The Nonprofit Hero Factory: Episode 46

Raise Your Nonprofit’s Profile with an Effective Media Strategy, with Sean Kosofsky

In this Episode:

Getting media attention for your nonprofit’s work is a powerful way to reach new people, build your authority, and shape the narrative around your mission. It’s not enough to put out a press release and hope it gets picked up by some new source. Today, nonprofits of all sizes need a media strategy built on relationships and the ability to provide value to both the reporter and their audience.

For better and worse, news media itself has been undergoing rapid change over the last 20 years. With newsrooms shrinking, news cycles accelerating, and news sources multiplying, the competition for attention presents both a challenge and an opportunity for media-savvy nonprofits to step in and make their voices heard.

Sean Kosofsky, founder and CEO of Mind The Gap Consulting has been working with nonprofits to develop their media strategy. He joins us this week to break down how any org can develop relationships with news media and to be part of the public conversation versus simply reacting to it.

Listen to this Episode

[00:00:04.610] – Intro Video
Welcome to the Nonprofit Hero Factory, a weekly live video broadcast and podcast, where we’ll be helping nonprofit leaders and innovators create more heroes for their cause and a better world for all of us. Da Ding!

[00:00:21.910] – Boris
Hi, everybody. Welcome back to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. As always, I am your host Boris Kievsky, and I am here today with a friend of mine whom I’ve known for a few years now. I don’t know how many we go back. Maybe he can remember, but his name is Sean Kosofsky. Let me pronounce that right. And I love his moniker of the nonprofit fixer it says a lot right there. But he is a coach, consultant, trainer and strategic advisor to nonprofits. For the past 28 years, he has helped causes, campaigns and candidates, raise millions of dollars and transform nonprofit organizations and leaders.

[00:00:57.690] – Boris
Sean has served in a wide variety of roles in nonprofits from policy, communications, development, organizer, direct service, boards, and five stints as an executive director. He has worked on a wide range of issues including LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, voting access, bullying prevention, climate change, and more. All really great, important issues. Sean’s work has been covered in media outlets—really relevant to today—internationally, and he has received numerous awards for his work. He’s an author and the owner of Mind The Gap Consulting. Sean is currently the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy Lab. He is a proud Detroit native, but lives in New York with his husband and their dog, Harry.

[00:01:39.790] – Boris
Before I bring Sean on, let me just tell you that his superpower is pitching. He says that he’s very good at breaking things down and explaining them simply in a way that is easy for people to understand and I’m guessing very effective for hooking media attention, because that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. We’re going to be talking about your PR and media strategy and training. With that, let’s bring Sean on to tell us more. Hey, Sean.

[00:02:03.190] – Sean Kosofsky
Hey. How are you?

[00:02:04.410] – Boris
I’m doing great today. I’m really happy to have you on the show. We, as I said, have known each other for a few years now. We’ve done a few things together. And finally, I get to have you on the Nonprofit Hero Factory.

[00:02:16.510] – Sean Kosofsky
Absolutely. Thanks for having me. I’m super excited to be here to talk about all things nonprofits.

[00:02:21.550] – Boris
Awesome. And I know you can talk about all things nonprofits, but we’re going to zone in and hone in, I should say, on one particular strength of yours, which you have several, and that is the media training thing. But before we dive into that, I read your bio and your superpower here. Clearly an impressive dude. 28 years. Hats off to you off of my bald head here. But real quick, why don’t you give the folks at home a little introduction? What’s your story? Why do you do what you do today?

[00:02:48.130] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think that for me, nonprofit work has been a lifelong journey, as you said 28 years. I got my start at age 16, really stayed in the sector, had no idea in college what I wanted to do when I grew up. But when I fell into a really great job at a civil rights organization in that state at age 20, I was hooked and realized I could make a career out of doing this. And I have just been in the nonprofit space ever since. But I really think the experience as a gay man of being in the closet when I was a teenager, the painful experience of being in the closet and what that felt like has really driven so much of my advocacy and so much of my activism during my life because I really want to make sure that I can end suffering wherever I see suffering happening. And if I can get paid doing that, that’s amazing. So my journey has always taken me to organizations where I can specifically tackle people suffering or struggling or the world in some ways with climate organizations that I’m with now, the world sort of struggling.

