Marketing & Media Relations Strategies to Raise Your Profile
By David H. Barclay

David Barclay
David Barclay
The purpose of media coverage for a nonprofit organization is always two-fold: to communicate information to a target group in the short term, and to raise the profile of the organization and strengthen its brand in the long term.

The skills required to successfully communicate information are basic and within the reach of nearly any marketing and public relations person. Media outlets—provided the news is timely—are generally willing to report significant developments and post upcoming activities in their community events calendars.

The skills required to raise the profile of the organization and strengthen its brand are much higher. A marketing leader must be able to think strategically and present the organization's activities in a way that garners significant attention. Raising the profile of an organization requires a planned campaign of interesting and genuinely newsworthy events and announcements over time. As with all marketing, repetition is the key to maintaining a high profile over the long term.

The following list describes twelve strategies for putting your organization in the spotlight and building brand identity.

1. Cultivate Media Contacts Before You Need Them

Reporters and editors need to know you and you need to know them. Get on a first name basis.

2. Make Announcements Genuinely Newsworthy

Be realistic about what makes a worthy story. Be creative. Be timely. Don't miss opportunities. A media spokesperson or marketing leader’s role includes helping executives think strategically and plan announcements and events that capture attention.

3. Using the Internet and Social Networking

The internet has expanded the definition of what constitutes a “media outlet” and created exciting new opportunities for exposure. The medium continues to evolve rapidly with most organizations feeling their way along. What is clear is that it is easier to publish online than offline and to be included in the publications of other organizations. What’s more, there is a new willingness for organizations to reciprocally promote each other.
  • Ask other organizations complementary to yours to list your events on their event calendar and link their website to yours. Do the same for them.
  • Contribute to popular on-line forums and listservs in a way that is positive and raises awareness of your organization’s work.
  • Use electronic publishing tools to self-publish newsletters and flash advisories.
  • Consider creating your own website-based blog and recruiting a group of thought leaders from your organization or field to discuss salient issues or concerns.
4. Make the Reporter's Job Easy

Get the basics down on paper. Answer who, what, when, where, why and how. Provide a contact list of quotable sources (and make sure they are prepared). Know deadlines and don't wait until the last minute. Always jump at the chance to help a new reporter.

5. Plan Interviews

Be clear in advance what you want to say and keep it simple. Think: "If the reporter only hears three things, I want to make sure it's these three." Craft colorful quotes in advance and work them into your comments. Regardless of what you are asked, work your three key points into your answers.

6. Hammer Your Brand Message

Know the core element or elements of your brand message and embed them in every communication that you make.

7. Maximize Exposure Through Repetition

For example, try for an announcement of an upcoming event well in advance, then an "it’s happening this weekend" story right before the event, and, finally, tell what happened, e.g., announce that attendance and funds raised exceeded expectations.

8. Avoid Being “Old News”

If coverage of an event does not get into the evening news, it's often considered old news by the next day and may get dropped altogether. Things get older even faster on the Internet. For fast-breaking news markets, write a press release in advance, then plug in the numbers (attendance, dollars raised, etc.) and get it to your media outlets immediately.

9. Time the Release of Your Information

Releasing information on certain days will result in more coverage than other days. Know which day and what time of day is likely to get the best coverage. For example, Monday is nearly always a light news day and what is covered generally gets more attention as a result.

10. Try to Institutionalize Coverage of Your Organization

Push the concept of a regular story. For example, a museum might promote a weekly or monthly "Have you seen...?" or "Did you know...?" series about items in its collection. Repetition is critical.

11. Return Reporters’ Calls Immediately

Media relations are a two-way street. Reporters are under fierce time pressures. Be there when they need you. If it's a call about bad news involving your institution, have a strategy and be prepared, but do respond in a timely way.

12. Send Thank-You Notes

Make sure reporters and editors hears it from different people within your institution—the director, board members, volunteers, and event participants. Keep in mind that every newspaper story is an opportunity to give more information in a gracious follow-up letter to the editor. You’d be surprised how little feedback reporters get, and what they do get is often critical. Make your organization a pleasure to cover. And don't get upset over minor inaccuracies in a story. It happens.

David Barclay has held marketing and media relations positions in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and has served as executive director of the Northeast Sustainable Energy Association. Contact him at