Saturday, December 27, 2008
A number of my clients have approached me about whether or not they should use Twitter, and I've posted about using Twitter professionally before and I use Twitter myself, but as Twitter moves more solidly into the mainstream, my guess is these types of inquires will start to come in even more frequently.
The simple truth is that while both technologies and tools come and go, the ability to effectively create a conversation and tell a story are the real keys to success, especially for those of us in PR.
Before your company and/or organization decides to actively engage in the "twitterverse", begin by finding out what people are saying about your organization and/or category in these active communities. Run a simple twitter search to find patterns in the existing conversation, or follow key thought-leaders in your industry anonymously to see how they use the tool.
Watch. Learn. Listen. Then – and only then – make a conscious decision about what you want to accomplish before diving in to the conversation.
As social media – including Twitter – moves to the mainstream, more and more users will begin to dive in to it without thinking through their objectives thoroughly. This is another opportunity to use the “POST” method pioneered by Forrester Research. POST is an acronym for “People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology” and it outlines the order in which organizations should build their online social strategy. (For more information on the POST method, click here.)
While I've long advocated for the value of social media as an effective, and increasingly relevant, PR tool - I've now begun to worry that its misuse could start to do more harm than good.
Update: 1/6/08 -
An excellent resource for using Twitter for Community and Communications professionals from Brian Solis @ PR2.0.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Note: I'm not advertising for these companies/products - and there may be better tools out there that accomplish these tasks (if you know of any, please share them in the comments section) - I'm just excited about them and wanted to pass them along in case others find them useful as well:
1. Press Release Grader:
A simple web-based tool that checks your release for both basic PR mistakes (missing contact details, etc) and generates a word cloud that shows you how your word use appears to search engines - a critical piece of data for Search Engine Optimization. It also gives your release a numeric grade out of 100, and confirms its overall readability. It's an incredibly quick and helpful tool to help you refine your release before you send it out into the world.
2. Pitch Engine:
An elegantly designed web-based tool that allows you to easily convert your standard/traditional press release into a blog and social-media friendly SMR. It's free to use (you incur costs if you want to archive materials or group them into "newsrooms" - both of which are worth paying for if you ask me) and actually turns your press release into something useful, i.e., something that can be shared online.
Update 1/14 - PRN has a press release optimizer as well here. Any other tools out there that deserve to be shared?
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
I've blogged a few times before about what it takes to create a good release, and how best to send out your pitch, but it's been a while - so I'm happy to have the opportunity to post this helpful little checklist from NPT as a reminder.
I've copied the article below to save you the click, but please do take the time to subscribe to some of NPT's newsletters yourself, I often find their information incredibly useful.
Marketing ... 6 things the media really wants
The news media can help get the word out about your organization – if you know how to reach them. Press releases can inform journalists and editors about your organization and hook them for a story.
But, you should know what kind of news makes it to print before sending out a press release, according to Janet Rice McCoy, assistant professor at Morehead State University, and Jeanette Drake, associate professor at Kent State University, at Blackbaud’s 2008 Conference for NonProfits. So what are journalists looking for?
- Timeliness. It’s great to find out about a Halloween fundraiser – but not in April. Call journalists and find out how much time in advance they need story ideas.
- Magnitude. Will your information effect five people or an entire state?
Impact. Journalists want to know what will happen. If you miss a fundraising goal, do you just shrug your shoulders and try again next year? Or will it keep you from feeding 100 people? Let the journalists know what numbers mean to your organization.
- Human interest. Numbers only get so far. People want to read stories about others. See if a constituent or donor would be willing to talk about what the organization did, or does, for them.
- Celebrity. TMZ isn’t the only media outlet that loves celebrity. Known names can help make headlines – and sell papers.
- Proximity. Not all news is national. If you are a state or regional nonprofit, try to tailor news to what will happen in specific communities. If you are a local nonprofit, make sure you explain how things will hit home.
- Novelty. Everything in your organization may be exciting to you, but another fundraiser will not lure journalists – or readers. Try to find a new spin that makes your events note-worthy.
Friday, November 21, 2008
Without commenting on Gov. Sarah Palin as a politician, this does present an excellent chance to talk about the power of the visual media.
In the video, the Governor is responding to a reporter's questions about the recent Presidential campaign and her current duties as the Governor of Alaska. Her comments, however, take a back seat to the visual activity in the camera frame showing the bloody work of an employee slaughtering birds behind her.
Two key publicity principals are illustrated by this footage:
- Motion matters:
The fact that the man slaughtering the birds was in motion is key. Our eyes are drawn to anything that moves, especially when the things around it are stationary. In this case, even if the employee had been doing something else entirely with the birds - like feeding them or herding them into a pen - it still would have distracted from viewer's ability to follow Sarah Palin's responses to the reporter's questions.
Lesson: If you are responsible for your organization's publicity and you have video camera's on site, be sure you know exactly what's happening within the camera's frame of reference.
- Connect with your surroundings:
The fact that Palin never addressed the slaughter going on behind her is also problematic. Viewer's expect that the action they're watching to be the subject of the conversation at hand. Although the reporter didn't ask any specific questions about the slaughter, Palin - were she more media savvy - should have found a way to address the activity.
