Why nonprofits find PR so difficult

While all nonprofits are different, they all share common attributes and challenges.  Most of those challenges are in marketing, PR and having their voices heard.

Every nonprofit wants the world to know about the great work they are doing.  And most deserve to be heard.  They want people to know how they are making the world a better place.  Some of this desire is self-interest.  They want to attract funding, volunteers and Board members.  Some is truly altruistic.  Wanting the world to know how their services can help.

So why is it so difficult for the average nonprofit to stand out?

First, there are so many nonprofits.  Tens of thousands in the country, and thousands in each major city.  Competition.

Second, there is overlap.  Too many nonprofits do the same thing.  They have the same mission.  So when the media cover one organization, they won’t cover a similar one that isn’t that much different.

Third, many nonprofits simply don’t understand the media and how to structure a story pitch.  They do social media, but social media only hits their circle.  The media want certain stories, presented to them in a certain way.  This is a PR skill that most nonprofits don’t have.

Fourth, there are many avenues to tell your story.  TV, newspapers, internet and social media aren’t the only avenues to attract attention.  What are others?  That’s where experienced PR and marketing counselors come in.

Last, nonprofits are great at doing their work, but that doesn’t mean they are necessarily at telling their stories.  Most of our clients lack basic understand, skills and contacts to convey their message.  Not their fault.  PR and marketing is a skill that takes training, practice and understanding.

The larger nonprofits can afford to hire PR and marketing consulting firms.  Smaller nonprofits often can’t.  But that doesn’t mean they can’t work with a firm.  Some PR and marketing firms will take on small projects for reasonable fees.  Having a PR firm doesn’t mean all or nothing.

The moral of the story is PR and marketing is a skill like running a nonprofit is a skill.  Everybody can’t do everything.  Let the PR experts do the marketing while the nonprofits change the world.

 

Why Nonprofits need a PR plan

All nonprofits are created equal, right?  Not when it comes to marketing and public relations (PR).

Marketing and PR is perhaps the only business function where one size doesn’t fit all.  Accountants do accounting.  Managers manage.  Employees do their jobs.  But when it comes to marketing, it is the ultimate tailored function.  No marketing plan from one nonprofit or for-profit corp. can be automatically transferred to another with ease.  Each must be tailored to the specific organization, their goals and objectives, capacities, audiences, budgets and so forth.

Hence all marketing/PR campaigns must be tailored to the organization.  Having a fresh perspective is often helpful as long as the fresh perspective doesn’t ignore history and challenges the organization faces.  If these are not recognized and understood, then a fresh perspective will result in facing the same challenges.

There are numerous template marketing plans on the web.  A quick Google search and you’ll find hundreds of “fill in the blanks” plans.  It won’t take long to realize they are all pretty much the same.  There are basic marketing tasks, strategies and techniques that need to be done.  But what you won’t find on the web is a plan that speaks to your specific organization’s goals and objectives, audiences you are trying to reach, budget you have available, staffing issues, history and on and on.

I don’t want to make it sound as though creating a marketing PR plan is rocket science.  Much is common sense.  But common sense will not give you the experience of having gone through the process dozens of times, the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, the research that has been done in your market segment, goals that are achievable and goals that are out of reach.  All that, and more, comes with experience.

Professional marketing and PR is an investment.  No doubt.  And, if you don’t keep a close eye on what is happening, budgets can get out of hand.  Worse, marketing can go in the wrong direction.

Our guidance for every nonprofit seeking a fresh marketing perspective is to look closely at your past with an open eye on the future.  The beauty of marketing is that it is dynamic.  What works today, may not work next year.  Organizations that do the same marketing tasks year after year will usually find support starting to decline as there are only so many times you can say the same things to the same people.

On the other hand, marketing is fun.  It is creative and can show quick results.

It also is among the best investments a nonprofit or a for-profit organization can make.

 

 

 

The PR of “Walking Back”

When issuing publicity and marketing statements, not that long ago people “corrected” statements.  Today the PR term is “walking back.”

