to you. You have to walk alongside them in it, even if you don’t fully understand it. That doesn’t mean you have to sob with them, or spill your own sorrows out, but walking alongside them to support their stories means you will listen, understand and honor their stories by seeking the right venues to share them (or protect them from intrusion when it’s not desired). Being entrusted with a story of sorrow and pain is a unique trust.

Give people options that always give them control. So often with trauma, people are living with a horrible feeling of lost control – often something happened to them, or to people they care about, that they had no control over personally. It was not their choice for a loved one to die in a terrible way. This is incredibly disorienting for the survivors left behind to grieve.

In talking with families about sharing a painful story that involves a death by suicide publicly, I try to give people a sense of control. We talk about realistic options, goals in sharing (what do they want to see happen as a result of sharing publicly), and making choices that help them feel comfortable and contribute to dialogue, if that is what they want to do. Families can talk to press without limits, can talk to press with some limits, can talk only to one reporter, can talk through intermediaries, or can avoid talking at all. Even in what many public relations experts would call a no-win situation, there are always choices that can be made by families. And choices give people back a sense of control, who may feel that so much in their lives is beyond their control.

But media attention by default, involves a loss of control. Because the story is entrusted to a reporter who will interpret it, write it, probe it, and position it. It is important for these families to understand that. And once a story is in the public eye there is even less control. The story can be criticized, dissected and broadcast. This is especially hard for people who are already dealing with a feeling that life is out of control in their personal lives because of a tragedy.

You have to provide support. While the media can provide a powerful lens that focuses public opinion, it can also hurt people. The responsible approach helps families think ahead of time about what they should consider before going public. They should consider whether other relatives know about the nature of the loss and how they will react. They should weigh how going public will affect other family members or children and their healing. And they should evaluate their own personal health and strength and how that might be impacted by additional stress.

It is always their story, and it’s important to emphasize that to people who feel like they have lost some control in their lives. Talking to a reporter, especially about personal matters, is sometimes uncomfortable and nearly always unfamiliar to people who have suffered trauma. It can help to practice and also to humanize the reporter and talk about how an interview is typically conducted.

Families often need someone to help them look at their story and consider how to put elements together.  The family sees an entire life spread out before them – how do you summarize that in 10 minutes for a talk in a community forum? What do they know? Are there elements that relate to others?  Do they know prevention information to share? Is the goal to inform others about mental health care and prevent other deaths by suicide? Can the story be told in a way that is understood and clear? Can they handle the fact that an element of the public may post hurtful comments ore negative comments about their loved one if the story appears online, or that the story will be online for the rest of their lives?

And during an interview – it’s important for survivors of trauma to feel comfortable and supported. That might mean having a grief counselor in an interview with them, or a close friend for support. It could mean doing an interview in a location away from home, or in their home, depending on their comfort zone.

You have to educate yourself. There is evidence that certain types of reporting about suicide can contribute to contagion, or copycat deaths. Research indicates that contagion is more likely if reporting glorifies the manner of death, shares intimate details from the scene of the death or about the manner of the death by suicide, or presents suicide as inevitable, and as if there is no hope of not completing suicide. Even the language we use – when we say commit suicide, we are passing judgment on the manner of the death – contributes to stigma about suicide. It’s important for public relations professionals working with survivors of suicide to educate themselves on the research and best practices. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has issued a great resource with recommendations for reporting about suicide.

You have to believe that walking in pain ultimately leads to something better. I don’t think you can work with trauma survivors doing media relations if you do not believe that the result of sharing a story that includes pain and sorrow can lead to something better – whether that is better understanding, improved legislation, more willingness on the part of the public to seek mental healthcare, etc. You have to believe there is a greater purpose that can come from sharing. You also need to take care of yourself if you are walking alongside people who have suffered in sharing their stories. Sometimes that belief in an effort leading to something better can be all-consuming. It’s important to take care of yourself so you don’t burn out.

Note: Photo courtesy of Harold Lloyd, who was kind enough to offer it through a Creative Commons license. Source available here.

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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Media Relations 101: Don’t Make Spam, Build Relationships Instead

Having good intentions to improve the world, is not an excuse for sloppy media relations. One of the most common media relations mistakes I hear about is using a blast email list to distribute a news release. The nonprofit may have an email list from the last communications director on file or subscribe to one of the media databases with access to thousands of email addresses for journalists.

Before you start hitting send, consider who you are sending your news release to and what result you want. You should only send your release to reporters or assignment editors who are covering this type of event of topic. If the news release for an upcoming event in your community, local media assignment desks should be top priority.

I’ve heard many a reporter complain about having to mass delete dozens, if not hundreds, of news releases that are completely irrelevant to what he or she actually covers. Don’t add to the spam news release logjam. Wanting to solve society’s ills does not excuse mass-email bombing.

Don’t send your release or story pitch to the sports desk, if the event has nothing to do with sports, or to the station meteorologist if it has nothing to do with the weather. Clogging email inboxes of reporters with news releases they don’t need, only wastes their time and causes them a lot of headaches and aggravation.  It may also guarantee you and your organization’s domain name a fast track listing on a spam filter.

Instead, you want the opposite reaction. In the harried world of today’s 24-7 feed the beast media outlet, you want to stand out as a helper, not a pest. You want to provide a story idea (typically by email or phone) that is compelling, newsworthy and interesting, to a journalist who covers the topic or shows some degree of interest. You don’t want to overwhelm with information, but provide enough material so they have a sense of what’s possible. If your topic is timely or links to a national trend or story, you’ll want to mention those too.

The goal should not be just a story about an upcoming event. The goal should also be building a relationship for your organization with the reporter. Over time, a relationship with a journalist who understands your organization and the issues you work on can be incredibly valuable. He or she may ask your opinion when a story breaks, cover events your organization is holding, introduce you to other reporters and also explain what types of stories will work for the media outlet.

The only way to target your media pitch to the right journalist – is to do research. That means you need to read the newspaper, watch the local news at 6pm, or listen to the morning newscast. Listen to how the reporters are identified in the stories and what topics are covered.

If you subscribe to a media database, use this as a starting point. Even if you don’t, news media websites often list reporters and their beats with contact information. Search the online story archive or google a reporter’s name to see what types of stories he or she covers. If it looks like you have a match, add the reporter to your list. Note how often this person is publishing stories and what topics are covered. Send him or her your story idea or news release. Follow up with a phone call.

Is this time-consuming? Yes. But 5 good relationships with reporters, are worth way more than 5,000 off-target spam emails that infuriate the recipients.

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Media relations and surviving families

I try to be upfront with reporters about what may be possible, in terms of locating a family or expert to speak with them. On some topics, like suicide, it can be harder to find a family that is open to sharing. But many families see sharing about their loved one is a way to honor their service and life. So some families are open to it.