Lesson: If you are acting as an on-camera spokesperson for your organization, be acutely aware of your surroundings. If the activity in the background is not part of the conversation, find a way to weave it in to your responses to the press to show the audience that you're paying attention - even if the reporters aren't.
Monday, October 13, 2008
In a down economy, marketing is one of the first expenses businesses generally cut. The fact that cause marketing is being spared - or even increased - during this downturn speaks to how clearly corporations see their efforts to "do well by doing good" return value to their bottom line.
The key takeaway here is storytelling. Corporations that attach their product to a larger social conversation are able to create a story that resonates with their audience in a new, and powerful, way.
The example of the Campbell's soup cans above illustrates this well. Generally speaking, mothers buy soup. Generally speaking, women are primarily impacted by breast cancer. Buy tying the two together, Campbell's is able to reinforce the narrative that it cares about women, and that by purchasing it's soup, consumers can contribute to a fight they're likely to care deeply about themselves.
This entire narrative can be conveyed through a cause marketing effort in a much more effective way than through traditional marketing efforts. The storytelling matters. And companies aren't going to give up on that any time soon - no matter how bad the economy gets.
Monday, August 18, 2008
I'll be giving the talk twice - once on the 17th in Dubuque and once on the 18th in Davenport.
If you can't make it - here's a brief description of what I'll be discussing. Of course, if you think there are other tactics that are worth discussing, leave me a comment below!
In today’s media landscape, getting great press for a client takes more than sending out a press release or staging a publicity stunt, it takes true guerilla techniques: nimble thinking, unexpected execution, and a willingness to try something that’s never been done before. The one thing that’s not required? A PR firm. This is do-it-yourself PR at its finest, and it’s available to anyone, anywhere at any time.
Guerrilla PR 101: What is guerrilla PR, where did it come from, and why does it matter? To begin the session we’ll examine the differences between traditional and guerrilla PR tactics, and explore why these tactics grab the attention of both the press and consumers where traditional PR often fails. Finally, we’ll examine how access to new technologies has expanded the role of guerrilla PR in unexpected ways.
- Guerrilla Tactic #1: Perception = Reality:
Professional uniforms confer authority, designer labels create value. What impact do consumer perceptions have on your client’s product or service, and what can you do about it? In this portion of the session we’ll examine case studies of guerrilla PR tactics that made headlines – for better or for worse – in terms of consumer perceptions.
- Guerrilla Tactic #2: Tease | Twist | Tell:
PR is about storytelling – but a story tends to be more interesting when it’s broken up into small pieces, or when there’s an unexpected twist. Using teases and twists before revealing the whole story helps generate and maintain both press and public interest in exciting ways. In this portion of the session we’ll examine case studies that illustrate how partitioning a PR message into distinct parts can change its impact.
- Guerrilla Tactic #3: New is News:
To make news, you have to create something new. Traditional publicity “stunts” are designed to capitalize on this fact, and are valuable when they do so successfully. When they backfire, though, they can sometimes do more harm than good. In this portion of the session we’ll examine publicity stunts that achieved their objectives – and some that didn’t – to clarify how to create the kind of news headlines that will benefit, rather than damage, a client’s PR efforts.
Friday, August 15, 2008
Can you spit it out? Probably not. In my experience, most people fret over their "elevator pitch" and end up with something so long it would last until the 24th floor.
Here's a little help. Complete this sentence and you've got yourself a pitch:
We're the only __________________
It's simple, but not easy. Take the time now to work with your team and come up with a complete sentence that rings true for you.
You might just lose your fear of elevators.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
I've reposted the image here because I think it's probably the first comprehensive visual representation of the current state of social media. Which, by definition, means that it's absolutely ground-breaking.
For most of the media's history, the mechanics of conversation were simpler - but much less democratic. Broadcasters and publishers spoke to audiences, and audiences listened. Now that audiences are able to speak as well - through any mechanism that's comfortable to them - broadcasters and publishers (and the advertisers that fund them) are scrambling to learn how to listen and respond.
Solis says in his post:
If a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear or see it, did it actually happen?Indeed.
Indeed. Conversations are taking place with or without you and this map will help you visualize the potential extent and pervasiveness of the online conversations that can impact and influence your business and brand. [...]
As conversations are increasingly distributed, everything begins with listening and observing. Doing so, will help you identify exactly where relevant discussions are taking place, as well as their scale and frequency.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
I've referred my readers to the Spin Project many times before for great, basic information about how to interact with the media. Their latest tutorial on Broadcast Media and Spokesperson Skills is another wonderful resource for those preparing to go on the air to represent their organization. There are many other, similarly useful guides available online and off. I encourage you to seek them out and use them often.
That said, no matter what reference materials you use to prepare, there is one, immutable truth about appearing on-air:
It isn’t what you say, it’s what they hear.No matter how prepared you are, how eloquent you are, or how on-message you are, if your audience hears something other than you intended them to, it isn't their fault - it's yours.
So, how do you ensure your message gets across?
1. Preparation:Consistent practice, coaching and preparation will help you take advantage of the on-air press opportunities that come your way. It's smart to begin those efforts now, rather than waiting until you're scheduled to appear in the studio. When you have the chance to deliver your organization's message to thousands of viewers and listeners at once, you'll want to be sure you're ready.
