Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Know Your Audience -- How a Simple Request Missed the Mark; Further Soured Perception

Guest Post by Brian Reuwee

During my first week in a new job as Director of Communications for a national trade association in Washington, D.C., a large Texas metro newspaper (on their website, not in print) ran a negative story about my new employer largely taking our policy staff out of context. From my perspective, it was basically lazy reporting. He didn't ask any questions and didn't clarify or follow-up with me or my policy chief.
I emailed and called the reporter after the story ran. He basically said he'd write what he wanted and spin it however he felt compelled. His paper buys the ink/pixels, that's his (and his editors) prerogative. Regardless, that doesn't set us up for a particularly productive flak/media relationship. Certainly not one where I'd be doing him any favors.
Which is why I was surprised by a generic, mail-merged email pitch from him, asking me to donate to his start-up distilled spirit enthusiast magazine. Really? Really!? Here's the email:

Hi Brian,
Hope things are well! I'm getting in touch because together with a group of some of the best (distilled spirit) writers across the country, I am launching a new publication called [Distilled Spirit] Story Magazine. Demand for [distilled spirit] has never been higher. It's in demand at the cocktail bar around the corner and in Asia too, where some of [state where said distilled spirit is most famous]'s largest distillers are being snapped up for billions of dollars. Distillers are having to crack open barrels early, just to keep up with the boom.
We want to tell this story in a monthly magazine with long-form narratives, Q&As and meet ups with members of the [distilled spirit] brain trust. With your help, we will be able to deliver a unique in-depth view of the industry that you won't find anywhere else.
But I need your help to make it happen. In order to commit to writing this on a regular basis and keep a staff of writers, illustrators and photographers we need to raise $80,000 over the next month. We're working on some big sponsors, but by subscribing for just $5/month, you'll directly support my project and will help show that demand for this project exists.
It would mean alot (sic) to me if you could get behind this, Brian.
Pledge here and your early support will help us secure sponsorship down the line!
Thanks and hope to hear from you!
Hey, I'm glad the guy has a dream and a passion, unfortunately for my association and members, his dream does not include being an unbiased newspaper reporter. But I'm happy to know I'm in his contact list. PR guys appreciate that. 

Setting aside his shortcomings as a Hill reporter, let me address what's wrong with this email:

First, we are not friends (or friendly). Although I enjoy this particular distilled spirit, he and I really don't know each other well enough to email casually in the first place, let alone well enough to ask for money. 

Second, I didn't ask or give permission for anything resembling a solicitation. This is a critical component most marketers (and associations) forget, and it may be ruining relationships with potential donors. Permission is critical.

Finally, the email doesn't emphasize what's in it for me -- it's all about him and his new publication. He doesn't make me care enough about this distilled spirit magazine to overcome my inertia to delete this email.

For nonprofits looking to fund new programs, there are a few lessons here:

  1. Trust comes first. Know who you're asking for support and make sure they know you. Make friends with your stakeholders and find out what interests them and why they may support you. Don't fake a relationship with small talk and mail-merged personalization.
  2. Get permission. Do you think you're not a spammer because you're an association and you're only emailing your members? Wrong. If it's unwelcome, it's spam. Ask your stakeholders if they want to receive your emails first. Build a relationship, then make the ask.
    Think of it this way: If you were networking with potential employers, asking for a job right off the bat would come across as pushy and not be very effective. Same with email.
  3. What's in it for me. You know you're great; your idea rocks. But as Dr. Phil says, It's not about you. It's about me. What do I get out of this transaction. How does donating enrich my life better -- it's probably the same things that make your program great, but said in a way that strokes my ego.
 What do you think? What can associations learn from this wayward pitch?

Brian M. Reuwee, MBA, is director of communications and marketing for the Agricultural Retailers Association. He is responsible for all of ARA’s publications, media relations, website and marketing collateral. In addition, I lead ARA’s efforts for industry image enhancement and support communications for ARA’s advocacy efforts on behalf of agricultural retailers.

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