When I reach out to a family and ask them to share their story in a public setting, I am vouching for that reporter with my credibility, and often asking the family to make a decision about sharing something that is deeply personal to them. So it’s important I know what the journalist is planning and the angle he or she is going to take, so I can talk with the family about what to expect and they don’t feel surprised.

I had a photographer contact me recently with some questions. He had been embedded with a unit in Afghanistan and while the unit was in a firefight, was taking photos. He realized later that he had captured images of this family’s loved one’s final moments. He never published those photos, but he wanted to talk with the family, offer to share his experience if they wanted to ask him any questions, and offer them the opportunity to see the photos if they desired to do so. This was not for media coverage – just a private talk he wanted to have, that he felt he ought to have, with this family. He was making a special trip to visit them, but wanted to know from me what kinds of questions he should be prepared to answer from them. He wanted to know what he could say that might comfort them or be helpful for them in coping with their loss.

Unfortunately, in this line of work, sometimes we do get a few challenging requests from journalists. The biggest challenge is usually time and deadlines in the news business, that are beyond everyone’s control. Sometimes it’s hard to find a family on a quick deadline that is in a few hours that is open to talking. Families often need a little time to consider a story request. Occasionally a story concept will be unrealistic. And sometimes, the journalist has a pre-conceived script in mind or is just focused on the story angle and oblivious to the fact that there are people involved.

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Media Relations When Tragedy Strikes

I have to admit, I didn’t set out to develop an expertise in media relations for organizations working with trauma survivors. Missing and exploited child issues, domestic violence, wounded warrior mental health, veteran disability issues, suicide, and the traumatic bereavement of military families are not cheery topics. And I have worked on all of them. And continue to work on many of them.

But the reality is that if no one knows about the nonprofit organizations that serve these populations, survivors will not find them, donors will not support them, and these resources will not exist for trauma survivors. So having good public relations support in place – that supports trauma survivors and facilitates engagement with the media – is critical.

Conversations in Public Relations recently interviewed me about my work with TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, which helps families who lose loved ones who serve in the military. Here’s my interview discussing some of the challenging situations that come up and what it was like during the Fort Hood tragedy:

I know unfortunately, in an all too personal way, the very difficult decisions that often face surviving families when it comes to sharing their stories and the crush of media and public attention that can invade their private space. I’m a military survivor myself – my 22-year-old brother, US Army Spc Christopher Neiberger, was killed in action in Baghdad, Iraq in 2007. As a spokesperson and public affairs representative, I often work with surviving families as they think through the implications of sharing their stories.

Ninety-five percent of the journalists I work with are great people who respect surviving families and want to share their stories with dignity. I’ve had journalists say that they want for the family to feel  proud of the story and that they don’t want to betray the trust of the family. They know the family opened themselves up to share, and want for the family to feel like sharing their story was worthwhile.

I may have come across in the video as more closed to media coverage than I truly am. I know a number of surviving families who are open to talking with a reporter in their home, because it often allows them to share items left by their loved one or special mementoes. But I also don’t like to hear a request for an in-home interview within the first 20 seconds of my initial conversation with a reporter. Reporters need to realize that they are working with families – who have often experienced and are living out a trauma in their home – and so sometimes that is a lot to ask.

I’ll be upfront with a reporter and explain that especially with military loss – where families are often notified of their loved one’s death by the arrival uniformed officers arriving on their front stoop – images of the family’s home – especially the outside – are often haunting and traumatizing to families.

It may be appealing to the videographer to photograph the outside of a home so they can do a voiceover, but often families have very legitimate concerns about safety – both emotionally and physically. Widows with children and surviving parents sometimes worry about their homes being identified in the media or singled out. It’s well-known that families of our fallen receive life insurance funds – and some worry they will be targeted for crime or scams.

If a reporter is invited to go to a family’s home, I’ll often talk with him or her about having a conversation (ahead of time, before the camera is rolling) with the family about what is ok to film.

I enjoyed talking with Mary Fletcher from FletcherPrince at the TAPS office. She is very personable and easy to talk with. I think she was worried she might traumatize me by asking me about my brother, and even asked if it was alright to bring it up. We talked about him and my own experience with loss and media relations at the interview, although that didn’t make the final video cut.

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Meet the Media: AP Religion Reporter Tom Breen

Associated Press (AP) religion reporter Tom Breen recently gave a lengthy interview to Get Religion, about his perspective on covering faith and religion for one of the largest news agencies in the world. He was originally drawn to the religion beat by genuine interest in the types of stories waiting to be told and shared.

He was helped along the way by editors who appreciated stories about religion – a rarity amid a newsroom landscape that often seems to ignore faith and devotes minimal amounts of shrinking resources to it. About his editors, Breen wrote:

“One of them put it to me in a way I’ve always remembered: compare the amount of resources the press spends on covering primary elections, he told me, with the number of people who vote in primary elections. Now compare the resources spent on covering religion with the number of people who attend a weekly worship service.”

In the interview, he talks about the growing role of social media and blogs in helping him locate story ideas and reach out to sources. Any faith community or faith-based nonprofit that wants to be part of critical stories that impact our society should take note of his comments, and realize that social media engagement is one piece of an outreach strategy. One of Breen’s most helpful comments goes to building bridges of trust between faith communities and reporters:

“I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve called a member of the clergy or a layperson for a story on a religious topic and as soon as I identify myself as a member of the press, they react like a babysitter in a 1980s horror movie hearing the words, “The calls are coming from inside the house!” One of my fondest wishes is that I will one day be able to make people understand that the vast majority of reporters want just two things: to tell a good story and to get it right. And the only way reporters can tell good, true stories about religion is by developing relationships with people who know faith and aren’t afraid to trust their story to someone.”

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Millennial Women Go for Work-Life Effectiveness, Change How We View Work

There’s a great article in the November 28th Washington Post looking at how millennial generation women are changing how we think about work. More than 9 percent of millennial women in the DC area are working full-time from home offices, which is higher than the national average.

An education consultant interviewed for the story said how her family didn’t initially believe she worked for a “real” organization because it is a virtually run firm. Taking a more fluid approach to work allows people to focus on their jobs and the other things in their lives that are important to them – helping them achieve what the other calls “work-life effectiveness.” An interesting observation in the story is that work-life balance can leave people feeling out of balance, simply because with today’s working hours and always-on technology, it’s impossible to really devote 50% of your time to something other than work.
While millennials may be normalizing working from home as acceptable, in my opinion, many of the women who came in the generation before them who started telecommuting or consulting from home were the trailblazers who bucked the water cooler socialization system. Technology has been a huge driver in fueling new ideas about work and how we collaborate with each other.

Another nugget I liked, was when an executive for nonprofit fundraising software maker Blackbaud, talked about why she chose to hire a young woman named Emily Goodstein.

“I can teach systems and process, but I can’t train someone to care,” Gressler told me one morning at her office. “I wanted Emily even if she only stayed for a short time.”

