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From  PRWEEK

            August 22, 2005

 

Experts are a nonprofit’s best PR asset

 

Any nonprofit, large or small, will have a team of experts in its ranks who

should be media-trained and ready to contribute to – and even make news.

By Alex Grainger

 

For many small nonprofit organizations like the South Carolina chapter of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations), leveraging experts as valuable resources for the media is an essential tool to raising their profiles in the community, as even the smallest mention of a group can help increase awareness.  But positioning those knowledgeable experts is a more nuanced process than simply waiting for the phone to ring when there’s breaking news.

 

With many journalists first looking online for background information and help with sourcing, the internet is the best place to begin the courting.  At the Honor Society of Nursing, chief communications officer David Sousa created an extensive online and print media guide that contains a thorough list of members’ expertise.

 

“A journalist can go into the media guide and search by a particular disease type or area of interest,” explains Sousa.  A refined search sorts results by geographic location, allowing any story to take on a local angle with a local expert.  For journalists who call directly to his office, Sousa says the media guide becomes an internal tool for easy reference.

 

Not all nonprofits, however, can simply wait for the story inquiries to come to them.  David Reich, principal of boutique firm Reich Communications, handles PR for the Peter C. Alderman Foundation and The Christophers, among others, and helps his clients create one-page tip sheets to send out to reporters.

 

“Rather than sending a reporter a whole bunch of information” like a media guide,“ says Reich, “it’s easier, at least for starters, for them to have something that’s simple; one page long, with basic issues the organization deals with, and possible discussion topics or story angles.”  Also prominent on these sheets are the names and backgrounds of the organization’s experts, why they would be a good source on a particular topic, and contact information.  Although immediate hits are always welcome, the main goal is to let reporters know that the non profit and its experts are out there.

 

“Sometimes it’s just luck of timing, and I’ve gotten a call a few days later from a reporter who says ‘I just got your tip sheet and I’m working on a story.  Can I talk with so-and-so?’” adds Reich.  “And I’ve had it happen where two years later I got a call out of the blue from a reporter or producer who kept our tip sheet in their source file.”

 

Reich suggests anticipating news and being proactive.  “Send out short e-mails or faxes that say ‘If you’re planning on doing a story on a certain topic that’s current, we might be able to assist with background or quotable comments.’”

 

When it comes time for the interviews, PR officials say that building relationships with experts is as important as doing so with journalists. 

 

“What you’re asking busy people to do is take time out of their day to support the interests of the organization,” says Sousa.  “If you don’t have the relationship, it’s very difficult – even if they’ve volunteered to participate – to get them to react at the speed the media wants them to react.”

 

When all else fails, never underestimate the power of the pen – expert-authored Op-Eds or letters to the editor are increasingly popular methods for garnering attention for a group.

 

“You’ve got to make it timely, and it can’t be totally a hard sell for the organization,” explains Reich.  “But if you’ve got something by an expert in your organization giving his or her opinion on a subject or offering advice for people on how to deal with something … within reason you can work in a mention of the organization and what it does.” 

 

 

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