[00:03:46.870] – Boris
That’s awesome. It’s interesting because a lot of nonprofit founders, I feel, get into the work because they personally have their own mission. Obviously, they have to be mission driven in some way or other. And a lot of it stems from what in the for-profit space might be called scratching your own itch, right? You have a problem and you want to solve it. I think most of us can resonate with that. And I really appreciate that you shared that bit with us today. So let’s then dive into what’s going on in the nonprofit sector, particularly when it comes to PR and media? What’s happening in terms of COVID? How is the world happening? How is the world working or not working these days for organizations?

[00:04:33.460] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think for a lot of people, they’ve realized that the news environment and the media environment has really, really changed. And especially for nonprofit organizations, it’s changing a lot because it’s getting harder and harder to break through. So some of the things we’ve noticed that are happening out there in the past 10 or 15 years is that newsrooms are shrinking. Not only… I mean, most of the newsrooms, the daily and local print and radio and broadcast publications across the country are getting smaller. It has to do with the fact that more and more news is available more and more freely for folks. And whether Huffington Post or all these different trends really started this idea or Facebook or whatever it is that people can get lots of their information now for free, that we are seeing a lot of individuals out there sharing news and sharing news around the country more freely. But it is causing news sources to kind of shrink. And that means that people’s sources of information are actually shrinking, too.

[00:05:34.430] – Sean Kosofsky
So many people around the country are getting more and more of their trusted news locally and that really can be a good thing for nonprofits since most nonprofits are small. But it also does mean that there’s more polarization. So this is one of the other problems that exist out there is that increasingly people are being pushed to one side or the other based on where their new source is from. You can look at this through a lot of demographic data, more than partisanship, more than almost anything else. Where you get your information from has a big indication of where you fall politically. And that has a lot to do with the fact that some news is getting shared and repeated across the country that is not being fact checked because newsrooms are shrinking and fact checkers are shrinking, right? So the problem in the news media for nonprofits, especially advocacy organizations or anyone trying to dispel myths or rumors or bad information, whether you’re working on mental health or you’re working on advocacy or civil rights, it’s really a problem that we are seeing across the media environment.

[00:06:33.970] – Boris
So that’s absolutely all spot on. And there’s a lot to unpack in there in terms of what’s happening in the world. Yeah, absolutely. Newsrooms are shrinking because anyone now has access to become their own media channel. Anyone can now become a news source in one way or another now, whether or not they are biased. I mean, it’s hard for any human being to not be biased in some way or another, but there are trained professionals who try to limit their bias when it comes to their reporting. And then there’s the rest of us who just want to present our point of view, our perspective. And now that anyone could be their own media network, right? Look, right now we’re on our own show. Even 15, 20 years ago, this was near impossible for us to do. Pre dotcom boom. It was completely impossible. So that’s definitely having a positive and negative effect. There’s more news to find and more individual personal stories that you could access. And at the same time, there’s less of what you’re referring to as fact checking and more of that echo chamber effect that when you get into it, the world looks one way as opposed to what everyone might be seeing on the other side.

[00:07:50.860] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:07:52.030] – Boris
So then how do we manage that? How do we navigate that as organizations? I guess we want to get our point of view out there. Hopefully, it’s a fairly accurate and neutral point of view. But of course, organizations have opinions, too, right? If you didn’t think… have an opinion that there’s something wrong with the world, you wouldn’t be starting an organization. So how do you differentiate and then let’s talk about how you get your point of view out there.

[00:08:21.140] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think one of the most important things is to not sit idly by and let the media or news environment happen to you. It has to be proactive engagement with newsrooms. It has to be actively putting out there to your email list, your website, social media and to your media list, your point of view, your perspective and the facts. I think that for a lot of organizations, this really does mean holding truth to power and making sure that when you see articles that come out, that you contact that reporter and say, “Hey, here’s this thing you just ran, or here’s this thing that’s actually problematic or wrong.” So we need to be correcting a lot of the things we see in the media. And that’s one of the ways you can get press attention. It’s simply watchdogging and policing it and making sure that it’s actually accurate.

[00:09:06.430] – Sean Kosofsky
And then you can do your own sort of work where it is packaging the work you do, the accomplishments you’ve had and pitching newsrooms or building relationships with reporters or publishers or in some cases influencers to get a larger audience for your organization.

[00:09:21.930] – Sean Kosofsky
But I do think one of the biggest things out there is getting the discipline down for organizations to understand what is my key message? What is the thing that I want to say and that I’m talking to the reader and to the viewer, not to the reporter, right? You’re trying to reach the actual public, not some conduit, not some journalists. They are helpful. They are important. But they are a means to getting the truth out to the public. That’s what journalism does, and that’s what the news media does. And successful organizations will know how to harness the media to get out its point of view and its perspective.