The key to any press appearance is preparation. You need to know your material so well that the lights, cameras, tough questions and combative opponents don't throw you off of your key messages. Your organization's history, mission, impact, evolution, growth and challenges are all fair game. You need to be able to answer questions about any of them eloquently, accurately, and - most importantly - in 7 seconds or less.
When you're on television - what you say is judged by how you look. Your messages will be lost if you don't appear to be credible source - no matter how much you know about your topic.
Be sure to dress well. When in doubt, be conservative. For television appearances, avoid bright colors as well as too much black or white neutral colors are best. Never wear clothing with patterns, stripes, dots or floral designs. Avoid big jewelry, button, slogans or flashy watches. Wear makeup (yes, even men) and smile. Sit-up straight, use natural hand gestures, and make eye contact with the interviewer - don't look around or be distracted by movement off-camera. And above all, stay calm - no matter how argumentative the other guests, or the host might be. It's your job to appear as the most reasonable and rational person on the show.
Some other things you can do to appear comfortable and confident on-air are:
- Watch, or listen to, previous episodes of the show to familiarize yourself with its format, environment and audience.
- Know the name of the interviewer and any other guests you’ll be appearing with.
- Know the slant of the piece or topic of the show.
- Know how long you’ll be on the air, and know your key messages (the facts you want to get across to the interviewer & audience) inside and out so you will be sure to deliver them during the interview.
- Speak slowly - focus on pronouncing each word fully, pausing between sentences, and adding extra emphasis to key points.
- SMILE! If you're on television you will appear to be more relaxed, and if you're on the radio it will sweeten the tone of your voice - which makes you sound more interesting.
- Before the interview begins, warm up your voice and be sure you have access to a glass of water to keep yourself hydrated.
- For radio interviews, be sure you're in a quiet room on a land-line with the call-waiting disabled, and be sure all other phones, radios and other devices are turned off (they can cause reverb and confusion).
Speak in a conversational tone but remember this is NOT a conversation, get to the point, speak with emphasis and be brief - good sound-bites are rarely more than 7 seconds long.
Be sure to pause so that the audience doesn't lose track of your point, and so that you don't appear to be rambling. Remember, you are the expert on your key points, speak with confidence - and avoid filler words or sentences (uh, um, ifs, ands, wherefores, maybes, etc. are more noticeable on air than they are in regular conversations).
The core message of the post was:
"Conversations are between two or more people. If marketers want to create buzz throughout the social web then they’d better represent a product/service that exceeds people’s expectations. Otherwise trying to interrupt conversations with a product or service that hasn’t performed well may in fact turn the conversations against you."This is a key point that many organizations miss when they dive in to social networking. It's not enough to join in the conversation. You actually have to have something to say.
Social networking is not an internet phenomena - it's simply an extension of everyday conversations into an electronic medium. Just like at a cocktail party, if you were to walk up to a group of people that are already talking, you'd come off as odd if you were to immediately start speaking about something that's off-topic. Eventually the group would ignore you, and eventually they would shut you out of their conversation altogether if you didn't stop talking.
If you're trying to draw attention to your organization, project or idea in a social networking environment, begin by listening. Only chime in when you have something valuable to add to the conversation.
It's a good rule of thumb both online and off.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Storytelling has also been a popular topic in the advertising industry lately. Today's Ad Age ran a piece entitled: (Author)ity: The Importance of Storytelling, in which they quoted Avenue A's recently published "Digital Outlook Report" which had this to say about the subject:
'Narrative is the experience. As the Web becomes the preferred destination for brand exploration, digital experiences must become richer, deeper, and more able to tell compelling stories. If your brand experience depends entirely on pages and clicks, it's time to wonder, 'What is my story?'The thing that continues to strike me through all of these efforts to examine the role of storytelling within the worlds of business and philanthropy, is the sense that we need to justify the use of storytelling as a mechanism.
Culturally, we associate stories with children. We relegate them to the realm of fantasy and of entertainment. We don't consider them a tool. We don't take them seriously.
In fact, though, stories are the interface to the human brain. They provide the method by which we transfer data from one person to another. They are the keyboard plugged directly into our mental CPU.
Skilled storytelling allows us to take advantage of culturally-defined shortcuts on the keyboard - making data transfer that much more efficient and effective.
When we, as communicators, use familiar storylines (like the "fish out of water" tale, or the "journey to a distant land" tale) we can skip over known quantities, simply fill in a few bits and pieces of new information, and still effectively present a complex point. More importantly, because the end of these familiar stories are essentially pre-determined, our audience is more likely to accept our story's outcome as credible if it follows a familiar pattern.
Our culture's stories create the filing system that allow us to quickly access information. They provide the tools we use to distinguish good from evil, and fact from fiction. In fact, when we encounter cultures that don't share our stories, we are often entirely unable to communicate.
Stories are not limited to childhood. They define our everyday lives. Individuals, organizations and corporations that discount their value run the risk of failing to communicate altogether.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
A recent article on MSNBC.com (Rockefeller 2.0: Gates relaunches philanthropy - Giving- msnbc.com) sums up the problem, and the possibilities, this way:
“I meet many high net-worth individuals that are watching Gates and what he does and how he does it, and that’s really exciting in a behavioral way,” says Jacqueline Novogratz, the founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund that uses entrepreneurial approaches to solve the problems of global poverty. “It opens up people’s minds to what’s possible with philanthropy today.” Jeff Raikes, the Microsoft executive who was recently named as the foundation’s new CEO, told Fortune magazine in June: “Bill has an incredible opportunity to help shape the thinking of other multibillionaires by getting them to think about the process, the structure, the best practices” of giving money away."