The emphasis in hiring people who don’t just view work as “just work” but who view work as an extension of themselves and their values – is a huge shift. Many people bring great skills to jobs, but demonstrating caring and commitment to a job or a cause set some apart.

Millennial women are changing the way we think
about work and confident in the future, says this article in the Washington Post

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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My Most Popular 2012 Blog Post: Lowering Your Stress Load, One Working Mom’s Ideas

My most popular 2012 blog post was Lowering the Stress Load: One Working Mom’s Ideas, with nearly a thousand page views. This particular blog post got a head start on the others in racking up page views because it was posted on January 6, 2012, so it had all year for people to find it, but I’m still pleased to see others found it interesting enough to look at. It’s not surprising, given that balancing work and family life remain one of the biggest challenges working parents face.

Many of my own suggestions written for this post in January 2012 were linked to my New Year’s resolutions. In giving myself an honest assessment of how 2012 went with these ideas – I have cut back on the higher caffeinated lattes and we are eating at home a lot more frequently these days. I try to cook one large item (e.g. lasagna, pan of enchiladas) on Sunday that we can “eat on” during the week to take some of the stress out of cooking an evening meal on days I am downtown.

The volume of email coming in continues to be a challenge to manage – I am doing a new round of “un” subscribing for the New Year. I am also trying to work more efficiently, searching out ways to better manage social media, keep tasks under control, and trying to use down time to get work done, instead of staying up later.

I can’t say I did well at getting back to the gym in 2012 – my efforts were half-hearted, but staying more physically active (and going back to the gym on a regular schedule three times a week) are on the list again for 2013. I have found that our local Methodist congregation’s daily email morning devotionals are one of the easiest ways for me to retain my spiritual anchor. Scheduling “stuff for me” has worked to some extent – although I did bail on book club a few times this year just because I wanted to spend time with my family (but thankfully I didn’t ditch book club because of work obligations).

Perhaps the greatest challenges we face as working parents are:
(1) to say “no” occasionally to things we don’t really need to be doing or don’t have time to do, and
(2) to opt for the simple route, rather than the most complicated.

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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New Recommendations on Reporting About Suicide

I work regularly on issues related to suicide in the military and support trauma survivors. While awareness about suicide as a public health issue seems to be emerging and expanding, we still have a long way to go.

Journalists can play a key role in educating the public about suicide prevention, but sensitivity is needed. More than 50 research studies around the world have demonstrated that certain types of news coverage can actually increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable people. Sensationalizing the death and explicitly discussing the method of suicide can increase the likelihood of copycat deaths.
Many decades ago, it was not uncommon to find newsrooms with policies that avoided covering suicide. Nowadays, it’s not off limits. But journalists need to be educated about how to report on this sensitive issue.
Thankfully – there’s some new guidelines and information available to help journalists facing coverage on this complicated topic:

Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – see the checklist with Do’s and Don’ts if you are in a rush and trying to get copy filed quickly.
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New Year’s Resolutions for the Nonprofit Public Relations Pro

It’s that time of year again when so many of us go on diets, pledge to quit doing things that are bad for us, and face a new year full of promise and hope. If you’re a public relations professional or communicator working with nonprofit organizations, what can you resolve to do differently in 2012 that will help you improve?

Establish one new habit that will help you work smarter, not harder. It might mean investing time in learning how to really use your smartphone, committing to scheduling more of your day and not just meetings so you can be more efficient, going thru your regular e-news subscriptions and unsubscribing from two dozen and declining to get on any more lists, or investigating new software that will help you manage social media more effectively. But do something in your work practice – how you work – that will make your working life better.

Forge connections – real ones. Resolve to always sit down at your desk 24 hours after returning from a meeting to enter new contacts, send requested follow-up information or make calls to schedule appointments. Be an authentic networker – not a fake. Set up appointments for casual coffee or tea dates with other PR professionals – especially if you work on your own as a solo PR shop.

Invest time in building relationships with reporters, not just media databases. Anyone can buy a list of reporters or subscribe to a media database and sned out news releases. But it takes authenticity, persistence and passion to build good relationships with reporters and to understand the stories they are working on and how your organization or cause might fit. Share information and be helpful, even if it doesn’t directly benefit you or your organization directly. Thanks to social media, many reporters today are more approachable than ever.

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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NextCause: Changing the Way Nonprofits Use YouTube, Applications Due Feb. 27

YouTube NextCause has just announced its new program to help nonprofits – NextCause!

This new program is designed to help innovative organizations that are already changing the world learn how to better use online video to drive action.

At an exclusive one-day summit in San Francisco on April 2, 2012 selected participants will get access to everything from training in YouTube fundamentals to advanced promotion and community engagement tips to one-on-one consulting sessions to grow their YouTube presence.

This group of thought leaders will lead the way in changing the way nonprofit organizations use YouTube to grow awareness, interest, funds, volunteers, and global engagement. Applications are due on February 27, 2012.

Organizations that are part of the YouTube Nonprofit Program are eligible to apply for YouTube Next Cause. 

Program Guidelines: https://sites.google.com/site/nextcause/

Apply here: https://sites.google.com/site/nextcause/application-page

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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Nonprofit HR Survey: Why Good PR Starts With Your Staff

The 2014 Nonprofit Employment Practices Survey offers some helpful data for public relations professionals working at nonprofits and associations to consider.

The good news – there is job growth across the nonprofit sector – with plans to hire in organizations dealing with international/foreign affairs, health, public and societal benefits, arts/culture/humanities, regional-related/faith-based.

And more good news – they are letting fewer employees go – and they are more likely to hire new staff to support new programs (45% vs. 58% in 2009) than to expect for existing staff to add a new program to their already full plates.

Bad news – one in five nonprofits say employee turnover is the biggest employment challenge they face. The 2013 turnover rate was 16%. Forty-five percent of nonprofit professional report leaving their organizations to work for other nonprofits – fueling speculation that salary is not the only motivator in turnover – but that other factors may also play a major role when employees depart. Thirty-two percent said they could not pay competitively, 19% can’t promote or advance staff, and 16% say they have excessive workloads.

The authors point out in a related blog post that disengagement costs nonprofits money. The authors use an example of a disgruntled intern who leaves an organization and tells others about his or her experiences, and costs the hypothetical organization $1250.

What about the disgruntled staffer who causes a PR problem that goes far beyond impacting a few individual donations?  Overworked and disgruntled employees can also impact public relations and how the nonprofit or association is viewed or perceived by the media, other organizations or agencies, key partners, major donors, etc. They can take way more than some institutional knowledge and personal relationships with them. They can impact who gives money and how the organization is perceived.

The study authors note, “Happy, engaged employees are your best brand ambassadors because they will tell anyone and everyone how great your mission is, how much they love their work, and how effective the team is.”