What does “walking back” mean?  It falls in line with the term “narrative” instead of “story.”  Or “optics” instead of “appearances.”

Our lexicon changes and when it does it catches like wildfire.  It is used over and over in the media and then finds its way into interviews, social media and in daily conversations.

This week President Trump did a major “walk back.”  When meeting with Russia’s Vladamir Putin, he said publicity that he doesn’t know why Russia “would” hack the U.S. elections.  When the firestorm hit, about four seconds later, Trump was forced to correct himself and say he misspoke.  He meant to say “wouldn’t” which became the official clarification.

The issue is can someone in the media make a correction and have it believed?  Can the President of the United States in the highest-profile meeting imaginable make a silly mistake?  If so, can we forgive him, or is it more ammunition for his adversaries?

Mistakes do happen, but as we have noted so many times in this blog, when something enters the internet, it is impossible to change it.  When a mistake is made and heard around the world, it is virtually impossible to “walk it back.”

That’s why we see heads of state speak slowly and with deliberation.  They know that every word, every nuance, is recorded and disseminated worldwide.  It is fodder for those who want to pick words apart so it is best that the president think about every word before uttering them.

The same holds true in the business world.  When giving a speech, doing an interview or writing an article, every word counts.  Words can come back to haunt you.  Not everybody has the pressure that a head of state has, but when you are conveying a message about your organization, every word counts.

Make sure your remarks are written down and that you are familiar with your message enough that you can speak naturally and not read off a piece of paper.  People know, even when hearing you on radio, when you are reading and speaking freely.  It is always better to speak freely than read.  But that takes practice and is an art.  It is also much more effective.

There is an old adage that take back spoken words is like replaced feathers in a pillow that are stewed all over the street.  It can’t be done.  Some people are natural speakers, but most are not.  It takes practice and focus.  Conveying your company’s message is the most effective PR vehicle you can convey and the key is preparation.

How LA Times Move Will Impact PR

How will the sale of the LA Times impact local PR and marketing opportunities?

As is well known, last week, the Los Angeles Times announced it has a new owner. Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, a surgeon, part LA Lakers owner and pharmaceutical billionaire purchased the paper for a reported $500 million. Along with the purchase, he moved the paper from its historic and iconic building downtown to El Segundo.  El Segundo is a quiet city adjacent to LA airport.  He made the move for two good reasons.  First, the prior LA Times owners sold the historic building that is right across from City Hall.  It has been there well over a hundred years and a landmark.  When they sold the building, they made the paper renters, so not a good financial move.   Second, Soon-Shiong owns a significant amount of property in El Segundo including a major office tower that is now The Times’ home.  It is rather strange that the LA Times is headquartered in a sleepy suburb and not where the action is downtown.

How does this affect PR people?  There is no impact for pitching stories.  The paper still covers the same geography.  However, when the purchase was made, the new owner noted that the paper in recent years shrunk from an editorial staff of 1200 to 400.  That is an issue.

As someone who has worked with The Times for decades, there always was stability.  Times reporters and editors worked there for decades, covering the same beats.  We knew them by name, who to pitch and what stories would interest them.  Now, so many writers have left and those who are left have switched beats, cover multiple beats and some have been dropped altogether.

We all know that news and media is moving online.  There is more advertising revenue to be made online than in print.  That is a simple fact.  But advertising online is not the same as print.  There is something about holding a newspaper or magazine in hand that makes it different.  Online, stories change repeatedly throughout the day.  As news changes, so do news sites.  What is the top news story in the morning will likely be moved to the bottom of the past by the end of the day.

The challenge for us in the PR and marketing business is we have to be fast, know what’s happening every minute and be prepared to pitch on moment’s notice.  When a story breaks, we jump in and offer a client for their perspective.  The media look for that and want that. They want experts who can shed light on breaking news.  That’s why our staff are online all day, if not writing text for a client, we require that everybody have a screen open to keep an eye on breaking news.  Often we switch gears on a moment’s notice.