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
To paraphrase the article's main points:
- Set clear goals
Create a message platform and at least six month's worth of news hooks within the first week.
- Have more than a good story -- have the right story
Agree on exactly what your best story is. Ask the question, 'Why should people care?"
- Go local
People care about their communities, so they turn to the local media to know what's going on. Local press interest will also help your organization prepare and practice for its moment in the national spotlight.
Successful PR today is about having great conversations, telling people what you've learned, and what impact that's had.
Work the plan
Establishing storylines and a workable timeframe that is tied to your organization's goals makes it easier to land appropriate stories in the media.
- Don't confuse strategic PR with publicity
Getting press too early - when your organization isn't prepared for it - can actually make your job harder and lead to lost opportunity. You risk ending up being perceived incorrectly because you aren't clear about your message, and you risk alienating key press contacts.
- Stay up to date
Do you know the trends in your own industry? How do you stay informed about new theories and cutting-edge technologies? If a reporter calls and knows more about your industry than you do, you risk losing the opportunity to be a part of a breaking story.
Friday, June 13, 2008
-------------To be clear, this blog is about PR and communications for non-profits, not marketing strategies for large corporations. Still, there's an important lesson in this case study that should resonate with non-profit leaders and communicators: Perception = Reality.
Crate And Barrel campaign ties consumers to cause
Thursday, June 12, 2008
In trying to help teachers do their jobs better, the for-profit corporation Crate And Barrel learned a valuable lesson: Doing Good is Good for Business.
Crate And Barrel partnered with DonorsChoose.org in a campaign that was outlined at the recent Cause Marketing Forum in Chicago by Crate and Barrel director of marketing Kathy Paddor and DonorsChoose.org executive vice president of strategy and development Brita Lombardi.
Crate and Barrel customers were given gift certificates, custom designed with both brands, that they could redeem on the nonprofit’s Web site. The organization links teachers who request materials and experiences their students need with donors who give to the need they find most compelling. A total of $3.6 million in gift certificates was distributed. Google and Yahoo! use the gift certificates, too.
The redemption rate for spring 2006, spring 2007 and fall 2007 was 11.81 percent, with $558,394 raised for the nonprofit.
Polling results from a test group (which received the gift certificates) compared to a control group (which did not) showed:
- 82 percent of the test group said they would consider Crate and Barrel for their next home furnishing purchase, compared to 76 percent of the control group.
- 86 percent perceived Crate and Barrel as a high-quality company, compared to 76 percent of the control group.
- 75 percent saw Crate and Barrel as community minded, compared to 21 percent of the control group.
- 74 percent perceived Crate and Barrel as “the store for me,” compared to 64 percent of the control group.
In this case study, the two groups of consumers experienced exactly the same store and products ad sales associates, but those who were given the option to take a philanthropic action after leaving the store, perceived their experience very differently.
While your non-profit probably can't hand out gift-certificates to every person that interacts with your organization, what can you do to ensure they walk away from each experience they have with your organization with a positive perception? Are your volunteers thanked? Your event-attendees featured in organization newsletters and local media? Your visitors (whether online or off) welcomed and provided clear, compelling information?
What can you organization do today to improve the way that others perceive it? If you can improve the way others perceive your organization, you will be making a very real difference in your organization's overall success.
Monday, May 26, 2008
The fundamental question for those responsible for their organization's communications, is how best to communicate your organization's message across a multi-generational audience? Since each generation has formed with different shared values and communication preferences, what's the right way to make your message resonate across the generation gap?
The first step is to understand what seminal experiences each generation has shared. Although different sources list them with slight variations, the following generalizations are fairly common and are used in the BurrellsLuce newsletter:
Traditionalists (born before 1946) — lived through the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, and the Korean War.
Boomers (1947 to 1964) — experienced the civil rights movement, the sexual revolution, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, space travel, and assassinations.
Generation X (1965 to 1976) — dealt with the fall of the Berlin Wall, Watergate, women's liberation, Desert Storm, and the energy crisis.
Millennial (1977 to 1989) — grew up during a time of school shootings, the Oklahoma City bombing, technology, and the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal.
Your core donors probably fall into just one of the four groups listed above. It's dangerous, though, to assume that you only need to talk to that group to achieve your goals. We're all aging. Your organization needs to reach out to younger generations now – to build relationships that will develop those young people into donors, board leaders, and policy advocates over time.
Traditionalists Boomers Xers Millennial Hard work Optimism Diversity Optimism Dedication and sacrifice Team orientation Techno literacy Civic duty Respect for rules Personal gratification Fun and informality Confident Duty before pleasure Involvement Self-reliance Achievement oriented Honor Personal growth Pragmatism Respect for diversity
Reaching across generations requires that you understand the demographics of your supporter base as it currently stands, and understand how you want those demographics to evolve over time. You'll also need to understand how each group gets their information.
