As a public relations professional, I’ve always liked this quote as it speaks to the value great public relations provides your association or nonprofit organization.
Here are five key elements of a successful public relations program for associations:
[Yes, PR is much broader than publicity or getting yourself in the news.]
1. Who is in charge?
- I’ve always viewed a PR professional as a key staff function for associations and nonprofits. And, as such, should report directly to and serve as a key advisor for the chief executive.
- No others should have a direct role in PR and only the PR staff should have initial contacts with the news media.
- Know what you want to achieve through your PR efforts. Is it to build awareness? To get more members? To recruit more donors? To advance your mission or your industry?
- Once you know your objectives, you can establish key themes and messages that can be carried out throughout your organization.
- I once interviewed with a nonprofit organization and the President told me his objective for me was to “keep us out of the paper.” Well, since I viewed PR as a proactive effort to – as my PR prof told us – to make deposits in the bank of goodwill, I declined the job.
- Your reputation with reports, editors, bloggers is crucial. You want to cultivate that relationship not just for the current issue but for the long-term value to your association.
- Bloggers represent important new media for your organization’s public relations program. Be sure you include bloggers in your profession/industry in your efforts to cultivate relationships with the media.
- Long ago, I served as the sports information director for a small college in Michigan and I worked hard at being a resource for sports reporters including those in Detroit. One Friday afternoon, a sports writer from Detroit called and asked if I was going to Saturday’s game (at a different college in our league). When I said yes, he asked “would you call me with the score after the game?” I said, I could but that was the job of the host school. I never forgot the response: “Yes, but they never call if they lose.”
- Rick Dungey, a PR professional with AMR Management Services, serves as the PR Manager for the National Christmas Tree Association. He is perhaps one of the best in the association world. Why? Because he has built a long-term relationship with reporters and editors around the country. And, because he goes to great lengths to respond quickly and provide the reporters with the information and/or contacts they need to get the story done.
- Create a media resource center for your associations’s website. Dungey does this for NCTA. He updates it annually or sooner if needed. The site includes key talking points, story suggestions, stats and facts and more. Great tools for editors and reporters. And, helps save Dungey time in responding to inquiries.
- As experts for your industry or professional, you have opportunity to “create news” and get it “placed” in key media.
- While the PR director at Albion College, a history professor (Robina Quale) wrote a fabulous article for our alumni magazine outlining the relationships between the U.S., Japan, China and the USSR. I was able to get this placed as a full page feature article in the Christian Science Monitor. Then, I used that story to get her interviewed on WJR, the powerful radio station in Detroit. A year or so later, I got an early morning call from WJR saying that Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong had died overnight and could I get Robina to the station by 11:30. As she and I were driving past the University of Michigan on our way to Detroit, WJR was announcing that Mao had died and their “China expert” was on her way in to talk about what it would mean. Powerful PR for a small college in the middle of Michigan.
- I have found that conducting a consumer survey related to your industry/profession can serve as a great platform for national coverage.
- We have included two or three key questions on the Harris Interactive consumer polls that are conducted twice a month. The results become the core for a news story and infographic that is provided to national media.
- We have successfully placed consumer poll stories in national media regarding Christmas Trees, Rural Flood Relief and Physician-Patient relations.
- When a reporter calls with a question, answering “no comment” is like “taking the 5th” or worse.
- Instead, you can say “I don’t have the facts to give you an answer, can I check it out and get back to you? What is your deadline?” This gives you the opportunity to find the sources and either craft a response or prep your CEO for an interview. And, it lets the reporter know you are seeking to help him/her get the story.
- And, be sure to respond before that deadline.