Good PR starts with your staff. Staff who are enthusiastic about the mission and know they are valued speak authentically about your mission and work when asked. They become valuable connectors who bring in other supporters, volunteers, and donors. Providing reasonable work expectations and not burning out staff can go a long way to building up your staff and volunteers – so they can be your best brand ambassadors. Even if they opt to leave to pursue a new project or advance at another agency – a happy employee who leaves can still help your organization and be a key ally.

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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Nonprofit PR Awards by PR News: Entry Deadline Nov. 23

Communications professionals at nonprofits and associations worldwide face a variety of challenges in their jobs every day. The PR News’ Nonprofit PR Awards Program honors talented communicators and teams in the nonprofit sector. Entry deadline is November 23, 2012 and the late deadline is November 30, 2012 (for an additional $199).

The entry fee is $300 (dropping to $200 if you enter a second or third category with the same project) so smaller nonprofits and associations will likely forego participating. But the larger foundations and nonprofits have the budget to participate – and they do accept entries from PR agencies and corporate teams partnering with a nonprofit organization (so this might be a good opportunity to mention to an outstanding corporate partner you are working with, even if your nonprofit can’t afford to enter multiple entries). You can get more information and apply online. See a list of previous winners.

There’s a ton of entry categories:
Advocacy Campaign and Lobbying Efforts – This category recognizes a campaign or ongoing initiative using a wide range of strategies (e.g. media, special events, Web content) where outcomes demonstrate change (e.g. legislation passed, funds raised, key support and/or endorsements from other groups, legislators, etc.)
Annual Publication or Brochure – Submissions will be judged on design and content, and success at connecting with a target audience and producing desired results.
Blog/s – Recognizing an outstanding, influential business-related blog or online journal written by a representative of an organization with the goal of espousing a cause or a certain message. Blog should be written with flair and personality.
Branding/Re-Branding  – Entries should be clear in stated goal of branding/re-branding and show measurable results proving that these efforts resulted in more donations or increased corporate involvement or more community/employee involvement, etc.
Corporate/Nonprofit Partnership/s – Recognizing outstanding alliance/s with a corporate entity in the past 12 months, with an eye toward exceeding the stated mission of the partnership. Note: It is recommended that you enter partnerships separately, not as a single entry.
Crisis Management – Communications surrounding any crisis, from an industry crisis to internal executive malfeasance, are eligible in this category.
Digital PR and Marketing – The winner of this category will have shown outstanding use of digital media (Web, e-mail, etc) to communicate a message/s. This can include a marketing campaign on your Web site or a partner’s; outstanding e-mail communications and other capitalization of digital media for PR/marketing.
Email Newsletter/s – Entries should demonstrate consistent delivery of varied content relevant to target audience; engaging design; superior open and click-through rates.
Employee / Internal Communications – Recognizing outstanding internal PR efforts at nonprofits/associations, including employee communications campaigns and ongoing initiatives to motivate, inspire and retain employees.
Event PR – Entries should include PR conducted at an industry, association or other event/conference, or a series of events conceived and implemented by your organization (for instance, awareness of an issue). Note: this can include the entering nonprofit’s annual conference, for example, or a public relations efforts at an industry event.
External Publication or Report (online or print) – This category recognizes an external publication produced by or for a nonprofit. Publication can be a one-time effort or an ongoing publication. Hard copy and electronic publications are eligible; please include 5 hard copies of the publication with your entry. Also include pertinent information from our standard campaign entry.
Facebook Communications Campaign –  Unique use of Facebook to communicate aims of a nonprofit organization or campaign; winning entry will also be judged on focused, stated aim of Facebook use and measurable results.
Fundraising – Recognizing outstanding communications surrounding a single or ongoing drive to raise funds or increase membership. Must demonstrate the role of PR in the outcomes.
Green PR/Marketing – Entries will be judged on originality of green PR/marketing initiative, how closely aligned it is with an organization’s overall goals and measurable, desired results.
Internal Publication (online or print) – This category recognizes an internal publication produced by or for a nonprofit. Publication can be a one-time effort or an ongoing publication. Hard copy and electronic publications are eligible; please include 5 hard copies of the publication with your entry. Also include pertinent information from our standard campaign entry.
Marketing – Recognizes proven success with PR and marketing techniques for a nonprofit organization – judges will look closely at how well you integrated PR and marketing into your communications plan in general or for a specific campaign.
Media Relations – Recognizes outstanding strategies and outcomes with either a singular media relations campaign surrounding an issue or a proven media relations strategy whose outcome improved the nonprofit’s standing among its stakeholders.
Member Communications – This category salutes outstanding public relations efforts targeted at an association’s membership year-round or for a particular campaign.
New Member – Recognizes creativity of a new member campaign and quantifiable results of campaign.
Member Retention – Recognizes timing of campaign, originality in reaching out to membership, quantifiable results and positive feedback resulting from campaign.
Natural Disaster Communications – Entries will be judged on breadth of cross-platform communications, timing of communications, success at reaching the desired audience, overall usefulness of communications and feedback from target audience.
Nonprofit Partner of the Year – Recognizes corporation that has forged a deep and creative partnership with a nonprofit in an alignment that enhances the reputation of both parties.
PR on a Shoestring Budget – Recognizing outstanding examples of a nonprofit achieving success with limited funds/budget, whether it’s for a single campaign or ongoing PR/public affairs. While “shoestring” is subjective, the winners in this category are those who have done more with less, and have been creative with the limited PR dollars they have.
Press Release – Recognizes one or multiple press releases for writing quality and achievement of desired results: ie, hits to Web site; responses to a call for action; inbound inquiries stemming from the release, etc.
Promotional Items/Merchandise – Recognizes successful results of using merchandise to promote the aims of a nonprofit organization or initiative.
Public Affairs/Issues Management – Recognizes successful promotion of a cause or social issue via public sector organizations and political channels.
Public Service – This category recognizes effective television, print, online and radio PSAs for a nonprofit, or produced by a nonprofit. PSA must have run in the past 12 months.
Social Media – This category recognizes campaigns that connect people and allow them to be integrated into a product or company. Social media campaigns can include: Internet forums, message boards, blogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures and video.
Social Responsibility Campaign/Initiatives – This category recognizes a particular campaign in which the association’s initiatives/brand is aligned with a cause.
Twitter Communications Campaign –  Unique use of Twitter to communicate aims of a nonprofit organization or campaign; winning entry will also be judged on focused, stated aim of Twitter use and measurable results.
Video and/or Podcast Program – Entries in this category should focus on the PR efforts surrounding a podcast and/or videocast, whether in the consumer or business-to-business arena.
Volunteer Program – Either a new or ongoing volunteer program from an organization (corporate or nonprofit); entries should be clear in stated aim of program and in number of volunteers involved, as well as results of volunteer efforts.
Web Site – Recognizing outstanding Web sites among nonprofits, from a design, communications and navigation standpoint. Entrants must demonstrate the Web site’s effectiveness in building membership, raising issue awareness and the ways that PR has played a role in the site’s success.
People Categories
Nonprofit Communicator of the Year
Association/Nonprofit Team of the 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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Nonprofit PR: Creating a Definition

What is PR? In any given day, a nonprofit public relations professional can be found doing a myriad of tasks – e.g. responding to reporters, updating websites, managing video shoots, revamping tired old brochure copy for donors, architecting a new outreach campaign, updating social media and providing counsel or training to staff, volunteers or members.