If you typically communicate with Boomers – who tend to view themselves as team players – remember that Millennials tend to see themselves as confident individuals. To reach them, your organization might need to consider adjusting its "boilerplate" messaging – or consider crafting a series of messages that can be used when targeting specific audiences.
Friday, May 23, 2008
The key is to ensure the conversation clearly connects to the organization’s larger objectives. Any conversation that occurs in a vacuum, whether online or off, simply isn’t sustainable. A generally accepted way to design a successful online social strategy is the “POST” method pioneered by Forrester Research. POST is an acronym for “People, Objectives, Strategy, Technology” and it outlines the order in which organizations should build their online social strategy.
How do the people that your organization is trying to reach use technology? Are they already using Facebook and MySpace? Have they discovered Twitter? Are they joining groups online? Do they rely more heavily on email and listservs? What is changing about their behavior?
Task: Design, distribute and analyze a survey to gather information about the online habits of your organization's target audiences.
Given how your audiences use technology, what are your organization's objectives for implementing a social technology strategy? In general, Web 2.0 technologies allow organizations to more efficiently and effectively listen to their existing constituents, talk to new constituents, and energize and support existing constituents and staff.
Task: Articulate both the short-term and long-term objectives that your organization is trying to achieve through this effort. Assign measurable goals to each stated objective.
After identifying your objectives, what is your strategy to achieve them? A deep understanding of which Web 2.0 technologies and approaches work for which objectives is the best place to start.
Task: Explore and evaluate existing technologies such as MySpace, Facebook, blogging software, listservs, online groups, and others. Map the strengths and weaknesses of each relative to your stated goals and available resources.
Once the other steps are done, then your organization will be able to focus on which technologies to use, and how to structure the implementation of each technology option.
Task: Choose those technologies which are most likely to help your organization achieve its stated objectives. Determine tasks, agree to timelines, and assign responsibilities.
Once complete, your organization's social networking strategy will help create an online arena for people to ask and answer questions, share their stories, and find support. It will help position your organization as a trusted resource, and handy reference. It will also help position your organizations as a technologically savvy, state-of-the art institution.
Friday, May 16, 2008
Ten years after it was first published, its message is still just as timely. Two great quotes that sum up the thesis of the book are:
"A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies."and:
“The long silence — the industrial interruption of the human conversation — is coming to an end. On the Internet, markets are getting more connected and more powerfully vocal every day. These markets want to talk, just as they did for the thousands of years that passed before market became a verb with us as its object.”
"the Net certainly has changed that situation in the last ten years. As PR people you’d think we’d be the first ones to get this clue. After all, PR is about communication and conversations... Better late than never. Don’t let another ten years go by. This is the core of PR today. Get the clue and get on board."If you haven't read the book, it's time. Don't let another 10 years go by before you get the clue.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
But something has changed over the past several years. I watch, listen to and read the news on my own time, in my own way. I've quietly shifted my media consumption to match my own needs, and I'm not alone.
I used to listen to NPR's All Things Considered every morning, but now I download NPR's The Bryant Park Project and WNYC's The Takeaway instead - not because the information is better or more interesting (although the content is clearly geared towards a younger audience), but because they're delivered as podcasts and I can listen to them on my own time. I used to watch morning and evening national broadcast TV news shows, but now I record them and watch them when I have time - sometimes not even on the day they were broadcast. I used to receive and read a stack of newspapers every morning, now I scan through my RSS reader to check for headlines that are relevant to me from more than 300 different sources.
And, despite all of that, I get most of my breaking news from Twitter and Facebook. At the end of the day (figuratively speaking), I rely on my social network - people who share my interests - to keep me informed as the media and information landscape changes throughout the day.
The reason all this matters is that regular publicity efforts haven't kept pace with all of these changes. Your organization is as likely to make headlines by maintaining a relevant twitter feed as it is by sending out press releases to a list of reporters in Cision. Sending an alert to your organization's Facebook group is as likely to generate attention as scheduling a press conference.
How are your donors and supporters receiving their news and information these days? Has it changed? Are there new ways to reach them that you haven't explored? When was the last time you asked them? When was the last time you asked your own staff how they get their news. You might be surprised by what you hear.
Monday, May 12, 2008
- Strategic communications planning
- Organizational capacity building through improved communications
- Communications leadership growth and networking
- Practical communications tactics and skills
Experienced Academy trainers lead more than 15 workshops. Participants meet one-on-one with expert consultants, build individual media strategies and receive valuable resources to support their ongoing work, including the Train the Trainers Kit to help participants lead media trainings of their own.
Participants develop cross-movement relationships with other activists faced with the challenge of earning media attentions for progressive issues. This forms a deeper understanding of the connection between strategic communications and the success of progressive movements.
For more information, visit http://www.spinproject.org/SPINAcademy.
For other questions, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
A pitch is a short, targeted message designed to get a specific reporter interested in what you have to say. Its purpose is to open the door to a more detailed conversation by piquing curiosity. It's like an appetizer that arrives before the main course.
Since each pitch will need to be tailored to each individual reporter, your press list is a critical part of the pitch process. Who is currently writing about your sector? Which reporters have covered your organization before? Focus on 5 - 7 critical reporters and begin to craft a pitch letter for each.
