Managing the Media

How do you frame your nonprofit’s message to the media in a way that will get your organization coverage that focuses on the heart of an issue – not on “side” topics that stir unwarranted controversy?

How do you frame your nonprofit’s message to the media in a way that will get your organization coverage that focuses on the heart of an issue – not on “side” topics that stir unwarranted controversy?

That’s what one nonprofit organization recently asked a host of marketing professionals during the monthly Marketers Making a Difference meeting, a group affiliated with the TSNE MissionWorks NonProfit Center. Read on, and learn how your nonprofit can receive and better manage media coverage that furthers your issues and mission.

Peer Health Exchange works with high schools that lack health education and in which the majority of the students live at or below the poverty line. The organization recruits, selects, and trains volunteers from local universities to teach its comprehensive health curriculum.

In just 5 years, with minimal overhead and a small staff, PHE has expanded its programs into 5 U.S. cities and has helped many thousands of public school students receive education on responsible decision-making and healthful living.

The Right Media Coverage for Your Nonprofit

Until now, PHE has intentionally flown under the media radar, fearing that the controversy over public school health education could result in negative coverage of some aspects of their work. Negative media coverage could jeopardize funding and damage the nonprofit’s hard-won reputation – a concern shared by other nonprofits that work with vulnerable populations.

Now that PHE feels it is ready to approach the media, its senior staff decided to seek the advice of experts at the Marketers Making a Difference monthly meeting. The group, led by Karen Glover, meets on the second Tuesday of each month at the NonProfit Center.

What Makes Your Nonprofit Relevant?

The marketing professionals in attendance quickly took stock of PHE’s situation and offered some valuable perspectives and advice on the organization’s main concerns: How to get press, and how to manage media spin.

Here is the advice they gave Peer Health Exchange, which may be applicable to your nonprofit organization:

Speak Directly to the Audience

When choosing an outlet for coverage, keep in mind that you will be speaking not to them, but to their audience. Look for an audience that will find your organization relevant and newsworthy.

Tie It In

It’s important to find links between current news stories and the work your organization is doing. For example, much of PHE’s health curriculum focuses on highly relevant topics for teens: making healthier choices about diet and exercise, staying away from abusive relationships, and avoiding alcohol and drugs.

These topics are frequently covered in the media, especially when a drug- or abuse-related tragedy occurs. Utilize Twitter to efficiently track news headlines, and be ready to jump when relevant stories break.


News outlets are always seeking a new angle on an existing story. When you find a tie-in, be sure to distinguish yourself from nonprofit organizations that are doing similar work. What makes your organization different and unique? How can your story provide interest beyond the obvious?

Research Studies

If your organization, like PHE, maintains effectiveness studies on its programs, it’s a good idea to contact universities which may want to conduct research on your results. This could also be of interest to news organizations.

Spin Control: Emphasize the Positive

Beyond a certain point, you cannot control how your nonprofit organization is perceived by the media. But you can control how you share that information.

First, look for the positive angles about your issues, and stress them in clear, accessible terms, avoiding jargon.

  • Connect your work to current hot new topics. For example, PHE has developed an iPhone app for students that is loaded with resources. By sharing this with the media, the organization is connecting its program work to a perennial news issue and doing it in a way that accentuates the positive. With all the negative buzz around teens and potentially-harmful social/electronic media, here is a positive angle with a technology tie-in. What services have you developed that are both positive and newsworthy?
  • Tout benefits to stakeholders (aka viewers, readers, listeners, etc). PHE not only provides youth with needed education, it also provides college students with training and exposure to nonprofit career opportunities. This could be angled to a “jobs in the new economy” story or to a story about civic engagement.

Be sure to emphasize the value your nonprofit organization brings to its communities.

  • Stress efficiency. PHE has very low overhead, enabling them to stretch each donor dollar. It’s always a good idea to show how efficient your organization is with funds.
  • Quantify your nonprofit’s value to constituents. PHE was also advised to quantify the savings it brings to the public school system in actual dollars, and include those figures in its discussions with the media. Especially in this economy, any savings to taxpayers is good news.

With all of these suggestions, Peer Health Exchange is off to a great start at getting the type of media coverage they seek.

Put these tips to work, and your organization can be ready for prime time, too!

Peer Health Exchange currently works with students in 5 cities: New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area.

Marketers Making a Difference is a monthly NonProfit Center lunchtime meeting at which a nonprofit with marketing/communications-related issues can receive solid advice and ideas from seasoned marketing professionals. These meetings are organized by Karen Glover, who works with the Feline Adoption & Rescue Society (FARS) and writes a Nonprofit Marketing blog, Marketer Makes a Difference.

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