Over the years I’ve developed an obsession for free t-shirts. Usually it’s those stark, oversized t-shirts being thrown into crowds at sporting events that entice my inner Viking. Innocent children and elderly folk usually don’t stand a chance once that potato launcher comes out. This uncontrollable love that I have for free t-shirts is much like how nonprofits can feel when they successfully promote their event for free.
A lot of nonprofits don’t have enough room in their budgets to pay for advertising. Using public relations (a.k.a. “PR”) can help build name awareness and add credibility to your organization. This helps when trying to attract individuals to your event who care about your cause, but are outside of your established network.
A good PR plan is an asset when pulling together an event. If you have a smaller operation, like Kulungu for Congo (KFC) did, it will definitely help your organization broaden its reach and maximize your event’s attendance.
The sky’s the limit
Sending event invitations is naturally your first step when encouraging people to attend your event, but it’s not your only available method. If you have a small donor base but want a large turnout, sending out invitations alone is not enough. This is where having another avenue for promotion will help you sell out your event.
Doug was the official boy scout of KFC’s promotional efforts. He was able to sell out his event without having to do a whole lot of advanced PR, but let’s face it… Doug’s an anomaly when it comes to networking. For the rest of us, having a plan for PR would help tremendously and not only for ticket sales, but for general name awareness too.
Finding the right approach
You can tackle boosting your awareness from two different angles — traditional media and modern media, the latter of which includes digital platforms like social media.
I’ll be quick to admit that I’m part of this social media generation that can’t seem to look up from our phones. Yes, social media is free and can get your nonprofit in front of those who share, tweet, and post every five minutes. The downside is that it can take a long time to build a following, a lot of time to maintain multiple social media platforms, and even after investing that time, you still aren’t guaranteed that people will see your posts and act on them.
For example, if you’re using a platform like Facebook you might notice your posts aren’t getting as many likes and comments. This isn’t because your content is awful; it’s because Facebook does this little annoying thing called “throttling” and if your post doesn’t receive any activity within the first hour or two, Facebook stops showing your post on your followers’ newsfeeds almost entirely.
There is no quick fix, but the key to get around throttling is for your volunteers, board, key donors, and a group of influencers to consistently share your content. Choose influencers that have a large social following and are also interested in your cause. Comment on their posts, share their content — build a relationship with them. Then, ask them to share your content.
If your followers are enthusiastic as a bunch of teenage girls at a One Direction concert, then there are plenty of easy and awesome ways to promote your event via social media.
Doug focused primarily on Facebook for promoting KFC’s event in social media. He has a very active following on his personal Facebook page, so he shared his organization’s posts on his personal page. As a result, he began to notice more activity start to flow directly onto his KFC page. Another way you can use Facebook is through creating a Facebook event. You can learn more about this and other Facebook best practices on NPTechforGood’s post on Facebook for nonprofits.
According to the 2015 Nonprofit Communication Trend Report by The Nonprofit Marketing Guide, a growing number of nonprofits are also incorporating Instagram into their communication efforts. Check out it out and continue explore new ways to promote your event in the ever-evolving medium of social media.
Successful recipe for traditional media coverage
A common avenue for promotion is gaining coverage in traditional news outlets such as radio, newspaper, and TV. Any organization can get mentioned in print, seen in a TV interview, or airtime on the radio, but it requires a more proactive, methodical approach.
Step 1: Prepare your media pitch
How in the world do you get media outlets to take an interest in covering your event?
It’s all about how you pitch your event. Know your angles. Research your media so you know what story will be most interesting for each outlet, then present them with a story so interesting that they want to be the first ones to cover it.
When a media professional asks what your event is about, your pitch should be ready because you only have about 10 seconds before they start thinking of ways to get off the phone with you or devise an elaborate plan to lose your emails…
“…Yeah, sorry, you caught me at a bad time… I need to go feed my fish…”
In a phone or email media pitch, it’s crucial to give the need-to-know details: Who you are and what you are doing. Hit on the big topic of what you are trying to accomplish and mention what you think they will be most interested in covering. Media professionals love for you to do the work for them, so be prepared to give them story ideas that are newsworthy, timely, and easy to cover because they include interesting visuals.
