|Published by NetAction||Issue No. 47||March 8, 1999|
Whether you call it media advocacy, marketing and communications, or public relations, getting media attention for your cause can be helpful.
It's one way of letting people know your organization exists. Policy makers pay more attention to issues that make the news. Some may even be persuaded to get involved with an issue because of its potential for generating media exposure. If your organization is supported by members, media attention tells them that you're effective, and may even help bring new members in.
Technology isn't going to replace your existing media efforts, but it's a low-cost way of expanding and enhancing what you're already doing. In this issue of NetAction Notes, we offer some tips for using technology to expand and enhance an organization's marketing and communications.
For a comprehensive guide to media advocacy, see "Managing the Media, A Guide for Activists," published by The Community for Creative Non-Violence, at: http://tenant.net/Organize/media.html. Another good resource is "Raising Our Voices," a Tool Kit for Activists, published by Media Alliance, at: http://www.media-alliance.org/voices/index.html.
Media Alliance also has a good list of links to media organizations at: http://www.media-alliance.org/medialinks.html#mediaorgs. Links to thousands of online publications are at: http://ajr.newslink.org/.
You will find more suggestions, along with another tool kit, in NetAction Notes No. 20, at: http://www.netaction.org/notes/notes20.html.
Post media contact information on your organization's web site, and make it easy to locate. Make the link something simple, like "Contact for Reporters," or "Media Contact Information." Put it in or very near the first screen visitors see when they visit your site. Don't bury it on an inside page!
Make sure the contact information is comprehensive and up-to-date. Don't just post an email address. Most daily media outlets are staffed seven days a week, in some cases 24 hours a day. So include phone numbers that reporters can use to reach your organization outside normal work hours, as well as the number to call when your office is open.
Respond to email inquiries from reporters on a timely basis. You don't wait a week to return a reporter's telephone call, so don't delay in responding to email questions, either.
Provide information on how reporters can get their names on your email distribution list. This can be done by providing the email address to write to in order to be added to the list, or by creating an online mail form.
Post the press releases your organization distributes on your web site. Put new releases in a prominent location on the home page for a day or two. Once interest in the release had diminished (usually within a few days to a week), move the release to an inside archive page. Be sure to date the releases so reporters will know if they are reading something timely.
Archive old releases by date, with the most recent at the top of the list. If releases cover multiple subjects, consider organizing the archive by subject, as well as by date.
Be sure to update the media contact information on the archive page so reporters will always be contacting the person currently handling media inquiries.
If your organization is featured in a news story, be sure to link to the online version, if there is one.
If you periodically update your media list -- and you should -- be sure to ask for email addresses. Most reporters and editors will accept electronic versions of press releases, and sending releases by email will reduce the cost of your media outreach.
Create your own online media list by using the "Nicknames" or "Address Book" feature of your email browser. Avoid sending email with a long list of addresses in the "To" field by using the "BCC" field for your list. (Put your own email address in the "To" field.)
Pay attention to online media and add new publications to your media list.
In addition to sending press releases to individual reporters, post copies to relevant news groups and email discussion lists.
If your Internet service provider offers an Intranet for members, find out if you can post press releases to Intranet news groups or discussion lists. Again, be sure the release is relevant to the topic.
Include the URL for your web site on all press releases, along with the contact person's email address.
Remember that expanding distribution of press releases isn't a substitute for following up by phone. It's especially important to call reporters who regularly cover the issues you are working on. Even if they don't do a story, occasional personal contact increases the likelihood that a reporter will contact you when he or she does decide to do a story.
Finally, we offer a few general tips for making the most of media advocacy.
Timing is important. Try to avoid sending out press releases, or scheduling press conferences, on the same day your local City Council meets. Also, when possible, avoid days and times when significant local events or activities are taking place. You're much more likely to get the media's attention on a "slow news day." Holiday weekends, and the annual Christmas-New Year's period, are particularly good since government agencies and many businesses are closed.
The time of day is also important. If you'd like to see your issue covered on the evening news, send releases by email or fax as early in the day as possible. If you're holding a press conference, try to schedule it before 11 a.m.
Keep it brief. Press releases should be as short as possible, and should stick to a single point. If the issue is complex, have additional background material available, but keep it separate from the press release.
Brevity is also important when you're answering reporters' questions. Anticipate questions in advance and be prepared with one-sentence answers. This applies to interviews with print media as well as broadcast. You can expand on a point in more detail once you've made the point.
The Nonprofits' Policy and Technology Project, a program of OMB Watch, has published two reports on the use of technology for public policy advocacy.
"Speaking Up in the Internet Age: Use and Value of Constituent E-mail and Congressional Web Sites," is a survey of congressional office attitudes towards constituent e-mail, and a concurrent review of the effectiveness of individual House and Senate member websites for disseminating substantive policy information.
"Democracy At Work: Nonprofit Use of Internet Technology for Public Policy Purposes," describes the state of nonprofit technology use for public policy work and civic engagement, and identifies the tools that work.
Both reports can be downloaded as PDF files from: http://www.ombwatch.org/npt/resource/.
OMB Watch has also established a moderated email list in connection with the NPT Project to discuss nonprofits' use of technology for public policy advocacy. NPTALK was created as an online forum for professionals, experts, researchers, and advocates, as well as a vehicle for discussion and dialogue concerning the NPT Project. The list will be moderated and distributed in digest form no more than once per day.
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