[00:09:54.250] – Boris
Okay, awesome. Let’s break all of that down. So first of all, you mentioned holding truth to power and watchdogging. Does that mean whenever you see something that you disagree with out in the media, it’s about putting out a statement? Is it trying to get in touch with the publication source, or is it just putting out your own thing somewhere else? How do you define watchdogging? What does that kind of look like for an organization?

[00:10:20.950] – Sean Kosofsky
I think if you… Let’s say you’re an organization in Metro Detroit, my hometown. And the Detroit News or the Detroit Free Press is deciding to cover something in the news, like the recent shooting in Oxford Township, Michigan. There was this shooting there, right? If you’re an organization working on public safety or gun issues or gun safety, or if you’re a gun advocate, whatever the issue is. If there is an article or a series of articles covering something that is untrue or is based on a premise that you believe is untrue, you can contact that reporter and contact the different media outlets and use the coverage of what you’re seeing as part of what story it is you want to cover, right?

[00:10:59.500] – Sean Kosofsky
Simply pointing out the bias or pointing out the lack of information included in news articles can be newsworthy. So when I say watchdog, I don’t mean being a pain in the butt, right? I just mean that folks can absolutely reach out to journalists or to the editorial page or to broadcasters or to independent journalists and bloggers and say, “Hey, here’s something I’m noticing happening and this needs to be corrected.” This is part of the whole issue environment that we’re traveling in right now that people keep referring to with this word or this term or with the wrong angle. And those are things you can do as a watchdog.

[00:11:33.750] – Sean Kosofsky
Or you can also put out your own statement, right? Responding to the events of the day with your own written statement through email, through press statements, through social media. All of that can have an echo effect for your followers to be saying the same thing that you are and elevating that perspective.

[00:11:50.050] – Boris
I love that because it’s empowering your supporters to really get your message out there more and feel like they are helping the cause at the same time. Like it’s an easy action that they could take to share your message in response to something to get more people looking at it from your point of view.

[00:12:07.010] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:12:08.110] – Boris
So then it seems like you’re talking about major news outlets, right? In this case, like the Detroit Free Press. What about these smaller or more independent outlets that you’re talking about, these smaller local news outlets or even some of these folks you mentioned influencers earlier. You’ve got… Right now, as we’re talking, there’s an ongoing I don’t know if it’s a scandal or debate about Joe Rogan and his influence on Spotify. I don’t think a lot of nonprofits are going to be able to reach out to Joe Rogan and say, “No, I want airtime on your show.” Right? So what is it that we can do when it’s not a major news outlet, but yet we want to respond to something or change the conversation around something?

[00:12:59.890] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, a lot of people are getting their news more locally. So obviously a ton of people are tuning into Rogan and they’re getting information from huge influencers, Tucker Carlson, Rachel Maddow. They’re getting their information from huge sources, right? But I think the most important thing for most nonprofits is to focus locally, right? So if you notice… again, newsrooms are shrinking, so there’s fewer and fewer journalists. So these newspapers are subscribing to content around the country.

[00:13:26.790] – Sean Kosofsky
So if your company owns the Washington Post and like 30 other newspapers around the country, you’re going to recycle the same articles around the country to save money. So if you’re a local paper in the thumb of Michigan—folks from Michigan know there’s like a thumb in the shape there—there’s local papers there that might be just syndicating or copying or subscribing to the same misinformation that’s happening around the country.

[00:13:47.780] – Sean Kosofsky
A year ago, for example, a year ago maybe this week was the big freeze in Texas where they had this giant storm that froze the entire state or for vast swaths of the state. And there was a huge disinformation campaign about what was to blame, right? Was it the windmills which people were circulating images of windmills that were not in Texas and saying that this is the reason why this happened. So as someone who works on climate and clean energy, I know that that is a perfect moment to reach out to your local paper and say, “Look, we all know locally where our energy is actually coming from, especially in Texas.” It is gas and oil, right? So we know that it’s not the windmills causing this problem. So there are opportunities locally to have an impact. And then when people are doing fact checking or their Google searching, as they are right now around the one year anniversary of that thing that happened in Texas, they can see the truth, right?

[00:14:35.480] – Sean Kosofsky
So you might not be able to break through with the large folks who might have a commercial interest in actually spreading disinformation or misinformation. But locally you can have an impact. National nonprofits typically are a lot more sophisticated and have a larger press list and can actually go after a Joe Rogan or someone else and say, “You need to stop this.” And there’s a lot of advocacy right now around what’s happening with Spotify, misinformation about COVID-19 and artists pulling back their content from Spotify. So that’s an activism thing.

