Pro Bono Tips Worth Sharing

By PR/Social Account Executive, Paige Blawas

There’s a common misconception that you need a big budget to make an impact in marketing. And while a big budget certainly helps, there are some basic principles of media relations that can help increase success, focused on providing the right messaging, at the right time, delivered via the right channel.

Gatesman’s public relations team is often approached by nonprofits and other charitable organizations that don’t necessarily have the budget to support a 360 marketing campaign. For example, our PR team was recently tapped by the Brain Cancer Awareness 5K of Pittsburgh in August to help them promote their event and tell their incredible story to local media. While we didn’t provide a full program or full bench of marketing support, we were able to pitch in with some employee volunteer hours and share some tips for success that helped them get results. And it worked! Several of the event organizers appeared on Pittsburgh Today Live the Monday before the 5K, helping to drive last-minute registrants and put more eyes on their message.

From our experience with the Brain Cancer Awareness 5K and organizations like it over the years, we’ve gleaned a few helpful tips we like to pass along to pro bono organizations or others looking to reach local media, but without necessarily having a big budget:

Map it out before you pitch it out.
This is the most important step of the entire media relations process – the planning! And it’s not just the event itself you should be worried about. It’s the before, during and after.

  • Before the event, it’s important to consider your message and identify a list of media you’d like to share it with. Then, you craft your pitch and your media list. But remember, all good pitches have a call-to-action. For example, if your goal is attendance, tell them you’re working on finalizing your media credentials and would love to have them attend. If it’s an interview with the event organizers for coverage, ask them if you can connect them with subject-matter experts to get to the heart of the story/event. Whatever your pitch is, make sure it has a call-to-action at the end. Once you’ve crafted the perfect pitch with the right call-to-action, send an email pitch to 1-2 targeted people from each publication on your media list (do this one at a time). And if you don’t have access to Cision (a fancy PR tool that pulls media contacts from across the country) don’t sweat it. Often, you can find the contact information in the “contact us” portion of a publication’s website. And don’t be afraid of a little Google surfing. 🏄

  • During the event, it’s important to be on-site to intercept any media in attendance and help them get what they need for their stories. Being on-site also allows you to capture content for post-event follow-ups. During the 5K, for example, we took hundreds of photos and b roll content, parring it down to a handful of our favorites for post-event outreach and to leverage through other channels, such as on event websites and through social media.

  • If your media contacts couldn’t make it out to cover you story, follow up after the event to see if they might still want to do a story. Simply send an email (reply-all) with some event stats, photos or videos for them to use in their publication. Make this as turnkey as possible and your chances of coverage are much higher!

Keep it simple.
Reporters don’t like to receive pitches that are ten pages long. Trust us. Their time is precious, and they receive hundreds of emails a day (no, that’s not an exaggeration). Get to the point as quickly as you can in the first paragraph. Remember, you can always follow up a few days later with some secondary information for them to view like a video, link to a social media toolkit, case study/whitepaper or whatever else you think they might find compelling! If you don’t hear back by email two, consider giving the news desk a call. Often, pitches will be routed through the news rooms for consideration, so it’s always helpful to get someone on the phone to see if they’re considering it, but try to keep the follow-ups to a minimum. They’ll contact you if they’re interested in learning more.

Be a newshound.
Keeping your eyes and ears open gives you the ability to jump at opportunities to connect your message to a timely observance, event or news story. Remember, some of the most memorable campaigns began spontaneously based on observations of what was trending.

Engage microinfluencers.
Think of the coolest person you know. Chances are, they have a pretty big social following. If you think your event might be of interest to them, consider reaching out to see if they’d like to attend for free. The catch? Ask them to post about the event on their social channels to get the buzz going. Often, if they are local and engrained in your community, they’ll do this happily (and won’t ask for an additional kickback). Keep in mind, we’re not talking about a “Kim Kardashian” influencer. We’re talking about the business owner down the street or a local musician. If they have a big following and believe in your cause, you’re already halfway there.

Schedule a post-mortem.
Didn’t generate the coverage you were hoping for? Don’t get discouraged. You can’t control the news cycle just like you can’t control the weather. If there is a breaking news story, your event might have gotten bumped out of the rotation. And guess what? – that’s OK. You still made those connections and can hopefully tap into them for future editorial opportunities. Your next steps? Schedule a post-mortem with your event organizers to discuss what you could have done differently. Maybe next year you might consider posting more content on social media to support the event or even offering an exclusive to one local station to get a “peek behind the curtain.” Remember, there are no bad ideas! Just don’t make the same mistakes twice.

Did we miss anything here? Share your tips with us on our social media channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.