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.

The challenge for nonprofits to get their messages out

Those of us in the PR business, both as consultants and in-house, face the challenge of making our stories relevant and newsworthy.  This has always been a difficult process, but today it is even more difficult for marketing and PR people given the media environment.

When virtually all major news outlets are focused on any one story — in this case the presidency — makes breaking through with other news more difficult.  The media will cover what the media want to cover.  It just means that we in the public relations and marketing business have to be more focused and strategic to get the media’s attention.

This is not only for PR consultants, but nonprofits as well.  When they create programs and activities, they need to keep in mind how it will attract media attention.

Again, this is not easy, but it’s the reality of the times in which we live.


How much PR can a nonprofit expect?

As nonprofit PR specialists, we hear the same statement by nonprofit organizations all the time:  “We are the best kept secret in town.”

Every nonprofit believes they don’t get the amount of publicity they deserve.  After all, they do great work, have a dedicated staff and make the world a better place.

And they all are right.

But the reality is there are tens of thousands of nonprofits in America and only a limited number of media outlets.  Even if all media did nothing but wrote about the good works of nonprofits, there wouldn’t be enough space or airtime.

That’s why nonprofits need to take a strategic approach to their media relations and marketing.  It is not a good strategy to flood the press with news releases or pitch emails.  These should be done when stories warrant.  Doing great work is not always going to make CNN.  Doing exceptional work, that is visual, extremely unusual, and has a twist the media look for, will.

It is important for nonprofits to adopt realistic expectations.  No nonprofit, even the largest and most high profile, get their stories in the media every day.  So work to create effective, impactful stories and pitch them correctly and the media will respond.

A Picture is Worth a Senate Seat

The old saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” has never been more true than with the situation with Sen. Al Franken.  Caught in the middle of the avalanche of allegations of sexual improprieties, Franken tried having it both ways.  His initial statements were that he respected the rights of women to express their feelings, while at the same time saying he didn’t remember events as they were portrayed.  He said he wouldn’t resign and keep working for the people of Minnesota.

Then the picture appeared.

While he tried to hang on to his job and senate seat, the infamous photo that he took before he became a politician haunted him.  It was everywhere and he couldn’t escape it.  One has to wonder if he hadn’t taken that disgusting and not very funny photo, whether he could have weathered the storm and hung on.  But photographic evidence, especially a picture as blatant and posed as this one, was more than he could withstand.

Photography and video are powerful instruments, perhaps the most powerful we have next to in-person statements.  The world has changed — for the better and sometimes for the worse — because everything we do seems to be caught on camera.  If there aren’t security cameras mounted on building rooftops capturing our every move, there are a dozen people with cell phones who will.

This new reality has made the world a bit safer. It has helped law enforcement catch and identify criminals.  And today, it brought down a sitting United States Senator.

In the public relations business, we promote and encourage clients to use photos and video.  Let’s face it, people have short attention spans and always prefer looking at a photograph than reading a story.  It is faster, easier and shows what really happened.

When marketing a product or business, the use of pictures and video is a must.  It cuts right to the core of messaging.  Photos that are not too arranged or Photoshopped, display the truth more than words ever can.  Sen. Franken discovered that today when he lost one of the most powerful jobs an American can hold.

Maybe if he goes back to comedy, he will think twice about doing something so foolish and denigrating, and think a second time about having it caught on camera.

Litigation PR — Good Marketing or Good Legal Strategy?

Is the courtroom the place where legal issues are decided?  Or, is it decided in the court of public opinion managed by public relations and marketing pros?  The lines have become muddied.  It seems that before a case gets into the courtroom, it has been decided on TV by pundits who give legal analysis without the minor advantage of having any legal background.

It is often difficult to divide politics from legal issues.  They spill over to one another.  Cases involving illegal immigrants don’t become cases of law, they become cases of opinions on legal or illegal immigration.

That’s why attorneys have learned to get their positions heard and seen on the media before the court. And that’s where public relation practitioners come in.   If they can persuade public opinion to their side, then more often than not, they won’t even have to go to court.  They will win by the compromise brought about by public pressure.


The PR of Sexual Misconduct

There seems to be no end to stories of newsmakers being accused of sexual misconduct.  It makes headlines when it is a celebrity or politician, but one can be certain it reaches into every corner of the workplace.

