Monday, December 17, 2007

Putting the Relations in Public Relations

By Ben Delaney © 2007

There is one nearly sure-fire marketing tool that many public service organizations fail to exploit. Public relations is the great bargain in the nonprofit MarCom tool bag.

PR is an essential tool in your kit because press mentions are seen as much more credible than advertising. They also bolster other marketing efforts very effectively.

Public relations is an area of communications that most NPs know to focus on. And well they should – PR packs the most bang for the buck, and is relatively easy to do. However, doing it well is not without cost. That cost is more time than money. An investment in good PR is essential for the successful MarCom team.

The cost of good PR is the time it takes to build engaged private relationships with journalists and editors. This is essential, because journalists, and especially editors, are gatekeepers to the public you so much want to reach. Establishing good relationships with the journalists who cover your area of interest will make a huge difference in the success of your communications efforts.

Every story in your local newspaper, on Google and Yahoo news, on TV and in your favorite magazine was written by a real human being. Where do you think all of those writers get all of those ideas that become all of those stories? Some are real news, of course, ferreted out from reluctant witnesses by intrepid reporters, or bursting into their consciousness like a collapsing bridge. But most of the news you see has been supplied, in part or in whole, by people who are not journalists. Those people include public relations professionals, communications departments, and the various “special interests” we hear so much about. They make up any good reporter’s most valuable asset, her contact list.

(An aside: In truth, every organization that has information it would like to publicize is a special interest. In the case of 99% of the nonprofit and public service organizations, those interests are benign – and newsworthy. What’s important is to make your “special interests” interesting to the media.)

Reporters rely on their contact list of reliable sources because they can’t be everywhere at once. To do their job, they need people to tell them when important things are coming up. That’s where you, as the communications person in a nonprofit organization, come into the picture. You need to be on those contact lists.

Have you ever noticed that some organizations seem to be in the news all the time? They do that in a couple of ways. One is to be incredibly newsworthy, like say, the mayor’s office. But few organizations have that inherent news appeal. The way an organization can get more coverage is by becoming essential to the reporters in your area of influence who cover your stakeholders and their interests. Let me give you some examples.

At one nonprofit where I worked, the External Relations Director spent the better part of a year working on a National Public Radio (NPR) reporter to take a look at the organization’s work. There were calls every week or two, special mailings, regular email updates. Then the reporter was reassigned, and the whole drill started over. But the perseverance paid off. The Director got several calls with general questions from other NPR people. Being available helped to inspire trust, and to create a good professional relationship that led, after months of low-key effort, to a national, two-part story on NPR about one of the nonprofit’s clients, as well as a follow-up on-air interview with the Executive Director. The national coverage resulted in several potential client calls, impressed donors, and we believed it helped close some contract negotiations.

At the same time the Director of External Relations was working on NPR, he was also stalking a writer at a national trade magazine, who eventually visited a client of our organization in the Central Valley and wrote a flattering, multi-page article and sidebar. While that was going on, I was staying in touch with local journalists, and by keeping in touch with one local TV reporter, was able to have the Executive Director’s comments as part of about a half dozen evening news stories over an 18 month period. During the same time, a national PR wire solicited the organization for commentary on stories several times, proving more coverage for the organization. I had made a point of being extra helpful to the person managing that program, and she always included me on her “request for comment” list.

PR, as you can see, is very much a “you help me, and I’ll help you” kind of business. When its done right, and with a high regard for ethics, everyone wins: the journalist gets a good story, the nonprofit organization gets a nice mention in the media, and the public knows about an important service or person of which they might have otherwise been ignorant.

Here are a few items to include on your PR to-do list:

  • Build a great press list. Get to know the journalists who cover your area of interest. Go to the websites of TV and radio stations and locate stories on your efforts or related work, and note the names of the reporters who wrote the stories. Most media websites provide contact information – phone numbers and email addresses of reporters are common. Find the magazines and websites that cover your cause, and use their websites to find the same information. Do the same for your local newspapers and papers in other areas where your work has an impact. Record all of this information in a database so you can easily look up reporters in specific locations or with particular interests. Be sure to add notes on stories they’ve written, points of view, causes espoused, etc. You will find this information very useful as you build relationships.

  • Segment your press list by interest, demographics, and location. Reporters are most interested in things that will appeal to their local readers. If you do business in several locations, be sure to develop a press list for each of those locations. Likewise, cultivate press contacts around the functions your organization performs. For example, you may know a journalist who covers events, while another focuses on your primary mission. Yet another may need backup when reporting on government issues that affect your constituency. Each of these reporters will have very different issues and needs, matching those of their readers. Organize your list accordingly. And don’t bother reporters with releases you know they won’t find interesting.

  • Create a PR plan for the year. Most organizations have a decent forecast of what they intend to do in the next year. Be sure your marketing plan includes press outreach with enough lead time to have articles printed before your events. The media will seldom use an after-the-fact press release, so give them enough time to read and understand your release, and to call if they need more information. Plan a couple of opinion pieces to shop around and be ready to write letters to editors. Your plan should also include targets by which to measure your PRs’ effectiveness. These goals can include the number of print or broadcast mentions, articles in specific places, follow-up calls, and the amount of print space garnered. There’s more on measurement below.