The fast pace of publicity, PR and marketing makes the PR business more and more challenging.  It also keeps us on our toes.  We need to know who the media are, their political bents, what reporters/editors will be civil to our clients and who will be hostile.  We need to know what to pitch and to whom.  We will never put a client in front of a hostile reporter just to get them PR.  We don’t subscribe to the notion that there is no such thing as bad PR.  In today’s Twitter world, there is such a thing as bad PR.  Just as Roseanne Barr.

The big question is how long will the LA Times continue to print a paper before it goes entirely online?  The new owner vowed to be committed to a print version, but let’s be realistic.  He is a businessperson and a good one.  Tragically there may come a time when all media will conclude that it no longer makes sense to run the presses.  By the time a newspaper or magazine rolls off the press, it is reporting old news.

In the meantime, we continue to work hard to get exposure for our clients, whether in print or online.  Online is great in that we can easily send links and keep our clients’ story alive.  Print is always good because people like to see their stories in print.  There is something about being in print that an online link can’t match.

 

 

 

Tweet at your own risk — a marketing and PR lesson

Our job is to help organizations market and PR themselves.  To do so, it is critical that everything a nonprofit or for-profit organization does is done carefully.

That’s why we always say “tweet with caution.”  Once you let your feelings loose on the internet, you will either benefit or regret you ever made the post.

Over and over people both in the public and private eye have regretted the day they ever opened a Twitter account.  The latest to feel the wrath of Twitter is Roseanne Barr who one day was flying high with her new hit TV show and with one Tweet, threw it all away.

For some reason, people who run to Twitter to express their views or make “jokes” have a comfort level with the medium as if they are having a private conversation with a friend over dinner.  Too many people write impulsively, don’t think about their words, who they will hurt or how they may regret what they post.

With Barr’s middle of the night Tweet about Valerie Jarrett — being insulting, mean and certainly not funny — she branded herself a racist.  I don’t know if Roseanne Barr is a racist or not, but it doesn’t matter.  She has self-labeled herself with one idiotic Tweet that she will regret the rest of her life.  And she hasn’t stopped.  Despite saying she is done with Twitter, she is addicted and can’t stay off the medium.  Her one Tweet cost her the show, millions of dollars, the livelihoods of hundreds who worked on the show and more.

Yet she continues to Tweet.

The consequences of impulsive social media posting is not limited to stars who lose TV shows.  It impacts everybody.  Even the college graduate who is seeking a first job, they need to remember his/her posts can come back to haunt them when a potential employer looks at their Facebook or Twitter history.  They might not lose a TV show, but they also might not get that first job they so want.

What goes online stays online and too many people have become too comfortable with the internet.  Once online it can’t be erased, even Snapchat where posts supposedly disappear, they can be saved.  People need to think before they post and certainly if someone has a couple of drinks in them, they need to stay away from driving and certainly stay away from their cellphone.

Roseann Barr will be fine.  She probably has plenty of money to support herself and her lifestyle.  But while she may be defiant, there is no doubt she has and will regret that evening when she was casually Tweeting at 2 am and woke up to find her career in shambles.

When is a crisis a crisis?

Every organization needs to protect its reputation.  And when something occurs to jeopardize that reputation, the crisis communications experts go into action.

But how do you know when a crisis is a real crisis?  How do you know that trying to alleviate a crisis won’t just make matters worse by calling attention to it?

These are good questions.  When you know something is about to happen, like a lawsuit, consumer complaint, or viral video, the immediate reaction is to stop it in its tracks.  That is often a good strategy, but not necessarily the right one.

There are several issues to consider.  First, the crisis you think will happen often never materializes.  We tend to project the worst, but sometimes our fears get the better of us.

Second, we sometimes react prematurely.  The first step when addressing a crisis communications situation is to be certain of the facts.  One of the worst things you can do is respond to the unknown.  But it can be tricky.  If the media are all over you, then you want to appear to care and assure everybody that you are handling the situation.  But how can you handle a situation you are uncertain of?

While the first step is to address the crisis, the step before that is to assemble your crisis communications team.  The team should consist of the head of the organization, PR counsel, legal counsel and person(s) closest to the issue.  It is important that this team have a mechanism in place to contact one another quickly and easily.  When a serious crisis occurs, every minute counts.  You don’t want to have to scramble to find each other.