The latest and most high profile is Minnesota Senator Al Franken who has been accused of groping and inappropriate actions and remarks against a host of women.  Yesterday the former comic and Senator faced the media — briefly — to say what he’s been saying since the allegations, and photograph, came to light.

But while the media hurried in a frenzy to cover, Franken said nothing new.  He said the same thing he said since the allegation was made public.  He also said the same thing every accused says.

There seems to be a playbook of what to say and what not to say in these situations.  Most will admit wrongdoing and promise to never do it again.  They know denial will just give more life to the story.  So it’s best to admit they did wrong and hope the story dies.

It is typical PR strategy.  The first step is to get ahead of the story, if you can, but you don’t want to create a story that might not happen.  When and if it does, then protect yourself legally, admit to wrongdoing, go to therapy, apologize and hope your fans and constituents move on.

It seems likely this is a story that will live on forever.  Men in positions of power levy their power for their own gain and satisfaction.  The stories we have heard are probably a small fraction of the stories that exist.  But unless legal action is take, as it is with Harvey Weinstein in one case, there is not much to do other than hope people will eventually forget about it.


How Quickly the Tables Can Turn

Louis CK
Photo by Erik Pendzich

One day you are a media superstar.  The next people are terrified to utter your name.

Some people have built comedy empires making fun of other people.  The king of insult comedy was Don Rickles.  But everybody knew it was all in fun and deep down he was a marshmallow.

Then there are Louis C.K., and Kathy Griffin and others.  Their style of humor leave one wondering if it is really humor or an acceptable platform to spout hurtful insults.

But no longer.  Kathy Griffin has to work overseas after her Donald Trump mask fiasco, and Louis C.K. saw a mega star career come crashing down in one day after accusations of sexual misconduct. Accusations he admitted to.

There have to be people somewhere, someplace taking quiet satisfaction when things like this happen.  And when they do, there are few friends to come to their defense.  The most obvious is Louis C.K. who for years was a writer for top TV talent such as Stephen Colbert, Conen O’Brien and on and on.  Everybody knew him before he made it big.  And it is like they knew his behavior and kept quiet.

They still are keeping quiet.

Perhaps the lesson for media and PR sustainability is be careful what bridges you burn and what fellow entertainers you insult.

One day you just might need the friendship you threw away so easily.



PR vs. Marketing vs. Publicity vs. Advertising. War of the Words

Words matter. But does it matter in the public relations (PR) and marketing business?

If it matters anywhere, it matters in marketing. We have had many meetings when clients say something like, “we need some publicity for this new initiative.” To us, “publicity” means media relations — working with reporters to get articles and TV segments for the client. To the client, it could mean taking out an ad. In one case, the client was referring to billboards.

So it is important to define terms and everybody be on the same page. That’s why organizations hire PR / marketing firms to create strategies. But when talking with one another, defining what terms mean, and what makes the most effective marketing sense, can make all the difference in the world.

Marketing a Fundraiser

If you are a nonprofit, you probably hold an annual fundraising event.  It could be a gala, sporting event or one of a myriad of other events.  These serve two purposes.  First, to raise funds, of course, but also to being awareness and PR to your agency.

Putting together a successful fundraising event is not easy.  It takes lots of hard work, time, planning and initially an outlaying of funds.  And who knows how successful it will be? You won’t until the event is over and you subtract expenses from income.

One suggestion is to have a strong committee.  This committee’s role will be to create a dynamic program, bring talent to the table and most important to sell tickets.  And ticket sales, to a large degree, depends on having strong honorees.

Many people don’t like being an honoree because then the floodgates open for other organizations to ask them.  But getting honorees who have influence and funds, can be crucial to a strong fundraising event.

Last, it may take a few years to start making money.  Look at a fundraising event as a long-term investment that takes time.  It will eventually pay off.


The Weinstein PR Debacle

Harvey Weinstein debacle

Harvey Weinsetin

Few examples of a sudden fall from grace come close to the case of Harvey Weinstein.  One day he is king of Hollywood, the next he can’t get a seat at a McDonald’s in Hollywood.  Some call it a PR disaster.  It is much more.

The term “casting couch” wasn’t invented yesterday or by Weinstein.  It has been part of Hollywood for decades.  But with social media, and the 24 hour news cycle, what was once a news story can be turned into a major global debacle.

Weinstein will try all he can to re-build his image by going to “sex therapy.”  He will fight for his company and try to get his life back.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but it seems futile.

As they say, its a short step from the limousine to the curb.