[00:15:03.800] – Sean Kosofsky
We’re seeing this opportunity of how do we confront misinformation and disinformation? And one of the creative tactics emerging is getting artists to take a stand in this area, not just on Spotify, pulling back their content until they correct things on the Joe Rogan show about these vaccines, but also in many, many other ways where we’re seeing people use artists to tackle these large platforms because the little guy might not be able to do that.

[00:15:29.510] – Boris
Right. So it’s leveraging someone else’s power who might believe in you and is hopefully already part of your community in one way or another to get them to draw attention to something because they have that bigger platform to speak from.

[00:15:43.670] – Sean Kosofsky
Right. Absolutely. Depending on your issue, depending on your locality, depending on the demographics you serve, you’re going to have different tactics available to you.

[00:15:51.860] – Boris
Very cool. And I like the statement you made about larger nonprofits will have a more national reach and have larger distribution lists, whereas local nonprofits, smaller nonprofits, whatever it might be, can still have an impact on a smaller or more local scale, but still a dramatic impact. I also think that it’s sometimes an opportunity for a smaller nonprofit to break out and get its voice heard on a much larger scale, sort of go viral, if you will, if they do take a great stance in opposition to something that’s going on and make their voice heard.

[00:16:28.270] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:16:29.830] – Boris
So then how do we develop these relationships with newsrooms? You mentioned that earlier. And when I think of developing a relationship, it’s communication, it’s getting on phone calls or going out to dinner with somebody, before COVID you’d take a client out to dinner or something like that. I don’t imagine that that’s how it happens necessarily with newsrooms. But what do you do? How do you get that going?

[00:16:56.770] – Sean Kosofsky
Well, I think that the first and most important thing, if you’re a local organization, which most nonprofits are or even regional or statewide, the most important thing you need to do is create a media list. A media list can be really simple. It can be a one-page piece of paper or a spreadsheet or someplace or in your donor database, wherever you’re keeping track of contact information, to create a list of all of the outlets that you want to have a relationship with. These can be daily papers. These can be weekly alternative news magazines that tell you about concerts coming to town, all that stuff. If you’re in a rural area, it might be the local register that talks about like purse snatching or the price of agricultural products. I don’t mean to be dismissive of that, but like those smaller town rags, people gobble that information up, right? And the information is hyper, hyper local typically, right?

[00:17:47.490] – Sean Kosofsky
So if you’re working in a rural environment or a local environment, make a list of all of the outlets that you want to be in, including digital. So don’t just think of broadcast in print. Think about, does someone have a great blog? Does someone have an important Substack or Medium channel that they can, or even a Facebook following or Instagram following that you want to make sure that that person is on your list of people to build a relationship with. And then over time, if you have anyone focused on communications in your organization, have that person or the executive director be the main point of contact with that person. You want to be familiar with these folks. You want to be helpful to these folks.

[00:18:28.230] – Sean Kosofsky
Most journalists and writers, they have deadlines, they have facts, they have things they need to do. And if you can be a resource to them and make their job easier, they’re going to call you every single time. One of the most important things with media is to make it easy for the media to cover your issue. I send out a press release that has three quotes in it already from experts. I’ve made their job so much easier as a reporter, right? So they’re going to call me every single time an issue comes up on my topic because I make it easy for them.

[00:18:56.480] – Sean Kosofsky
So build a list of your outlets. Who’s the person there? Get their Twitter handle, all that different stuff, and then begin building that relationship regularly with them and make it easy. Then they start calling you. You don’t even have to do the pitching.

[00:19:10.930] – Boris
How does that work, though? How do you start building that relationship? Is there just a cold outreach that you do, a campaign where you just start either tweeting at them or you send them an email somehow. How do you begin that relationship?

[00:19:25.760] – Sean Kosofsky
Yes, it’s totally cold. If you have a warm connection, great. But unlike fundraising, where it’s a little trickier, right? You want to make sure you come in as a fundraiser in a way that warms them up or doesn’t look too salesy or whatever. But for a reporter, you want to help them do their job better. They want resources. They want people who are sources. They want people giving them information. So it’s actually a lot easier with journalists.

