Last week, along with my colleague Gemma Quainton, I went along to a “speedmatching” event for charities that wanted volunteer support for their media strategy.
It was soon obvious that it was surprisingly hard to find a good match between my skills and the needs of small charities.One woman said she wanted to develop a fundraising strategy. But it quickly became clear I’d no more idea about fundraising than she did.
A second said she wanted to build her social media profile. However it was obvious that others at the event knew much more than me.
A third said she’d like to meet more celebrities. All I could do was shrug hopelessly and say “Hmm. So would I.”
But one common theme came up where I could help: a lot of people knew they needed to raise their profile, but weren’t quite sure where to start.
Now I reckon the place to start with this is a simple one: work out who you want to talk to.
This seems obvious, but it’s often forgotten. Decide each group you need to reach – donors, for example, or beneficiaries, or volunteers – and then work out what you want to say to them. Ideally, see if you can sum it up, in your own mind, in one or at most two short sentences. Remember it, and ask yourself if what you’re doing is helping you achieve it.
Once you know who you want to talk to, and what you want to say, ask yourself where your audience are. Decide what places do they go, and what media they use. Then go there.
And remember, if you want to involve the media, you need news. The single most common reason journalists ignore a press release is because it’s irrelevant to their readers, and the second most common reason is because nothing new is happening. The third is because it’s not very interesting.
Come to think of it, that more or less covers every reason why journalists ignore a press release. If it’s new, interesting and relevant to our readers, it’s our job to write about it.
To sum up: to get in the papers, you need to do something.
Threatening closure is good for this. When I worked in local news, I happily wrote a story about a funding crisis at the local animal sanctuary three times a year.
Failing that, stage an event. Open a campaign. Dress up a supporter in a silly costume and send them out to fundraise.
Or why not write an open letter lambasting a local politician? Your local media love criticising the council, and it’s usually like shooting fish in a barrel.
Also, papers love pictures, so arrange some strong shots. Try to be original, too, because journalists hate pictures of middle-aged men in suits standing in a row. By God we hate those.
If you want to bypass the press, and speak directly to potential volunteers or donors, think about how you’ll structure what to say to them. Something like this might work:
Who you are.
What you do.
What you have already achieved.
What you want from them.
What they will get out of it.
What you will do with it.
How they can give it.
Try to phrase this using big, easy-to-follow numbers and simple stories, preferably featuring a cute child or puppy. Do not overcomplicate things, because people hate nothing more than being confused.
If you’re still not confident, access the expertise that’s available for free on the street. One way to do this is to go anywhere outside and in a town. Shortly, you’ll get chugged.
Chuggers have got finely honed pitches. Take some notes on their process, refuse to give them any money, and go on your way.
If you’re still not sure, try it and see if it works. Try one side of the street using one flyer, for example, and the other side using another. Where do you get better results?
Above all, promote yourself shamelessly. Talk to everyone. Repeatedly.
If you are reading this, you’re probably British, so there’s around a 90 per cent chance you hate this idea.
Sadly, that’s what works. People will listen to charities. But not if you don’t talk to them first.