A good pitch answers 5 critical questions that a reporter is bound to have:
- Who the heck are you?
A pitch is a personal communication. It's a personalized message sent from you to a unique reporter. If they don't know you already, you need to give them a reason to read your message. Were you given their contact information by a mutual friend? Were you impressed by a story they wrote recently on a similar topic? Why are you contacting them instead of someone else? Make it personal, and make it relevant. If you don't have any way to tie your message in to this specific reporter, they're probably not the right person to receive your pitch.
- Why the heck should I care about what you have to say?
Reporters only care about stories that will interest their regular readers. If you can't directly tie your story to their audience, move on. If your story doesn't bring a new twist or angle to a topic that their audience already knows a lot about, move on. If you can't give them something they couldn't find anywhere else, move on. Your job is to make their job easier. If you can't do that, move on.
- What is this all about?
Boil your entire story down to the briefest possible description. Try to express your entire story in two sentences. Three at the most. Give enough of a taste of the story to get your point across, without going into the detail provided by your press release.
- Does anybody else care about this story?
If your story has already gotten some press, don't be shy about noting prior coverage. Success breeds success. Letting the reporter know that others have found this story interesting might help tip the scales as they decide whether or not to cover your story. A word of caution though: if your story is old news, a reporter is unlikely to be interested in re-hashing it. Highlight coverage that doesn't overlap with the reporter's audience, or that demonstrates your organization has experience working with the media.
- How do I find out more?
Be specific about how the reporter can contact you or find out additional information on their own. Include your direct phone number and email address, and suggest some times or days within the next week or two that are open on your calendar. Include a link to your organization's online press kit (if you have one).
Thursday, May 1, 2008
If you're like most organizations, most of your communications sound something like this – "We'd like you to know about X" or "We were able to accomplish Y." Why not let those who benefit most directly deliver your message in their own voice?
Katya Andresen wrote today about making room for the "unlikely yet completely authentic messengers for an important cause" – those who are directly impacted by it. One of her blog's readers went on to make this important point:
When citizens own, operate, and market to other citizens, the cause becomes rooted in the community at a level of connectivity that makes it more likely to succeed and grow.Did your last communication include any room for your organization's message to be delivered in the first person? Is there a section in your newsletter reserved for testimonials? Have you ever asked people to submit their own stories about how they've been impacted by your organization?
Who better to tell your organization's story than someone who knows first-hand how important your work is – precisely because it's made a difference in their lives.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Hopefully, they're saying nothing but good things about your organization – but what if they're not? What if they're passing along outdated or incorrect information? What if they're griping about things you could easily change if you only knew?
Social media (aka "social networking") – including Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, YouTube and others – has created an enormous, global, non-stop conversation. Some of those conversations might be about you - and if they are, wouldn't you want to know?
There are a number of ways to keep track of online conversations that are about your organization. I've posted before about using Google Alerts as a tool for precisely this need, but some new tools have emerged, including TweetScan and Yahoo!Pipes (note: creating a new Yahoo!Pipe is definitely for more advanced users - but the Social Media Firehose Pipe is already set up and very easy to use). With all this information at your fingertips, it's worth taking the time to find out what people have to say.
Jason Alcorn and Shabbir Imber Safdar wrote a wonderful case study that illustrates how keeping track of what people are saying in the social media universe can help make a difference in your organization's communications strategy.
Now more than ever, knowing really is half the battle.
Sunday, April 20, 2008
- What Do Other People Think About This Group?
Answer with Testimonials. When someone is learning about you for the first time, they’ll be curious what other people think about your organization, your staff and your effectiveness.
- Are People Here Like Me?
Answer with Profiles. When someone donates time or money to your organization, they are joining a virtual community of people who believe in the same cause.
- Does This Work?
Answer with Success Stories. Do you get the job done? Are you going to make a difference with the money I give you? Success stories show donors (and potential new donors) exactly what it is you do and how you do it.
- What Difference Can a Single Person Make?
Answer with Personalized Giving Options. Big problems are overwhelming. One way to overcome this problem is to focus on the difference that a single person can make and clearly demonstrate through storytelling that a new donor, as a single individual, can bring about change by supporting your organization.
- Can I Come Along?
Answer with Personal Chronicles. For your supporters to fully engage with your nonprofit, you have to be willing to share what’s really going on.
Most organizations value their volunteers tremendously - but few assign a dollar value to their worth. If your organization were to do so, what would your volunteers add to your bottom line? If the number is significant (maybe more than a staff person's annual salary), it might be time to make sure you're getting enough bang for your buck.
When was the last time you examined your organization's volunteer program? Could you, without hesitating, draw a map of a volunteer's experience with your organization from the moment they transition into your volunteer program, to the moment they transition out?
Given the amount of money at stake, it might well be worth your time.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
This is a problem - and not one to be taken lightly. Your donors, volunteers, and constituents expect you to have an online presence that works. It's not optional, it's required.
If you're unable to quickly link to new news stories that appear online about your organization, your press efforts are partially wasted. If you're unable to invite people to join your mailing list, donate money, or RSVP to an event, your organization is missing out on enormous fund raising and goodwill opportunities. If you can't keep your online press kit (Nancy Schwartz's article is also a great reference for information about online press kits) up to date, journalists may opt to cover another organization in your sector that has more readily accessible information.