[00:19:47.840] – Sean Kosofsky
I would just reach right out to them with a phone call. People don’t make phone calls anymore. They text or they email. But I really strongly recommend when it comes to a reporter because they deal in facts and they deal with clarity. And sometimes getting a conversation on the phone is so much better than something over email or text. I would definitely reach out, even if it’s cold, and say, “Hi, this is my name. This is the organization I work with. We are experts in this. And whenever you cover this issue, we’d love to be considered as an expert source.”

[00:20:15.350] – Sean Kosofsky
And we do this all the time. My clients, we do this. We reach out to daily and regional outlets and say, “Please make sure we are on your short list of sources when you’re covering gun violence or when you’re covering climate.” So that you start getting calls. But yeah, it does start as a cold outreach. And it could be again, text, social media. But I always recommend a phone call if you can find their phone number.

[00:20:37.090] – Boris
So I’m really glad you said that you should just do a cold outreach and just introduce yourself and try to get on their list. I was wondering, should you wait until there’s an opportunity, until they’re actually talking about something that you can give input to and respond to?

[00:20:55.370] – Sean Kosofsky
No, I would say be a resource before your subject pops, right? When a reporter has… Reporters have deadlines, sometimes multiple per day. They have several stories that they need to get this topic or this 500 words or whatever it is to their editor by 01:00 p.m., right? They have very little time. It is like a very, very deadline-driven career. And so you want to be top of mind that they have things like on their desk or in their phone. They immediately can know who they can pull up, right? They do keyword searches and figure out who do I go call. And so you don’t want to wait until something breaks or something explodes or some topic erupts for you to get in front of them. Obviously, that’s a good time to start if you’re late. But you don’t want to wait for that moment, right? You definitely want to be an expert in their mind before they need a resource.

[00:21:44.290] – Boris
Really cool. And I just wanted to add, because you were saying earlier about local and regional publications for the smaller nonprofits. I think there’s another opportunity that today, because anyone can start their own media channel, there are certainly specialized media channels as well. So it might not be a publication or a news outlet of some sort that covers many different topics, but it might be a specialized blog or like you said, Substack or Medium that’s talking about something very specific that you really are an expert in.

[00:22:16.830] – Boris
And one of the things that I love about media outreach in general and the types of strategies that you’re outlining is, it really establishes your organization and individuals within it as thought leaders in the space. And every brand wants to be a thought leader. So this is an opportunity to put your nonprofit brand out there as one as well, right?

[00:22:39.790] – Sean Kosofsky
Absolutely. I think that there are many, many places now where people are basically publishing. So in addition to blogs, in addition to social media, there are now Substacks and Medium. Medium was launched five or six years ago to be a new publishing platform for creators or anyone to help them to develop their own audience. Substack is the same way. I can create a newsletter and get paid for that newsletter for my own individual content. Individuals are now publishers, and increasingly people who are experts or just really opinionated are publishing their own stuff. And if it strikes a chord or it’s accurate or they uncover something really interesting, it just takes off or it goes viral.

[00:23:19.550] – Sean Kosofsky
I can’t tell you the power that is in that, simply being local makes you an expert. Someone nationally could just need a local take on something going on. For example, simply being a local person in a battleground state heading into a presidential election could make your voice really matter about what you’re seeing on the ads on TV, what you’re seeing about whether politicians are talking about your issue or not.

[00:23:41.550] – Sean Kosofsky
So lots of folks can use social media. You can begin just tweeting what you’re seeing happening live with police violence or something, anything at all, right? And people are going to start gravitating toward your platform, whether it’s your Twitter feed or whether it’s your Substack or whether it’s your Facebook group. You can start publishing anywhere where you can develop an audience.

[00:24:00.170] – Sean Kosofsky
So nonprofits have access to all of these platforms for free. Substack is free. All these things are free. Social media is largely free. Tik-Tok, all of these things. So don’t hesitate to use your platform and your topic as a reason for creating expertise. If you want to be a thought leader, begin putting out not just newsletters to your own members, but commentary and comment out to the public through a different channel. It’s an additional way to get noticed by the press.

[00:24:28.510] – Boris
One more channel I’d add to that is, well, it’s a combined channel of shows like this one where people are doing either video or podcasts, exclusively audio and they build up an audience, they build up a following. And like me, for example, they’re always looking for great guests. They’re always looking for people who can speak to something that may be topical or at least relevant to their audience. So it’s another opportunity to put yourself out there and to develop your thought leadership and branding out in the world.

[00:24:57.220] – Boris
I do want to ask if, let’s say your organization, a nonprofit, has the resources to have multiple people in these roles where they have a marketing—a dedicated marketing person, dedicated press person, or maybe they’re the same person, but whom should they be pitching? Should it just be anyone in the organization, or should they be trying to develop a relationship with, for example, the executive director or the head of a particular program that the organization is sponsoring?