The PR pro’s role can feel like a jack-of-all-trades comm shop in the nonprofit world – where small staffs mean that load-sharing is broadly interpreted. I especially hated being in charge of the photocopier, the Internet T1 line, and the phone system at one nonprofit (being responsible for communications in all facets, truly) – where all those things seemed to break down at the worst possible moments – in addition to member communications, publications, media relations, the website and public policy work.
 But it begs the question – what exactly do we DO? Really? A definition of nonprofit public relations provides greater definition to our frenzied professional lives, reminding us that strategy has to guide the mayhem. The Public Relations Society of America recently partnered with allied organizations to invite crowdsourced definitions of public relations.

Clearly, the old definition is out dated – having come of age when computers were just beginning to transform our profession. The new definition’s formula is simple:
Public relations (does what)
with/for (whom)
to (do what)
for (what purpose)

You can submit your definition for public relations to PRSA. I toyed with a few options, but kept finding the corporate and client side of PR monkeying with my mojo. It might be easier to come up with a definition, if we segment PR into practice areas. 
I finally came up with a definition for nonprofit public relations:
Nonprofit public relations builds understanding
with targeted audiences
to raise awareness about a nonprofit organization’s services, work and programs
for building a greater good.

What would your definition of nonprofit public relations be?

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Nonprofit Quarterly Opens Content Access to All, Great Info Available

For a year early in my consulting practice, I subscribed to Nonprofit Quarterly, but found my print subscription (which was very pretty, often qualifying it for top of the pile status) sat in a corner of my desk, where it was occasionally nibbled on by dust bunnies. So I didn’t renew, even though the content was great. It was just one more thing screaming for my attention after a long day on the computer tending to client needs.

Magazines and print publications these days that require a thorough read are likely to end up consigned to the woefully dusty magazine bin in the foyer where my toddler likes to hide her pacifiers.
Digital content consumption though is a whole other can of worms for me. In the off hours, I can surf my iPad for information, write an advance post for my blog, forward an insightful story link to a client, or program advance tweets for my Twitter feed. I’ve gone back to Nonprofit Quarterly, thanks to their daily Newswire emails and Twitter engagement. They often have relevant public relations, marketing and branding articles.

Earlier this week, I was happy to see Nonprofit Quarterly announce in its daily Newswire that the publication is switching to an open access model online for its content. They’ve also upgraded their publishing regularity and are seeking to engage journalist more on behalf of the nonprofit sector. And they’re trying to cover more of the broader issues that matter to a valued sector employing about 10% of the nation’s workforce and producing 5.5% of U.S. gross domestic product.They are asking readers to consider making a donation to support their open access model, so all nonprofits can benefit. And they still have a print version quarterly for those who need to see the beautiful cover and great articles that way.
Kudos to Nonprofit Quarterly for opening up access, and let’s hope their great experiment in content sharing succeeds for the nonprofit sector – because it means more nonprofit professionals will be able to get great information to help them do their jobs better, at a time when professional development dollars may be particularly squeezed.
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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Nonprofits: “Donate Now” Button Rolls Out on Facebook Today

Facebook is adding a “donate now” button for nonprofit organizations and nonprofits can sign up now to express their interest in getting a button. Donations play a key role in helping nonprofit organizations meet their missions, and Facebook has become a key platform for many nonprofits seeking to connect with new audiences, grow relationships with members and build awareness.

Nineteen nonprofits have partnered with Facebook on the roll out and have “donate now” buttons in place on their pages today – here’s a list of those getting the buttons:

American Cancer Society
ASPCA
Blue Star Families

The new "Donate Now" button on the Donors Choose facebook page.

The new “Donate Now” button on the Donors Choose Facebook page.

Boys & Girls Clubs of America
Donors Choose
Girls Inc.
Kiva
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
LIVESTRONG Foundation
Malaria No More
The Nature Conservancy
Oxfam America
RAINN
The Red Cross
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
UNICEF
United Nations World Food Programme
Water.org
World Wildlife Fund

Eight of the 19 appear on the top 100 top-grossing charities of 2012 issued by Nonprofit Times, with two reporting revenue of over a billion dollars a year. A few of the charities, such as Blue Star Families and RAINN, are smaller and report much lower revenues of well under $2 million dollars annually.

It appears they won’t be the only ones with “donate now” buttons for long. Facebook invites any nonprofit that is interested in adding a “Donate Now” button to its Facebook page, to fill out an interest form.

Appearing with the “Donate Now” button is a link to FAQs about donating through Facebook.

While some have greeted the news skeptically – CNET notes that this will help Facebook build its database of credit card holders, others have heralded the “Donate Now” button as a great help for nonprofits and TIME notes the button can help combat slacktivism – the tendency to like a cause online but do little else to help it.

In the announcement, Facebook notes how this tool can help nonprofits: ” with a community of over one billion people on Facebook, every local cause can become a global one — and every global cause can become a personal movement.”

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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Nuggets from the Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference 2011: Stacey Monk of Epic Change

Stacey Monk, CEO and co-founder of Epic Change delivered an emotional keynote address for the Nonprofit 2.0 Unconference.

I had never heard Stacey’s story before, and was surprised to hear some parallels with my own. Stacey left her management consulting job after her brother died suddenly from a drug overdose. Taking time off for a life-changing trip to Africa, Stacey came back to the States ready to transform her life. The transformation was not easy. She got divorced and rebuilt her life.

While I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for many years, I must admit, my own life course has been impacted by tragedy. After my 22-year-old brother’s death in Iraq in 2007, like Stacey, I was forced to confront some of the big questions in life too. And while I’ve continued consulting with nonprofits, my practice has shifted to include more organizations helping veterans and families of the fallen. And I would say my pr work has gotten more personal. It matters more to me now. I tweeted as Stacey shared her story that post-traumatic growth opens new doors for many of us and that “your pain is about the breaking of a shell that conceals your understanding.”

Epic Change is a startup nonprofit that amplifies the voices and impact of grassroots changemakers. The organization began its work in Arusha, Tanzania, where Stacey met Mama Lucy Kamptoni, a former chicken farmer who used her income to build a school in her village.  Epic Change has rallied thousands of people across the globe to invest nearly $200,000 in the school so far to build a locally-led primary school for over 400 children that is now completely self-sufficient and consistently ranks among the top 3 out of over 120 in its district.  The school’s founder, Mama Lucy, has already repaid over $15,000 of that investment, and funds have been recycled to invest in Nepali changemaker Subhash Ghimire who is currently building a school – to be open this summer – in the village where he was born and raised.