Your pitch will change depending on the outlet and the reporter. For example, with your local newspaper, it’s about presenting the right topics based on the specific beat the reporter covers. If the KFC team had pitched his event to the newspaper, here are some angles they could have pitched:
Features Editor – First speaker is a rising local political figure and board member for the organization
Business Editor – Keynote speaker was a major player in the formation of Silicon Valley and now invests his time in development of the Congo
Religion Editor – Local churches are working together to support this new nonprofit for the Congo
Step 2: Get on their radar early
Once you know your pitch, email a PDF media advisory or link to your online media kit with all of the essential details in a short email pitch at least two weeks in advance. The goal is to make sure your event is on their monthly calendar. You can see how KFC pitched its event in this event media advisory.
Your safest bet is to also submit your event for a local calendar event listing hosted by your local media outlets. Sometimes this is a separate contact than the main news desk or an online form, so call and ask. This will at least get your foot in the door for when you approach them in the future.
Step 3: Stand out
If you are a small operation, you might have a harder time nailing down a media interview. First you need to get them to notice you, so make an impact. Deliver a hard copy of your media kit for your 5k in a shoe, or send cinnamon rolls leading up to the local fair.
Then, you need to be remembered. This is where a tenacious attitude, like Doug’s, comes into play. You must be willing to follow up religiously. And I don’t mean with Bible verses… I mean keep following up until you get someone in person to confirm that they see your event on the calendar. Follow up with radio program managers to come in and chat about the mission of the organization. Follow up with reporters about possible story angles. Follow up with TV stations the day before to see if they will be sending a camera man.
Simply sending a media kit won’t result in anything. The sky’s the limit as long as you’re willing to put in the extra effort.
Step 4: Be Prepared
If an outlet offers to do an interview, awesome! Being interviewed by a media professional can either be a fun conversation between two people, or this could end up being a rambling mess of words. Trust me… I’ve stuttered my way through a few interviews. It’s essential to prepare yourself for what you want to share.
You’re probably going to be sweaty mess under those little balls of sun they call lamps. You might even discover a few nervous tics you never knew about. But don’t fret; there is hope. Here are a few ways to make it easier on yourself:
- Suggest topics: Reporters are busy, so make it easier on them by preparing a short list of specific points for them to focus on during the interview.
- Ask for the questions in advance: You can also ask for a copy of the questions they will ask so that you are prepared.
- Prepare talking points: Think through your key points, but don’t memorize them word-for-word. Just make sure you understand them and can explain them a few different ways so it feels natural.
The moral of the story is: Just come prepared.
Doug landed an interview with a local news outlet the day before his event. He went into his interview well prepared. All of his answers were thought out and gave a clear image of what his event would be accomplishing and what his organization does. The downside was that the event was already sold out going into the interview, so it didn’t give any viewers an opportunity to attend, but it still raised awareness of his cause.
Step 5: Plan for media at the event
As you’re wrestling down the media attention and getting your influencers all situated on social media, you need to also plan for your promotion the day of the event.
This type of promotion may help with last minute ticket sales or participation if you still need supporters, but it primarily helps with your overall awareness about your organization.
Day-of PR for an event typically means that a media outlet sends a reporter and/or camera man to the event to interview attendees, film the most visual aspects of your presentation, and interview notable figures and representatives of the organization. In reality, TV crews in particular are short on time, so make sure the station knows when exactly the most dynamic visuals will be occurring so they don’t miss it.
As an added bonus, having a media crew there covering the event can increase the energy of the crowd by creating an ambiance of importance and urgency, and can encourage folks to jump on your organization’s bandwagon.
Take away message
To sum up everything you just read in four quick sentences: media outlets would prefer you to do most of the work, PR takes some serious planning, never show up to an interview unprepared, and you are 100% capable of doing all this yourself.
I’ll admit, PR can be an intimidating task for me at times, and I majored in it! But I promise, once you get a system in place, PR will seem effortless.
Media outlets and social media followers are not going to be the ones banging down your door…so approach this proactively and give them every reason to promote your cause.
Up next, I’ll touch on event logistics, providing suggestions on how to create an event that is not only beautiful, but also impactful!
You stay sweet now…