The One Secret Every Nonprofit Marketer Needs to Know

Guest blog post by Kevin Benz
has more than 25 years of experience as a broadcast journalist, news director, videographer and reporter. He also launched two of the most innovative media companies in the country — News 8 Austin (now Spectrum News), a 24-hour local news channel; and CultureMap Austin, the most read digital lifestyle magazine of the city.

If I told you the most successful nonprofit marketing medium available is also free, what would you do? You might be willing to invest a little time learning about it, right?

Marketing is hard, I know, and it can be expensive. It’s especially difficult for nonprofit organizations rightly focused on good outcomes for their clients, excellent relationships with their key funders and smart budgeting.

But you ignore investing in good marketing and brand promotion at your own risk. How will you grow your organization if you’re unable to spread the good word about your mission to those outside of your circle of relationships?

Marketing and promotion are core requirements for growth and I have a secret for you: the most successful marketing medium really is available to you for free. Free of financial investment that is, but it will require a commitment of time and energy.

That medium is the news. There is simply no faster, cheaper or more efficient way to project your message to a huge audience. I am talking about news of all sorts — TV news of course, but also newspapers, magazines and online editorial organizations.

The Secret to Marketing Success

Here is one secret only those who have worked inside the news media can tell you with certainty — the news media need you as badly as you need the news media.

Think about it…

  • How much news do your local news providers — newspaper, TV, radio, magazine — gather daily? Answer: A lot.
  • Where do they find all those stories? Answer: People like you.

You’ve certainly seen “earned media” before. You’ve watched many news stories focused on individual organizations doing great things in their community and wondered “Why don’t they do a story about my organization?”. Here’s why – the news media either don’t know you exist or they don’t know what you do. That’s on you, not on them.

It’s your responsibility to educate the news media about your organization and your expertise. It’s up to you to learn what the news media needs and then leverage that knowledge, delivering on those needs with story ideas that not only serve your promotional purposes, but also serve their need for compelling, important information.

There are three items that make up the checklist for success with the news media:

  • Develop a relationship. Know who the reporters are and what kinds of stories they like to cover. Meet them over coffee or in the newsroom, and then stay in touch.
  • Know your message. You would be surprised at the number of extraordinarily talented people who lock up when asked, “Why should I care about what you do?”. You must be able to speak eloquently and persuasively about your organization and the unique expertise you bring to your work.
  • Follow the news. News is timely by definition. It’s called news after all, not “olds”. The people who practice journalism work at breakneck speed and when a story happens, they want experts they can call immediately to learn more. That’s where you come in. If a story breaks that affects you or happens to be in your line of work, you need to call those reporters you have spent time getting to know. If you can deliver, they will be forever in your debt and their gratitude will show as they continue calling you and putting your organization in the news.

It sounds too easy, doesn’t it? It is. You simply need to know what you’re doing, and then do it. Woody Allen once said “80 percent of success is showing up”. For earned media that is remarkably true — 80 percent of success is being there and answering the phone, the other 20 percent is knowing what to say.

Those people you see on the news? They’re just like you. You can do it too; you just need to make a commitment of time to do it.

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