[00:25:27.910] – Sean Kosofsky
So to make sure I understand your question correctly, who would be doing the pitching in this situation?

[00:25:33.320] – Boris
It’s not necessarily who would be doing the pitching, but you talked earlier about establishing relationships and saying, “Hey, we are in authority on this.” When it comes to a reporter calling for some sort of input or quoting someone, I would imagine usually it would go to someone who is on a senior level at the organization. Do you try to say, feel free to reach out to so and so at any time, or how do you structure that relationship?

[00:26:03.130] – Sean Kosofsky
So for the nonprofit itself, you usually have dedicated people who are the actual spokespeople for the organization. Usually it’s the executive director or senior level staff that have been given clearance to talk to reporters. So for the reporters out there to know who to talk to usually start with the executive director. They’re usually the biggest conduit, right?

[00:26:20.690] – Sean Kosofsky
And then internally in a nonprofit, you could dedicate someone on an issue to being a spokesperson based on their seniority or based on their closeness to the issue, right? So you could say, I have a frontline organizer who is involved in this local community where this horrible thing happened. And simply by being from that community makes them an expert. I deputized them sort of to become our reporter, to become our media spokesperson. So I’m not sure if that really answers your question, but I definitely think within organizations you should have a strategy for who can speak. And people should definitely get trained. You don’t want to put folks out there in front of a reporter without getting some kind of media training. It can go bad. And then for reporters and journalists out there, definitely they have a beat.

[00:27:01.420] – Sean Kosofsky
Normally, with newsroom shrinking, it’s harder to have just one beat. Sometimes one reporter is covering four beats now, so they need to know who inside an organization is their first point of contact because they are in a hurry. Reporters definitely want someone who can respond on the spot. A lot of folks are like, “Oh, let me think about this and get back with you.” Well, reporters aren’t going to call you back again if you constantly have to make them wait. If you’re able to get on the phone and immediately give comment because you are practiced, they’re going to call you way more frequently in the future. So that’s the person you want in your nonprofit basically taking these calls.

[00:27:33.170] – Boris
That’s exactly what I was trying to find out from you is, do you have within your organization folks who are deputized, as you just said, or really authorized to speak on behalf of the organization, to speak to media and hopefully are trained in doing so? That’s exactly on point. Thank you.

[00:27:51.250] – Boris
So then we’ve developed this relationship. We know who in our organization can speak to certain topics when they are called upon to do so. But there is this other angle of pitching, pitching your stories. I know that reporters are constantly and publications are constantly looking for content. And if you could give them something worth publishing that works for them, they’ll be happy to take it a lot of times. But what goes into a pitch and this is part of your superpower, so I’m going to really put you on the spot here. How do you structure a pitch? What goes into a pitch to a potential publication?

[00:28:33.280] – Sean Kosofsky
So different than fundraising, when you’re pitching a newsroom, you have to be thinking there’s two sides of this. There’s what do I know newsrooms want to hear? And then there’s what do I want to say as a source, right? So the first thing as a source, as an organization, I have to be thinking about what is actually newsworthy about this moment? Just because it’s not making headlines doesn’t mean it isn’t newsworthy. I’ve uncovered a new trend, a new piece of information, some new facts, some new report that came out that a reporter didn’t know about. What makes it new? What makes it newsworthy, right? So when I go to pitch a newsroom, I can’t just be like, “Hey, climate change is happening.” Yeah, we know. What’s new about this, right? So the first question is going to be, what do you have that makes this deadline-driven medium and this deadline-driven culture newsworthy?

[00:29:14.140] – Sean Kosofsky
So the first thing is, why is it new and why is it newsworthy? Did someone locally do something? So make it local. The more you can make anything local, the more interesting it is. You also have to be able to make something super like national. Not only is this thing happening here in Poughkeepsie, but it’s also a national problem, and here’s why. So make sure it’s new and newsworthy, but you can localize it and nationalize it, that goes into any kind of pitch.

[00:29:37.890] – Sean Kosofsky
What I need to be thinking about as I pitch is what’s on the other side of that pitch call, which is the reporter’s constraint, which is why should I care? Every news desk, every editor of every outlet out there is getting 500 people pitching them for news stories every single day. And every day they are throwing all of them in the trash saying, “Why do I care? Why do I care?” So if you can break through to them and say why this matters to your readers, to your constituency, to your stakeholders, that’s how you’re going to break through.