If keeping your site updated is a constant headache - consider taking the following steps:
- Take the time to decide what you want your site to do.
Work with your team to map out, on paper, how each page of your site should look and behave. Take social networking options into account, be clear about who is responsible for maintaining and updating each section of the site, and set a schedule for those updates. A great way to do this is to draw outlines of each page on regular sheets of copier paper, and then tape them up on the wall of a conference to form a giant, life-sized map of your site.
- Contact a reputable local web development firm.
Your going to need professional help. It's going to cost money. Using volunteer assistance is probably what caused your problems in the first place. The amount of time, energy and anxiety you've probably already expended is likely to be easily offset by finding someone to do it right the first time. [Some great firms in the Bay Area are Advancing Ideas, and Creative B'stro]
- Ask them the following questions:
(a) "Will you provide a back-end interface?" - This interface will allow you to make simple changes to your own site without having to go through a third party
(b) "Do you use open source CMS applications?" - Content Management System (or CMS) applications are engines which store content in a database for use on your site. This means the content isn't "hard-coded" into each page of your site. This is good, because it means you can change the content in the database (through the back-end mentioned in #1) and it wil automatically appear on the site. Open source is good because it means a lot of people are using it and are constantly making it better.
(c) "Do you provide training?" - You're going to need it, and you don't want to end up paying extra for it.
(d) "Do you provide both design and development?" - This could be a great opportunity to consider both re-designing your website and creating a way to make keeping it updated easier. Some shops do both, and do both well. Others specialize in just design, or just development. Know which skills you need, and which they offer, before you begin.
If your site is losing money and members just because it's out of date, hard to navigate, or difficult to use, think about how much money those problems are costing your organization over a 12 month period. Spending money now on getting your site in shape is a wise investment for most organizations.
Monday, April 14, 2008
Does your organization's website appear at the top of search results that include keywords for your sector? A study by RankStat.com confirms that that "most people use 2 word phrases in search engines. Of all search engines world wide, 28.38 percent use 2 word phrases, 27.15 percent use 3 word phrases and 16.42 percent 4 word phrases."
This is a critical piece of data. It means that most people only type in 2 or 3 words when they're searching for information. If you had to express your organization's mission, purpose, vision and values in only 2 or 3 words, which words would they be? If you aren't sure, now is the time to come up with a strategy, and create a plan of action. By elevating the chances that you'll appear in the search results of those looking for organization's like yours online, you're guaranteed to increase your organization's visibility - which is more than can be said for more traditional publicity efforts like mailing out a press release.
Once you've taken the time to determine what your keyword strategy should be - spend the time to make sure your materials - both online and offline - use those keywords deliberately. It's not enough to bury them in your mission statement - or on the "about us" page of your website. Your keywords should be visible everywhere, and repeated as often as possible (without negatively impacting the quality of your written content).
The more you reinforce your keywords' connection to your agency, the more the search engines will do so as well. This practice is often called Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) and it's worth the effort if your organization doesn't appear on the first page of the search results for your chosen keywords.
Monday, March 24, 2008
I spend a lot of time on this blog encouraging my readers to find ways to do exactly what Starbucks is attempting to do here. In an interactive world, it's critical that both corporations and organizations find ways to have conversations with their constituents in a meaningful and transparent way.
The Starbucks site, however, serves as a somewhat cautionary tale. By creating a online "suggestion box" without also imposing a clear structure, Starbucks risks missing out on hearing clear, focused comments from its users. The site is already being criticized for being "unwieldy" — with "lots of wayward ideas ... suggested [and] repeated numerous times in various categories." Some commentators have said "with so many ideas flooding the site, it makes it more difficult for Starbucks to listen and to follow-through on the suggestions."
The question to ask here is what exactly Starbucks was trying to do. It's often not enough to simply ask for feedback. Generally speaking, people that don't work at your company or organization don't spend that much time thinking about your business/cause unless they've had a very personal experience - whether negative or positive - with it. Asking for general feedback might solicit their individual story, but it probably won't generate much constructive insight. Instead, do your own homework. Create structured questions that can be thoughtfully answered by your supporters - and generate suggestions that can truly benefit your organization.
If your organization has a blog or a newsletter, ask your supporters one question each month and then report back the following month with the best 3 answers/suggestions. Be specific. Ask whether your organization's messaging could be updated for a multicultural audience. Ask what your organization could be doing to reach out to a neighboring city. Ask how to get young people involved as volunteers during their summer break.
Creating a conversation is only helpful if everyone stays on topic, and if you can hear what everyone's saying. If you make the effort to begin a conversation with your constituents, be sure to do so in a way that benefits them, as well as your organization.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
While I've posted about how non-profits can use Google's shared tools before (here and here), this new announcement is exciting because it shows how a non-profit can use all of Google's tools in an integrated way.
Here's a list of all that Google offers - most of which are completely free to use:
Collect donations online and process them for free, with no monthly, setup, or gateway fees
In my experience, the opposite is true. Your organization's brand is your only asset. It's the only thing that matters. Without a strong brand, non-profits have nothing else to offer. Your brand is the only reason for anyone to ever donate money or time or effort to your cause. Without a strong brand – one that effectively communicates what your organization does and why it does it – there's simply no point.
