The best media outlets won't run your news releases verbatim, but they will use the information from them, supplemented with a call to you or a spokesperson.
Here are some tips for getting your organization noticed by your local media.
1. Get to know the media that are most likely to cover you.
Read and watch the media in your local area. Subscribe to the newspapers and magazines; watch the local news; bookmark media websites; and join any organizations where you are likely to meet reporters and editors (some cities have press clubs that you can join).
2. Learn the names of the reporters who cover the beats most significant to you.
For instance, health reporters or sports reporters may be the ones who would be interested in your news. Then you can send your information directly to them rather than just to the "editor."
Don't forget more specialized reporters such as the society page editor who might be interested in your special event if it involves community leaders. The calendar page editor will want your event listings. Most newspapers also carry a list of volunteer opportunities, so find out who writes those.
3. Get to know reporters personally.
Start by arranging a short meeting at their papers or TV stations to introduce yourself. Be considerate of their busy schedules and make it brief. Drop off some printed material or personally deliver that press release instead of mailing or emailing it. Over time, you will have other opportunities to develop these contacts into more familiar relationships.
4. Send complimentary copies of your publications to reporters.
Instead of just sending these out with your mass mailings, personally send a copy with your business card attached. You can also attach a note directing the reporter to some item in the publication that might be of particular interest. You can't just sign up a reporter for your email communications, but once a reporter is interested, he will likely subscribe to your email newsletter or follow your organization on social media.
Send an invitation to your special event to the appropriate reporter. Even if the reporter doesn't attend, the invitation will remind him or her of you and your organization. Try to work in as many informal contacts with the reporter as possible. Eventually, you'll be remembered.
5. Keep up with the personnel changes at your favorite media outlets.
The turnover in the media is often rapid. Develop your own media list and keep it up-to-date. You may be able to subscribe to a media list for your locality, but it can't substitute entirely for your own meticulously kept list.
Look for reporters on social media and follow them there. Do not pitch reporters that way, though, unless you have some indication that they welcome it. Do that through email, mail, or phone.
6. Always give the media information that is newsworthy.
Your information should be new, noteworthy, and relevant to a large share of the public. Reporters are not interested in yesterday's news, items that are of interest only internally to your organization, or routine events.
Provide reporters with good human interest stories. Invite staff and volunteers at your organization to let you know about good story ideas that you might be able to pitch to the media. The best ideas often come from people who are on the front lines of your organization.
7. Develop a virtual media kit that resides on your organization's website.
Include the history of your nonprofit, its mission and goals, brief profiles and photos of key staff and board members, the most recent news releases, and a downloadable PDF of the current annual report. Busy reporters will appreciate being able to access this information easily.
Read more about attracting media to your nonprofit with an online press room
8. Take advantage of breaking news stories to promote your organization.
The best way to do this is to develop a cadre of "experts" who can speak to the issues your organization addresses. Train these experts (they can be staff members and/or volunteers) and make them available to reporters when there is a relevant news event.
Colleges and universities do this all the time, taking advantage of their faculty expertise. But even a small nonprofit can get exposure in this way. It takes a steady eye on the news and a couple of willing experts.
9. Make yourself available to the media at any time.
Always provide your email address on your press releases and on your website contact page. But also include a mobile number where reporters can reach you day or night. When you receive a call or a message from a reporter, get back to him or her as soon as you can. Reporters work on deadline and will appreciate your rapid response.
10. Always thank a reporter for his or her coverage.
Initially, thank the reporter by email, but also follow up with a hand written thank-you note. Never underestimate the power of a sincere thanks. Plus, never nitpick over minor inaccuracies. They are not worth your effort, and there is nothing to be gained by irritating a reporter.