[00:30:05.750] – Sean Kosofsky
So for the reporter side, they have an editor that they need to get this through, right? And that you need to convince them why this matters now. So the case, the super succinct way that you can explain why this matters, human harm, suffering, violence, corruption, what is happening right there that you can prove that will break through because that’s the number one filter they’re using is, why do I care? In order to sift through the 500 different pitches they’re getting.

[00:30:31.810] – Boris
It sounds like what I teach in storytelling a lot. And what I learned in fourth grade, which is you want to really present the who, what, when, where, and most importantly, why, why it’s relevant, why it’s significant, why it deserves column inches in print or screen inches on digital.

[00:30:53.050] – Sean Kosofsky

[00:30:54.310] – Boris
Cool. All right, Sean, I want to be very conscious of your time, and we’re hitting the 30-minutes mark now. I know that when I asked you for resources, you had a whole bunch of them that you wanted to share with us. Give me the highlights, which… I’ll link to all of them in the show notes. They’ll all be there for folks to find. But what should people be looking at as they’re trying to develop their own idea of media strategy?

[00:31:16.850] – Sean Kosofsky
So if you have a little bit of a budget, I definitely would say folks could look into Cision. It’s a little tricky spelling. I think it’s C-I-S-I-O-N. Or some people might know one of their products as PR Newswire. If you don’t have an in-house communications capacity, you could pay for a subscription to disseminate your news releases everywhere. I will say that I don’t always think that just blasting news releases all over the country is the best use of your dollar. But it is a way for some organizations to get into newsrooms for sure. So Cision and PR Newswire is one way you can both pay to track news and also to distribute news.

[00:31:52.580] – Sean Kosofsky
Another way is Meltwater. Meltwater is just one of the many ones out there that does clipping service. So if you’re getting a lot of coverage and you want to track trends or your opposition is getting lots of coverage and you want to track trends, Meltwater could be an interesting tool. I don’t know the pricing right now, but I know that you can subscribe to Meltwater.

[00:32:09.860] – Sean Kosofsky
But for those on a budget, I think that Google Alerts is really powerful. You can set a Google Alert on anyone, any topic, any keyword, any event, and see what’s actually happening the minute something hits a blog or the news, you will get an email on that or get a daily digest on that. That’s a free option for you.

[00:32:26.980] – Sean Kosofsky
Another way to see whether something is popping in terms of a trend, to see whether something is newsworthy is to use Google Trends. Google Trends is free. Anyone can go to Google Trends right now and see what words are popping. Is it some popstar like Dua Lipa, or is it something about Ukraine right now? What issues are popping? How can your issue fit into that trending issue, right? See if you can figure out whether your topic matches something that’s in the national conversation right now.

[00:32:53.480] – Sean Kosofsky
If you have a Twitter account which is totally free, they have a trending section, right? See what’s actually popping on Twitter right now and see if your issue can sort of fit into there. Those are different ways for free or for cost that you can kind of track issues and then use that to capitalize on how to fit your issue into that stream, right? Another tool out there for folks… Can I mention the tools that I have or you want to check…

[00:33:16.440] – Boris
Sure. I usually ask anyway, what is your call to action? What do you want people to do? And I’m happy to have you promote any of your work that you think is relevant to this. So please go.

[00:33:27.140] – Sean Kosofsky
Excellent. Yeah. So folks, I think in the show notes you’ll be able to get these links and stuff. But I think that one of the things that’s really important is for nonprofits to learn how to create a unique value proposition. This is something created by marketers and the private sector to help understand how to sell products. But I think nonprofits could really benefit from learning how to take not just their case statement, but also take a new thing called a unique value proposition and really explain to people why my organization is the most suited to solve a particular social problem and what the call to action is.

[00:33:58.650] – Sean Kosofsky
I have a free guide on how to create a unique value proposition. I didn’t see anyone out there offering this particular tool, so I have a free resource for you to download on that. I also have a handout that you can grab for handling tough media questions. Some folks want to avoid the media because they don’t like being put on the spot and they’re afraid of getting really tough media questions. I have a free guide about handling tough media questions, rapid fire questions, trick questions, all that stuff.

[00:34:25.650] – Sean Kosofsky
And then also you can grab my full course, which is not very expensive at all. But I have a course training nonprofit leaders, how to do media engagement, how to write press releases, how to do editorials, how to actually craft your message. All of that is based in my course Media Skills Crash Course for Nonprofits, and I’ve been spending many, many years training people on how to do the media. And so you’ll get a link to that course there. So those are just some of the resources I have today.

