PR is more than being; it’s doing

Public relations can be defined in many ways, but what it always comes down to is getting attention.  Every organization, whether a nonprofit or for-profit, wants target audiences to know they exist, and more so, what they do.  Hence, the public relations/marketing campaign.

This is perhaps most true in the world of nonprofits.  A nonprofit exists to do good, and all do, in their own way.  But it isn’t enough to be well meaning and good intentioned.  Not if you want to be recognized.

The media are all about telling stories and showing pictures. Regardless of the good work a nonprofit does, a reporter needs something tangible to report about.

The challenge is for a nonprofit to follow its mission while at the same time do activities and events that will draw media attention.  Sometimes a mission does not call for a newsworthy event or activity.  That doesn’t make it any less worthy, but it usually means it is more difficult to attract the media.

All nonprofits that want recognition need to find ways to do things that are interesting, visual, exciting, unusual and more.  Leadership needs to think about what they watch on CNN, YouTube and Facebook and understand that if they are drawn to that type of story, others will be as well.

This is not to say it’s easy or it always works.  But that’s where experienced PR counsel comes in.  PR professionals know what will draw the media and what won’t.   It is not something that comes naturally.  It is something that comes with experience, trial and error, and understanding what media are looking for.

That’s how you get the media’s attention.


NBC says “murder sells” Steven Avery case proves the point

In case you haven’t noticed, primetime TV is full of crime mystery programs.  CBS’s 48 Hours Mystery, Dateline NBC and on and on.  These are “real life” docu-dramas usually about a murder in a small town, and in almost every case the husband or wife did it.  As a recent interview with an NBC producer who said plain and simple, “murder sells.”

Then there is the Steven Avery case in Wisconsin.  It was so compelling that Netflix produced a ten part series chronicling the case which started with a young man Steven Avery being convicted of sexual assault and serving 18 years in prison.  Then, DNA testing proved him to be innocent and he was released.  But to recoup something for the time he spent in prison, he sued the county and police department for $36 million dollars.  A year later a woman who had visited his business (car parts lot) went missing.  The remains of her body were found in an incinerator on his property and he was tried and convicted for murder.

The case was defended by Avery’s lawyers as a set-up by the police to put him back in prison after he filed his lawsuit.  The argument included planted evidence, dirty cops and all.  It was a compelling trial, all captured on cameras and produced by Netflix.

As Avery languishes in prison, the story continues. Many who saw the Netflix series believe he was indeed framed.  Then the D.A. countered with evidence that the TV series didn’t include that provided even more proof of his guilt.

When real life hits the silver screen, or the silver TV screen, everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt — both ways.  Is there such a thing as a truly objective documentary?  When editors are deciding what to film, what words to narrate and how to edit, can it ever be truly objective?  Every decision that a producer makes can make a difference one way or another.  And this holds true for dramatic murder stories and news stories such as 60 Minutes.

Case in point:  Michael Moore is a documentary filmmaker.  But he is hardly impartial in the subjects he chooses.  He doesn’t even pretend to be.  He starts with a point of view and then structures his films to prove his opinion.  This is quite different from beginning with a clean slate and searching for the real story.  I am not saying TV producers have a vested interest in whether someone is guilty or innocent.  They couldn’t care less.  But they do care about cases that are dramatic and compelling, as that attracts viewers.  That, they care about.

There is a fine line between reality and entertainment, and many believe they are the same.  News, some argue, is just entertainment said with a serious face.  Unless it is the local weatherperson, who seems to exist for comic relief.

The key to nonprofit PR: action

One would be hard pressed to find a nonprofit organization that isn’t well-meaning.  They all have great missions, intentions and plans.  Further, they have great people who want to change the world for the better.

But if a nonprofit wants PR and its brand to become better known, it has to do more than have good intentions.  There are tens of thousands of nonprofit organizations doing everything imaginable.  And unfortunately, sometimes nonprofits compete with one another.  They compete for donor dollars, staff, volunteers, grants, even event space.  It shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the reality.  Hence, every nonprofit seeks recognition and visibility, not to feed its ego, but to help it grow.

If a nonprofit wants to be in the press in a positive and meaningful manner, it has to do things that are positive, visible and meaningful.  I would also add that what it does has to be unique, visual, interesting and possess all the elements that the media want when they write stories and air news broadcasts.  I have never seen a news broadcast on a nonprofit just based on their good intentions.

Most nonprofits know this.  That’s why they do events and work to get media coverage.  But with the number of nonprofits growing and number of media outlets shrinking, it’s getting harder and harder.  Social media postings are great, but usually not enough to mobilize funding.  All organizations want that big LA Times story.

So if you head a nonprofit organization and seek media visibility, plan events with a dual purpose.  First, don’t do an event just for the PR.   It needs to be effective in working towards your mission.  But if you do want media coverage, make the event different and unique so it can be pitched to the media.

And last, while planning an event, run it by your PR consultant to get their take as to whether it can attract media.  Sometimes great event ideas just take a twist or two and you might get CNN to show up.

That’s where PR firms such as our’s comes in.