Monk’s work is about micro-change, working at a grassroots level to organize volunteers virtually (most of whom she has never met) and inspire community change and growth. So needless to say, to professionals working at nonprofits with “big mind” mentalities, she had some fascinating, inspiring, and controversial things to say:

  • Start from the heart. Resources flow from love, don’t start with the intention of raising money.
  • Look at your language. When is the last time you wordled your site? Are the words that pop up about gloom and doom, or about hope and love?
  • Giving should not just be a transaction. Nonprofits need to cultivate more meaningful giving experiences. It should be about cultivating love and gratitude.
  • Supporting a cause should give people joy. Conscious giving gives people radical joy.
  • Giving is personal. “Giving is a sacred act that we diminish when we think of our jobs as getting people to click a donate button.”
  • Embedded giving may be a wonderful idea – but does it take away something, or give us more? Does embedded giving (10% of my coffee purchase goes to a cause) diminish “regular” philanthropy? If so, what does this mean for future?  
  • Our donors and the people we help through our nonprofit organizations should not be kept segregated in discrete cones of communication. Our donor and beneficiary communities should not be kept apart as discrete entities. Linkages between these groups can be good for both.
  • Trust others. You can’t be a type-A control freak if you are innovating. You must be able to trust others to steward the vision.
  • We may be losing something in getting too big. Goods can be commoditized but human lives can’t be. Nonprofits should re-evaluate scale and the social entrepreneurship model.
  • Use the tools available to you that help you connect and share your nonprofit’s vision. Social media is a tool to build relationships, but not an end in itself.
  • We have to trust the people we work with. Radical trust can be inspiring on a small scale.
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One Day for Design: Join the Conversation!

Great design can draw attention to a cause or nonprofit. AIGA, the professional assocation for design, is hosting “One Day for Design” today and you can participate from anywhere in the world!
Designers and design enthusiasts will come together for “One Day,” 24 hours of open, real-time conversation about the future of the design profession and the organizations behind it.

Intrepid moderators—Alex Bogusky, Doug Bowman, Liz Danzico, Debbie Millman, Erik Spiekermann, Armin Vit, Alissa Walker and Katherine Walker – will be posting provocative questions on Twitter throughout the day. Questions and replies will be aggregated on onedayfordesign.org, where anyone can comment—with or without a Twitter account. The day starts early with questions from moderators in Europe, so as soon as you sit down with a cup of coffee on April 13, you can participate by tagging your tweets with #1D4D.

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Pepsi Refresh Challenge $250K Winner Speaks: How to Assess if Contesting is Right for Your Nonprofit

Online contests with opportunities for nonprofit organizations to win funding and raise awareness abound. But how do you know if contesting is right for your organization? Mark Neidig, Sr., executive director of the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation, spoke recently in Washington, DC about winning $250,000 through the Pepsi Refresh Challenge and how it helped his organization.

How does a small foundation working to eradicate cancer, win a major online contest and stand out in a world dominated by much bigger fish, such as the Susan G. Komen Fund or the American Cancer Society? Being gutsy, putting a face on the disease, and commiting to win the contest, pay dividends.

“If you are in a contest, you’ve got to commit to winning it. You put everything into it,” said Neidig. For the Pepsi Refresh Challenge Contest, the Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation did no direct mail appeals or paid advertising, and did not issue a call through a newsletter. At the time of the contest, the foundation had one employee – Mark.

Mark Neidig, Sr. discusses winning $250,000.
Photo courtesy of Association Bisnow.
Media exposure can be critical to success in a contest – but you may have to do something extreme – gto get attention. Mark and two volunteers went to Times Square in New York City, to give out 10,000 fliers asking people to vote for the foundation in the Pepsi Refresh Challenge Contest.
The story of their gutsy trip to New York City, landed Neidig and his volunteers on the Today Show, Good Morning America, and Fox and Friends. By the time they got back to Pennsylvania, they had risen from 70th place to third.
Because they talked about what a treatment without side effects would mean to people – even strangers, who had never heard of the foundation, found their appeal compelling. And the foundation’s local community was also inspired by their media blitz. Located in a smaller media market (Erie, PA), community newspapers, radio stations and TV stations encouraged the public to vote. Local schools allowed people to vote during the day, loosening a firewall to permit voting. Proclamations were issued, and social media and email appeals were drivers for the campaign.
Admittedy, there are some downsides to particpating in these online contests. The labor invested by nonprofit volunteers and staff, can be intense. Not to mention slightly obsessive-inducing. Neidig admitted that he would get up in the middle of the night to check their rankings, while the contest was running. But the foundation also improved its email lists and social media followings because of the participatory marketing thrust. They won the challenge. The foundation now has a budget of almost $2.5 million and a staff of six people.
Neidig encouraged nonprofits attending the workshop he was speaking at, to be strategic when considering a contest and to invest wholeheartedly in trying to win. While competition is often a dirty word in the nonprofit community, which values collegialism and consensus, the reality is that nonprofits compete every day for limited funding and attention.
The Kanzius Cancer Research Foundation has also won $25,000 from the Ellen Degeneres PinkWell Award Challenge, and is looking forward to the PinkWell Challenge in early 2012. Neidig spoke at “PR Issues of the Day for Nonprofits and Associations,” sponsored by the National Capital Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.
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Photos: A Must Have Part of Your Social Media Strategy

Research shows that photos need to be a serious part of your social media strategy, if you want to improve your user engagement.

FacebookSimplyMeasured’s recent data on the third quarter of 2014 looking at the mega brands found that photos account for 62% of all brand posts and 77% of all engagement. By contrast, in the second quarter of 2013, photos accounted for 75% of all brand posts, and 95% of all engagement, but brands have stopped relying as heavily on visual content. Since Q2 2013, the use of links has grown from 13% to 27% of all brand posts, and from 1% to 16% of total brand post engagement.

Key take aways – Photos are still an important part of your social media strategy on Facebook, but links are also driving engagement and should be part of your strategy.

Twitterresearchers for Twitter’s media blog looked at 2 million tweets sent by verified users. On retweets – they found that photos give verified users a 35% bump in retweets, compared to what they would have normally received. By comparison, a video link bumped their retweet meter by 28%, a quote by 19%, a digit by 17% and a hashtag by 16%.

Key take aways – post more photos on your Twitter feed. Include tags on the photos. And issue more than one (Twitter will allow up to 4)

LinkedIn – one of the interesting things about LinkedIn, is one status update can reach 20 percent of your followers. That’s staggering, compared to other social media platforms. It also sends nearly 4 times more people to your home page, than Twitter or Facebook.