Then, make sure of the facts.  Who is impacted, who is responsible, what happened, how are you fixing it and so forth.  These are basic questions that need to be addressed as soon as possible.

The worst thing you can do is wait if the media are on top of it.  Staying silent gives the impression of not caring and hiding.  You don’t want to initiate contact with the media if they are not on the story, but if they are, then you need to respond with sensitivity, professionalism and solutions.

Remember what a wise person once said.  “It takes decades to build a positive reputation and seconds to destroy it.”  In this world of instant communication, where information travels the globe in seconds, speed is important.  If others are talking about your organization negatively, and you are not in the conversation, something is terribly wrong.

That’s why having professional crisis communications experts — people who have been through crises many times — is so critical.  Every crisis is different, but having someone who knows how to navigate the media and provide expert advice can mean the different between successfully handling a crisis, or paying dearly.

Michelle Wolf’s rant was no accident

The White House Correspondents Dinner was created as a truce between the White House and the White House press corp.  Every day, the two go at each other, with reporters asking biting questions and the White House spokesperson offering often deflecting answers.  But there is one evening a year — the dinner — when the two sides are supposed to sit down together and call a truce.

However, the dinner that just happened, with host Michelle Wolf, was quite the opposite.  Whether her routine was cleaver or not, funny or mean, serious or lighthearted, is not the point of this essay.  Her objective was not to host the event.  Her objective was to be talked about and further her career.

In today’s world of social media and cable news shows, there is a lot of time and space to fill.  Gone are the days when news programs told us what we needed to know.  Today, they have hours and hours to fill and computers to clog.

That’s why if someone wants to be talked about, and hence grow their fan base, then the best way to do that is to be outrageous.  If someone in the public eye is outrageous, over-the-top and crosses the line, then some people will get angry. Others will defend her/him.  In either event, that person becomes the focal point of discussion, whether you agree with them or not.

That was Wolf’s mission.  As a participant on The Daily Show, she isn’t exactly a household name.  But the day after the dinner, she was headline news.  Now more people know her name and more will follow her on Twitter and more might see her comedy shows.

Once gaining notoriety was done by making constructive contributions to the public discourse, being intellectual or cleaver.  Today it is simply just being outrageous.  It is career death to be bland.  Nobody will take notice of you.  You might say things that are truthful, insightful, brilliant, but nobody will care.  On the other hand, say things that make people gasp, blush, or moan in anguish, and you now have put yourself on the map, regardless of who you may have wrongfully attacked, embarrassed or hurt.  All that matters is your career.

For those who think that Wolf’s “jokes” were just jokes, think again.  It was a calculated PR move by someone who understands that marketing a career starts with getting attention.

And hats off to her.  She succeeded.

 

Why Nonprofit Marketing Matters

Just recently, I met someone at a gathering who told me that “nonprofits should not market or do public relations.”  Being in the business, I asked why? Their answer was straight and simple.  “Because if they do good work, everybody will know, and if they are worthy of support, they will receive it.”

I found this answer interesting yet curious.  If this is the case, they why does any product advertise?  Why does McDonald’s spent hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising if they offer a product people want and virtually everybody knows about?

Why should any company market itself?  The old adage, “if you build it, they will come,” seems logical.  But is it true?

The comment from this individual wasn’t about marketing in general, but nonprofit marketing.  Somehow this person (I am purposely avoiding mentioning where it is a he or she) believe that nonprofits exist to serve the public and that should be enough.  They should not spend money on marketing because that money should go to their work.  I guess in that case, nonprofits should not have paid CEOs because they will run themselves.

Unfortunately, the reality is much different.  Nonprofits that rely on funding without asking for it, often find themselves left behind.  Study after study has backed this up.  Research shows that the number one reason people give money to a particular charity is simply because someone asked them.

Yes, some philanthropists has passions and seek out organizations that do that work.  But few do Google searches for a nonprofit and then write a million dollar check because they life their website.