  • Keep up with current events. Your organization may not be the main story, but you can still get in the news by providing a comment, expert opinion, or adding another dimension to someone else’s story. If your organization provides food for starving children in Central America, you may want to point out that a recent hurricane has caused a number of children to be orphaned, and many others to be without food. A news release to point this out, a call to interested journalists, an opinion piece or letter to the editor, can all get your organization in the news.

  • Put together a useful press kit. A press kit is the place reporters look for background on your organization and its people and work. I have found that press kits on CD or DVD are often the most appreciated, though sometime a paper package will break through the blizzard of emails that most reporters struggle with. Your press kit should contain, at least:

    • Your mission, vision and needs statements
    • A brief description of your key programs
    • Bios of your key people
    • A list of major donors
    • A few historic examples of the good work your organization has done
    • Complete contact information
    • Some recent press releases
    • Audio and video clips that help explain your work.

  • Use your list to provide backup to other marketing efforts. When you are planning an event, send a press release to the media in the geographic area of the event. Include a personal invitation to attend.

  • Don’t inundate your list. One release a month is usually the most you want to send to any journalist. More than that looks like clutter. And be certain that the subject is of interest to the journalists you send it to. If you respect their time, they are much more likely to consider you a serious source.

  • Pick up the telephone. At least twice a year, contact every person on your list. Check in to see if they are still covering topics related to what you do. Ask them what they cover and how they like to get information. Offer to be a background source for them. And be sure to ask if anyone else on their paper or station would be interested in getting your stuff.

  • Track results. Like any other marketing effort, PR is an investment, and as such, needs to be accounted for. There are many ways to measure PR effectiveness, including but not limited to:

    • Number of articles or broadcasts mentioning your organizations
    • Number of follow-up calls
    • Inches of print space obtained
    • The value of print space (measured as the cost of equivalent advertising space.)
    • Increased visits to your website
    • Inquiries
    • Event registrations
    • Mentions in the ”right” publications

In the next chapter, I’ll talk about how one writes a good press release, and how the media looks at them.

A well executed PR program will boost your MarCom effectiveness at minimal cost. Don’t scrimp on it.

Thanks to my friend and mentor on all matters PR, Daniel Kennedy of Daniel Kennedy Communications Services in New York City for his ideas on this chapter .

Monday, December 3, 2007

Marketing Versus Sales

Ben Delaney © 2007

Marketing ands sales go together like a teenager and MySpace. But they are substantially different, and most organizations need both.

Sales has a bad reputation. At one nonprofit, which included in its mission providing consulting services to public organizations, I had a senior manager tell me directly, “We don’t do sales.” (That organization is now on a downward spiral.) Now, in your work in a nonprofit, you may also be thinking, “We don’t do sales.” But my friend, you are wrong.
  • If you have a development team working to raise money for your organization, they are doing sales.
  • If you have a program for which you recruit qualified people, you are doing sales.
  • If you have a book or report that you are trying to get people to read – for free – you are doing sales.
  • If you have an event for which you are trying to fill seats, you are doing sales.
  • If you are recruiting people to sit on your board of directors, yes, you are doing sales.
Get the picture? Selling is nearly precisely equivalent to persuasion. You don’t have to ask for money to make a sale. (Remember when you “sold” your mate on the vacation you really wanted?) Sales occur when someone is providing value to you or your organization at your bequest. That value can be a donation, the most obvious “sale”, or it can be volunteering to help, or sending someone to meet with the Executive Director. When you are persuading people to work with your organization, or support it, or make use of its programs, you are making a sale.

Sales is not a dirty word. Everything you wear, everything you eat, everything you drive, virtually everything that surrounds you, was sold at one time.

Don’t be bothered that your organization has to make sales. Just be ethical and honest and the rest is easy to handle.

So back to the initial question, what is the difference between sales and marketing? The terms are often confused, but there are important and substantial differences.

Let me define what each of these essential activities is.

Marketing is:
  • The inside part of the sales process
  • The preparation to make a sale
  • The communication function that drives sales
  • The research that helps an organization know what to sell
  • Deciding where, when, and whom to approach regarding your services and products
  • The backup information needed to make a sale
  • Working with a journalist on a story about your organization
  • Publishing a newsletter
  • Advertising to gain support
  • The analysis of sales results
  • Creating a great annual report
  • Publicizing events
On the other hand, sales is:
  • The outside part of the sales process
  • Discussing a product or service face to face
  • Structuring a deal
  • Asking for business or support
  • Negotiating the details of a transaction
  • Asking a policymaker for help, or to support a position
  • Following up with customers
  • Looking for new customers
Like a horse and carriage, sales won’t go far without marketing. And likewise, marketing without sales is usually ineffective. In a nonprofit, the MarCom efforts provides a foundation for development work, program outreach, event management, and many other functions. While you may not think that convincing a policymaker to read your white paper is a sales function, I assure you that having a strong MarCom effort that has previously acquainted that policymaker with your organization will make your task much easier.

So remember. Those of us who work in the social services sector DO do sales. And we need a strong MarCom function to make our sales work more effective.