Key take aways – to stand out, craft compelling updates (include photos, you already have them from some of your other social media activity) and update your LinkedIin company page as often as you update your company Facebook profile.

Thanks to Re:Publica on FlickR for this photo, licensed via Creative Commons.

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

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Podcast: How to Tell Stories of Trauma Survivors

The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) posted online a recording of a panel discussion from its 2014 conference on how to tell the stories of trauma survivors with grace and dignity.

It was an interesting panel discussion and I enjoyed hearing the recording even though I could not attend the session. Dave Cullen wrote a book about the Columbine shootings and discussed how he approached people to interview about one of the most deadly mass shootings in history. He noted that sometimes going through an intermediary would help him connect with someone and convey sensitivity to the person he was approaching.

Cullen discussed his personal struggle with post-traumatic stress as a reporter. He talked about reaching out to the families who lost loved ones or survived the massacre and how he approached these grieving and traumatized families. He also talked about what was challenging to write and how it personally affected him to walk through trauma as a storyteller.

Alia Malek is a civil rights lawyer and a journalist with Al-Jazeera who compiled oral history narratives about post-9/11 prejudice and hostility. She notes that you have to understand the communities you are working with and that sometimes giving people the opportunity to be heard is empowering. It lets them know that their stories are documented for posterity and recorded for others to hear – it gives meaning to their suffering. She offers advice about interviewing trauma survivors and forging connections.

Malek also pointed out that when observing journalists overseas working with interpreters as they sought interviews, that a common mistake she saw others make was to make eye contact with the interpreter, and not the actual subject being interviewed. She says it is important to be self-aware of your own biases and challenges in covering the story, especially if you are facing cultural or language barriers.

Amy Dockser Markus, a Pulitzer prize winning staff writer with the Wall Street Journal noted how very hard it is to tell the stories of trauma while on a daily deadline to publish and talked about her work covering people coping with serious or fatal illnesses. She spoke with people over a period of six years for a project dealing with trauma. She notes that trust cannot be built with immediacy.

You can have chemistry with sources, notes Markus. When you are following people for a long time, they may start to see you as a friend and it becomes very complex for the writer and the subject. It’s not a friendship, but calling it a “source” does not seem appropriate or fitting either, especially when sources form a relationship with a reporter that may feel emotional in nature, even though it’s not a personal friendship. Ultimately, the author’s loyalty is to the story, and a writer might end up cutting someone out of the story that he or she really like and who may not be pleased to be removed from the story.

One of the more interesting sections in the recording, is when Markus discusses how to draw boundaries between personal life and work, when the work is emotional and has many parallels to the author’s own life. I also liked her commentary on her feelings about people who complain about minor things. As a trauma survivor myself, I also find it annoying to hear people complain about small struggles in life. My definition of a true struggle or terrible day was dramatically re-calibrated by my own experience, and this is not an uncommon feeling among trauma survivors.

The panelists also discussed the challenges with war reporting and how some of them have approached processing emotions and trauma. The moderator asked for examples of poor news coverage of trauma survivors. It would have been nice to ask trauma survivors their opinions on that one, instead of just journalists.  Someone also might have wanted to point out to the moderator that saying trauma survivors would have been more appropriate, at least in some instances, than trauma victims, which he said repeatedly. The people who have survived trauma have endured, and even speaking to tell a story, can be a rejection of victimhood.

The full MP3 recording is available online

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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PR & Creativity: Nurture It Now, Or We All Go Under

U.S. News & World Report recently named public relations specialist as the best creative job in the United States, with PR beating out architecture and advertising direction for the top spot. It’s great to be number one, but is public relations the best creative job?

U.S. News also noted that PR carries an above average stress load, but emphasized the variety of work done by PR specialists. It also emphasized that the field is dynamically changing with the media environment, evidenced by the rise of social media as an important part of PR work alongside writing, cultivating media relationships and messaging.

But how do you keep your creative edge if you have been in the business of doing PR for several years? And how do you do it if you are working at an organization that may not have a lot of money to support extensive professional development? Here are some ideas to help:

Embrace creativity and seek to be inspired. Many people would argue that creativity is an inherent part of the PR process. If you need a better grounding in the creative process and how it works within public relations, try reading a book like Creativity in Public Relations (PR in Practice).

Connect with a community of people who care about creativity. Even if you don’t have the big bucks to fund a trip out of town for professional development, you can find other ways to nurture your creativity. Read books, meet with other public relations professionals in your community or virtually for coffee to talk shop (and talk specifically about creativity), or just set up your own Twitter feed that follows people you find inspiring.

Embrace change – it keeps you creative. When I started in PR, we used to fax out press releases. I can still remember standing at the fax machine, cranking out news releases with PSAs to help people after a hurricane, or advisories promoting a 4-H youth event.  I was an early adopter of email pitching to journalists and I think you have to recognize that in this business you must embrace change and be willing to learn. If I was still faxing out press releases today, I would be considered an extremely extinct PR dinosaur.

Even though PR has been declared a creative profession, some recent research raises serious concerns about how the organizations and clients we assist view our creativity. Public relations professionals would do well to heed these warning signs.

In its fascinating 2014 study on creativity in PR, the Holmes Report and Now Go Create found that  nearly half of the 600 respondents (49%) surveyed felt that the quality of creativity in PR campaigns had improved over the past year.

While the researchers found some glimmering nuggets of hope in how PR agencies are embracing creativity, compared with research in previous years, they also found concerning information about how clients view their PR firms and their creativity. Client feedback or risk aversion was the number #1 killer of creativity, eclipsing even lack of budget or time. Only 18% of clients surveyed were consistently happy with their PR agency’s creativity (a number that remained unchanged from the previous year). Half are sporadically satisfied with their agency’s creativity, and more than a quarter (29%), believe creativity is a constant challenge for their firm. Nearly one third (32%) of clients are not happy with their firm’s creative capabilities.

And what is even more scary, is that in an age where content creation and marketing are becoming increasingly important parts of PR strategy, nearly 60% of clients felt that their PR agencies need to improve their creativity in content creation and marketing. Nearly half (48.2%) were concerned about creative quality and storytelling. You can see some of their thoughts on where PR firms need to improve creative quality below.

ScreenHunter_1058 Feb. 10 18.25

Only 41% of clients surveyed describe the PR industry’s creative quality as inspirational or good, while almost 60% see it as ordinary or worse. While the authors compare the results with prior years and that seems to moderate some of their opinions, these results should be jarring and deeply concerning to public relations professionals.

As a profession, public relations needs to care about creativity. Not only for our own well-being as communicators, but also because if we do not deliver creative strategies and ideas for the organizations and clients we serve, we will be replaced by others (in advertising, marketing, digital engagement) who will. Our work is integral because it can encompass many moving parts, and nurturing creativity should become a priority. Join me on the journey to a more creative 2015 this year, as I tweet articles and tips and post blog articles about creativity.

