Elements of a successful nonprofit media event
Media events are important and popular to attract publicity. And there are many potential reasons for a nonprofit to hold a media event, including:
- announcing the release of a report with some ground-breaking new findings;
- celebrating the opening of a new building that will offer housing to low-income people;
- showcasing the talent of your best volunteers at an awards ceremony; or
- opposing a new law by staging a protest in front of city hall.
There is no denying that media events are hard work. However, they are also great opportunities to use, and experiment with, all of your communications skills and tools.
You’ll get to:
- write press releases and media alerts;
- prepare your spokespeople;
- draft a speech for your president to deliver;
- pitch an important story to media outlets and journalists in your network; and
- put together a social media campaign.
With all of these in play, you’ll be the master behind the scenes of the show.
Five good ideas on planning a successful media event
Over the years, I’ve learned my lessons (and I’ve made my mistakes). However, the one thing I have always known is that what all good media events share is newsworthiness. Your event must speak to the media and their audiences.
Before starting the planning process, consider newsworthiness as much as the time and day.
Make the event compelling enough that it can’t be missed, that journalists have to be there. At the same time, plan for the fact that not everyone can show up. Don’t take it personally – just provide those who can’t attend with any valuable content afterwards.
Once you’ve determined your event is newsworthy, you can begin planning.
Here are five ideas to get you started:
1. Decide what kind of event you’d like to host
With new technologies come new opportunities. Media events no longer have to be held in hotel meeting rooms or community centre gymnasiums. You can now hold a media event online. When I first started my job at Maytree, I suggested holding the media conference for a report release online via a webinar. This meant that we could invite people from across Canada.
Organizing an event online also allowed me to spend more time on putting together a detailed media list with journalists across the country. For those who did not hear about the webinar in advance or who were not able to attend, we still received calls from those curious enough to speak to the author of the report.
2. Expand your media reach
There’s much talk about the changes in our media landscape. And it’s true: much has changed. With fewer journalists working in traditional media, it’s harder to convince them to come to and cover your event.
But there’s a whole other world of media out there. There are freelance journalists, bloggers and other social media writers. Also, don’t forget about the many speciality newsletters, journals and company papers. Many may be interested in hearing from you (and covering your event). Don’t discount them. Invite and provide them with the same access you would any other journalists.
3. Mix up your spokespeople
When media come to your event, they will expect to find someone to talk to. Make it easy and interesting for them.
Identify and prepare people who can talk about your subject. If, for example, you are releasing a report on child poverty, you could invite a researcher, someone with a lived experience of poverty, or a community worker to be spokespeople. It doesn’t always have to be your executive director or a member of your board, but it should be someone with an engaging style or willingness to be coached on how to speak with media.
Make sure all of your spokespeople are well prepared and briefed about the event. Never think that they will be okay just because they know the subject area and won’t need your support.
4. Make sure there’s an audience at the event
You will have to work hard to make sure that people show up to your event. While no one will really notice when the media is not there, the media will take note when they’re the only ones attending. While the camera crews may be able to interview spokespeople, events with sparse audiences will not lend themselves to crowd and background shots. So if you promise excitement and crowd shots, be sure to deliver on the promise.
5. Create an event guide – and keep it close (for once, sweat the small stuff)
To run a successful media event, like any type of event, you will need to pay close attention to details. Start with a detailed project plan listing all activities, responsibilities and deadlines.
As you prepare for the actual event, go one step further and put together your personal event guide. In this document you should include:
- Detailed event schedule, including speaking and technical/AV notes.
- List of who requires speaking notes (and bring an extra copy for every speaker).
- Equipment checklist and task list – so you won’t forget to test the microphones and bring the batteries! Also, you want to note who will mic the speakers if you have a panel discussion during the event.
- Photography shot list (event if you don’t have an official photographer). You want to leave with the right pictures taken.
- Checklist of what food and drinks will be available, who will put water out for the speakers (and where to get it if it’s not part of the catering).
- Emails and phone numbers of everyone involved in the event (since you’re not in the office, you may not have access to your database). That way you know how to reach anyone if there’s a change in schedule – or you are stuck in traffic.
With everything written down, you will be able to focus on the actual event and won’t have to worry about forgetting anything of importance.
Additional tips and tools to make your media event a success
There is no single formula for running a successful media event. Your existing skills and tools will be great assets. And, in case you’re interested, here are a few additional resources:
- Public Relations Toolkit. Published in 2003 by the Ontario Trillium Foundation to help grantees fulfill their grant recognition requirements and create successful public relations plans and programs, the toolkit contains a detailed step-by-step guide to run a media event. While some of the information may be dated (especially when it comes to social media), the information is still valuable. In fact, this one document probably helped me more than any other when I started my career.
- Your own rolodex. Don’t forget about your peers. In our sector, most of our peers are more than happy to help you with their experience and approaches. Just reach out (best a few months before the actual events) and ask for help. I know that I do!
- Nonprofit MarCommunity blog. Well, this goes without saying. Among other things, you’ll find great resources on running events and media relations.
- Newspapers, radio and TV news. As a communications professional, you should spend time reading newspapers, listening to the radio and watching TV. Find out what gets covered, how it’s been reported and who gets quoted. Then try to follow their lead.