Marketing strategy drives fundraising and fundraising propels nonprofits.  So to say doing good will attract funding alone, is rather naieve.

Also, we must consider just how many nonprofits do similar work.  How many charities exist to combat cancer?  How many to solve homelessness?  On and on.  There are very few unique charities, and those that are unique are very niche and have small followings.  So nonprofits operate in competitive environments and need strategic marketing and PR – public relations — so they can raise the funds they need to do the job they need to do.

Marketing isn’t everything.  Much goes into running a successful nonprofit, but while it is often easy to try to do without, if often becomes evident that it is the most critical function that enables an organization to thrive.

 

 

How to find a PR Firm

Finding the right PR firm sounds easy.  But not so.  Finding and then contracting with the right public relations firm takes research and that’s just to narrow down the search.

What kind of PR firm is right for you?  That depends on many factors.  First, are you looking for a huge firm with lots of employees, locations and employees?  If so, then do you have a huge budget to  match?  If not, you’re looking at the wrong place.

But size isn’t everything.  Many if not most boutique firms were started by people who worked for the mega firms.  Now, they are off on their own with small, nimble staff and budgets to match.  If you are General Motors, then yes you need a mega firm.  If you are a $150,000 nonprofit, then you can’t afford them and more important, they are not right for you.

The most critical aspect of finding the right firm is the experience they have.  You want a firm (with employees to match) that have working in your industry successfully for many years.  If the PR or marketing firm tells you they represent nonprofits, ask how many if the number is not in the double digits, you are working with a firm that doesn’t have the experience you need.

You always want a firm that has experience not only in your industry but business sector as well.  It’s not enough to hire a firm that represents corporations.  If you manufacture cars, you want a firm that has represented car companies.  There is an entire system involved in how to publicize cars.  The are certain media, car shows, seasons, collateral production, lots to know.

If you are looking for a doctor to perform an operation, you are not going to go to a doctor who has done one operation like the one you need.  They may have gone to medical school and might be a great doctor.  But if they haven’t performed the exact surgery you need, you’re going to seek a doctor that has.  The same is with lawyers.  You want a lawyer that has handled many cases like yours. And the same is with PR and marketing firms.  You want a firm that is not only the right size, local and affordable, you want a firm that has worked with many organizations that do the same thing you do.  Don’t let a firm get their experience on your account.

It also is important to consider chemistry.  You want to work with people you enjoy working with.  You don’t want to feel you are imposing every time you call them.  You are the client and they need to treat you as if you are their only client, regardless of how many clients they actually have.

Last, don’t be afraid to ask how you judge success.  PR is an intangible business.  It often is difficult to pinpoint success.  How did that customer come to you, from that article that ran or from your reputation, your website or maybe someone saw the article and told a friend.  Tracking how business comes in is important.  It validates whether the PR firm you hired is working or not.

That said, like all consultancies you never really know if a relationship with a PR firm works until you work with them.  We also recommend a six month initial period to see what they can do and if the chemistry is right.  You also want to get a good feeling for their billing.  If they are billing you for every penny, it will be aggravating an interfere with the relationship.

If you need help locating a PR firm, and Farr Marketing Group is not the right firm for you, we will be happy to help you find the firm with the right experience, size and budget that meets your needs.

 

 

 

The Nonprofit PR/Marketing Audit

Not-for-Profit organizations exist to do good. And most do. At the same time, they need PR, marketing and exposure to further their mission.

Many nonprofits don’t recognize they operate in a competitive environment. At the same time, many don’t accept the fact that there are probably dozens of similar nonprofits doing similar work.

So how does a nonprofit stand out? How does it convey its unique mission? How does it tell its story?

It is not easy. To tell a unique story, you have to have a unique story to tell.

That’s where fresh eyes come in. The nonprofit PR/Marketing audit is a way for a PR consultancy firm to take a fresh look at an organization and its unique selling proposition. In almost every case, the outside PR firm will see things those on the inside take for granted or don’t see.

When considering a PR campaign, consider first starting with an audit. It will shed valuable light on your organization and bring to life your story that will set you apart from all the others.