This is an opportunity to take a lesson from the for-profit sector. As tastes, norms and expectations shift, companies are scrambling to find ways to keep up with their own consumers. Marketers and brand managers are gravitating to a new definition of brand. Paul Isakson over at Space150 has recently offered this definition of brand in a recent presentation:
Brand = What people say, feel, or think about your product, service or companyThe key takeaway from his presentation is that your brand is earned by making your audience's life better. For-profit companies do this by creating products that make people's lives more efficient, or more fun. Non-profit organizations can do this by making people's lives richer, more rewarding, and more connected.
It seems like an obvious idea, but don't make the mistake of taking it for granted. It requires that your organization examine the entire experience of being a donor, a supporter, or a recipient of your services. Is the donation experience simple and straightforward? Is the impact of each donation clearly explained? Is the community created by your organization's services able to connect to one another?
Does each person who interacts with your organization leave with a clear sense of brand? To find out, take the time to draw a map of each experience noted above. If it's not ideal, what steps are needed to make it better? And is there really anything more important your organization should be doing right now?
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
Brewer summarizes the article this way:
Though Andersen focuses almost entirely on the application of “free” for business (i.e. how Ryan Air can sell you a ticket for $20 and still make money, or how Comcast gives a DVR away, or how you can get a free cell phone, or…you get the idea), his underlying premise should theoretically extend beyond it. That premise: As an entity or commodity (eg bandwidth, storage, phones, processing power etc) goes digital it inherently moves ever closer toward being free.And then he asks an interesting question: How does this concept apply to the social sector and global issues like hunger, homelessness, or HIV/AIDS?
It's a fascinating question - and one that's worth some discussion. The underlying element, in my opinion, is that free is the new currency in business because value flows from credibility. Since the internet has shifted credibility into the public, rather than the private, arena, establishing credibility now requires massive public exposure - which can only be done without charging for access.
An expert (Jeremiah Owyang is a great example) now establishes credibility in his/her field by giving away expertise in the open market. Once credibility is established, dollars follow from those who wish to consult privately with the guru.
For non-profit organizations, the question is how to similarly establish credibility in the public arena - and derive value from that credibility.
For example, if your non-profit could establish itself as the undisputed expert in the public arena for - say - distributing resources to the homeless, who else might find that expertise valuable? Couldn’t you offer that expertise to private buyers looking to do the same outside of your organization’s reach? NGOs and city governments pay consultants for those services now - why not pay your organization for its insights and advice?When you're thinking through your organization's communications strategy, how much have you thought about the value of your experts and in-house expertise? Could they fit into the revenue model of your agency? What are you doing to link their market value to your own? How much freedom have you given them to establish credibility for your organization within their sphere of influence?
You might be surprised to find that by giving your expertise away for free, it suddenly becomes much more valuable.
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Britt Bravo over at NetSquared has such a great list - complete with explanations of what they're using their blogs to accomplish - that I simply referred them to her original post.
I'm excerpting a portion of her list below - which matches 10 different reasons to blog with good examples of each - but if you have the time I highly recommend her original post. It really is worth the read.
1. To report back from an event or conference
Example: Patricia Jones, manager of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee's Environmental Justice Program, is blogging from the Fourth World Water Forum on the UUSC blog, Hotwire
2. To involve staff and take advantage of their knowledge
Example: The Walker Art Center's blog contains postings from art center staff and others describing recent and future community programs and educational information about exhibits at The Walker.
3. To involve volunteers and document their work
Example: The surgical volunteer staff who do reconstructive surgery all over the world for Interplast, upload posts to the blog from their worksite. Example: The Urban Sprouts blog is written by one staff member and one volunteer.
4. To provide resources and information to constituents
Example: AARP's blog is an online resource for a variety of aging issues such as retirement security, health and volunteering.
5. To provide resources and information from constituents
Example: The Best Friend Network allows its supporters to create blogs around animal and animal adoption issues that they care about. Example: NetSquared's blog is a community blog that anyone can post to about resources, events and information related to how nonprofits and NGOs can use the social web for social change.
6. To give constituents a place to voice their opinion
Example: Ann Arbor District Library System Uses a blog for the front page of their site. Library users can ask questions and make suggestions about library news, announcements and events in the comments of each post.
7. To give constituents support
Example: March of Dimes' Share Your Story blog allows families with children in NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) to share their experiences with one another.
8. To create the media coverage constituents want
Example: When the men accused of murdering Gwen Araujo, a woman they beat, bound and strangled after they discovered that she was biologically male, went to trial, the Community United Against Violence decided to use a blog to document the trial. Because many of CUAV's volunteer bloggers were more knowledgeable about issues such as the trans-phobic tactics that were being used by the lawyers, they were able to address many issues that the mainstream media missed. The blog also kept people informed during the second trial, when media coverage had diminished, and eventually drew attention to the trial when the blog got news coverage.
9. To give constituents the power and tools to create change
Example: Human Rights Watch doesn’t have a blog, but specifically offers RSS feeds of human rights news to supporters so that they will blog about human rights issues.
10. To reach potential donors
Blogs are not replacements for paper newsletters or e-newsletters, they are an additional way to reach a certain audience. Check out the stats from this article entitled, "Blog Readers Spend More Time and Money Online."