Talk to Us: Do you have a tip to share? How do you stay creative in your work? Got any links to suggest?

 Featured image courtesy of Niuton May (licensed under Creative Commons and available here). Holmes Report image can be found here.

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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PR Crisis: Nonprofit Makes Up Board of Directors

A nonprofit organization in San Diego, Turn Our Hearts, got itself into  public relations trouble when NBC San Diego investigated its IRS filings and found out that the organization had falsified the list of Board of Directors on its 990 forms. Some of the prominent community leaders listed, had even declined to be on the board when asked, and were not aware of being listed as board members. The falsification led some to speculate that the nonprofit was not handling money well, if it could not manage its board list well.

The executive director left the organization in May and declined to answer any questions about the matter from the media. His departure left the organization’s co-founders and board chairman, to clean up the PR mess.  I was pleased to see him sit down and interview with television station, as sometimes nonprofits make a mistake when handling a situation like this and lockjam.

He attributed the problem to rapid expansion and poor oversight, and noted that since the NBC San Diego investigation began, the agency has tried to make amends. They sent letters of apology to the people who were wrongly identified as being on the board of directors, they began holding board meetings, instituted a conflict of interest policy, and filed corrected 990 forms with the IRS.

While the agency has made significant headway, they will need to sustain these changes going forward and work to improve how the organization is managed. This episode serves as a lesson to other nonprofits about the importance of paying attention to nonprofit management on multiple fronts.

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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PR Executive Ranks #5 Most Stressful Job

According to a CNBC story on Yahoo and a research survey by Harris Interactive, working in public relations (PR) is the fifth most stressful job (last year it was seventh). Here are some tips on how to deal with the stress on nonprofit PR staff.

I’ll agree that there’s lots of stress – we manage how organizations and causes look to the media and the public. We have to keep up with the news constantly and abreast of the latest trends in communications and social media. Breaking news eruptions can make our days turn into non-stop calls, emails, and website uploads.

And many people – even sometimes our own families don’t understand what we do – but seems to think they know how to do it. People ask us at cocktail parties why we haven’t considered going on Oprah to share the story of a cause or approaching the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for funding – as if they are giving us brilliant advice that no one has ever thought of before.
And it’s often true that when we do something right and a great story runs that raises awareness for a cause or person or organization we care about – our moment of victory can be short-lived.
That’s part of why I think professional connections are so important for PR people – we need a few people – even if they are just at a virtual water cooler – who will cheer for our successes with us – because usually only another PR person can appreciate the 20+ hours of effort that went into the 2 minutes and 19 second story that ran on a national evening news program and how huge it really is that that story aired and happened. Even so, one could argue that I and many other PR people inflict plenty of our own self-induced stress on ourselves.
Those stresses bubble up in our personal and private lives. My family is so attuned to the fact that one phone call can disrupt my day that the first thing my daughter did when she started walking was find my Blackberry and throw it in the trash – convinced that it had the power to take Mommy away.
A few reporters can be grumpy and mean to PR people – but I can’t say I blame some of them – really – for being mean and a bit out of sorts. Newspaper reporting is ranked eighth most stressful job (photojournalism is at #7) on the same list.
Their profession is radically changing. Journalists are under constant deadline pressure and now asked to do more with less – making a print reporter a gatherer of photos, a blogger, and even a video commentator at times (the Washington Post just announced today plans for more politically-focused online video content). Breaking news can sink or swim what they toil over and care about too. And for those covering war, disaster or crime – the beat can be dangerous too.
While it may be stressful – PR, in most cases, is not a life-threatening career. I wouldn’t mind seeing PR slip a few notches down the list. Firefighters were listed at #3 but police officers rated at #10 on the most stressful jobs list, well behind PR people. That seems wrong to me. PR people might get stressed out, but people don’t shoot at us and we don’t usually carry weapons. I’m sure my husband would be a heck of a lot more worried about my safety and stressed out if I were a cop, than if I were running an event at the National Press Club.
I was glad to see the military figured prominently in the list and was not forgotten. Enlisted military personnel rated #1 most stressful job on the list. As rewarding as what I do is – or as stressful it may be – I could never compare my job – not for a second – to what my brother gave our country when he enlisted in the army. He died in combat in Iraq in 2007 during the surge in Baghdad. Nor could I compare what I do to what the thousands of military men and women give this country every day through their service. We all should do more to help military families and service members carrying these stresses.
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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PR Executive Ranks #7 on Most Stressful Jobs List: Not Surprised

Public relations executive ranked #7 on Careercast’s most stressful jobs list. The authors noted:

This very competitive field, which often includes highly visible, tight deadlines, keeps stress at high-levels for specialists. Some PR executives are required to interact with potentially hostile members of the media, especially after a disaster.

While most nonprofit pr pros probably don’t make a six-figure salary, the stress level in the profession is real. Tight deadlines, media shifts, and demanding jobs can make the profession a pressure cooker. To make media relations even more challenging, newspaper reporter and broadcaster both made the top 10 worst careers list this year.

What do you do to deal with stress in your job?

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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PR Genius: Cleveland Kidnapping Survivors Release Video on YouTube

The May rescue of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight from years in captivity was miraculous, but it also ignited a media firestorm, with news crews camped outside the house where they were held, and their families shielding them from cameras and onlookers as they returned home as free women – free women who had lost years of their lives and endured horrible brutality.

The release today of a video on YouTube by the three young women – showing them looking well, filled with gratitude for the public’s support for their recovery,  and working toward their new lives was heartwarming.

It was also a stroke of PR genius. By releasing the video, the desire for the media and the public to take photos and videos of the women as they go about rebuilding their lives – was deflated like a balloon. Surely these young women and their families have had hundreds of media requests and have felt pursued by the press. Yet privacy and time are what these young women need, away from the spotlight, to pick up the pieces of their very shattered lives.

Amanda Berry repeats in her segment on the video how important having their privacy has been for their healing. By creating the video, they were able to share the messages they wanted to share, without the pressure of a news camera or someone asking questions about the traumas they have suffered. The young women come across as happy to be home with their families, looking forward in their lives, and even strong. They don’t talk about their captor or the years they suffered. Thanks to the Internet and video technology today, they’ve been able to control their own stories and share the messages they want to share, on their terms. Bravo.

When I have worked with trauma survivors in a difficult situation – I have sometimes recommended they consider sharing their story once with a major media outlet – in order to deflate media interest and put their story on the record once, for all. In a  situation like that, talking to the right reporter at the right news outlet is paramount, and the survivor is still forced to do a media interview and answer potentially wrenching questions. We’ve also sometimes managed a difficult situation by releasing a statement and requesting privacy for a family.

I like this approach using a video, which has made major news today and distributed their voices far and wide, without subjecting these trauma survivors to the stress that a media interview would surely bring. I’m sure we will see more people in difficult circumstances use this type of communications strategy going forward.

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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