[00:34:51.320] – Boris
I really appreciate all of them. The free ones I use all the time. Google News Alerts and Google Trends. Google Trends is interesting. You might find things that you weren’t really looking for there, but there’s definitely really great knowledge to be absorbed from it. I know I’ve worked with Cision before as well, and I know that you put out great stuff. So I’m actually going to check out some of those resources.

[00:35:14.150] – Boris
I talk about unique value proposition when I work out an organization’s storytelling plan. But as you just said, I’ve never actually seen just a tool to figure that out. So I’m really curious, actually, how you do it. And I encourage everyone to go check it out. We’re going to have all the links to all of the resources that Sean mentioned, whether they’re on his site or some others in our show notes. So I hope everybody will come and check those out. Any parting words for the folks at home, Sean?

[00:35:41.080] – Sean Kosofsky
No, just I really encourage folks to lean in, engage the public, engage the media. It’s your friend. You really can be more powerful and get a huge audience for your nonprofit and make a bigger impact faster by engaging the media. So don’t sit on the sidelines. Engage.

[00:35:56.110] – Boris
Absolutely. Thank you, Sean, for breaking all of that down. You didn’t hold back anything that I was asking. You broke it down as best as possible. And I hope that organizations—nonprofit leaders, because organizations don’t have ears, but nonprofit leaders do—who are listening to this really do follow up and take the actions to engage with media. Get your voices heard. Don’t let the story be controlled by the Joe Rogan’s. No offense. Not that he’s going to be listening, but no offense, if you’re a fan of his, don’t let them control the narrative. Take charge, take power back and hold truth to power or yes, hold truth to power like Sean said earlier.

[00:36:35.200] – Boris
Thank you, Sean, for joining us. Thank you, everybody for watching and listening today. I hope we have helped you create more heroes for your cause with these strategies. If you enjoyed it, please, please, please do leave us a review on iTunes or your favorite platform so that more folks like you can consume this content, can find it, and can create more heroes for their cause, too. Have a great day, everybody.

[00:36:57.550] – Intro Video
Thank you all for watching and listening to the Nonprofit Hero Factory. We hope this episode has given you some ideas and strategies for creating more heroes for your cause and a better world for all of us. Please be sure to subscribe to this show on YouTube, Facebook, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcast platform and let us know what you think by leaving a review.

Concepts and Takeaways:

  • Sean’s story began as it has for so many others, feeling hardship in his own life and not wanting others to struggle in the same way. (2:48)
  • The news and media environment has changed significantly. Newsrooms are shrinking their staff as more news sources have become available. This makes it hard for nonprofits to compete for the attention of journalists at larger publications, but also more opportunities for attention at the local level. (4:45)
  • It also means that there’s a lot more polarization based on where people choose to get their news today. Nonprofits themselves have an opinion about the problem they want to solve in the world that others might not share. (5:41)
  • It’s critical that nonprofits try to get involved in making the news and shaping the narrative, rather than let it happen to them. Such as: (8:21)
    • Speaking truth to power, correcting or rebutting the mistruths or problematic stories that news media puts out.
    • Packaging the work you do and your accomplishments and developing relationships with reporters and publishers
  • Nonprofits first have to understand their own key message. What’s important for your audience to know? (9:21)
  • Watchdogging: “Simply pointing out the bias or pointing out the lack of information included in news articles can be newsworthy.” (11:00)
  • Focusing media efforts on local issues and publications can actually have broader reach, as many of them syndicate content to affiliates around the country. (13:00)
  • It is difficult for a small nonprofit to compete with large influencers, but they may be able to find influencers on a similar level who can help them get their narrative across and to whom larger media will listen. (14:35)
  • Developing relationships with reporters starts with creating a media list of outlets and reporters with whom you want to have a relationship—both traditional and new media. (16:29)
  • If you can be a resource to journalists who are stretched thin in a way that makes their jobs easier, they will want to keep working with you again and again. So make it easy on them. (18:28)
  • Start building the relationship by reaching out to them directly, even if it’s a cold call. Sean recommends calling the reporter on the phone. (19:26)
    • Introduce yourself and the value that you offer to the reporter.
    • Ask to be on their shortlist of sources for covering your topic.
  • You don’t want to wait until a topic erupts before you get in front of reporters. You want to have a relationship by then so that they turn to you when it arises. (21:25)
  • Getting your message out in the media helps establish your organization’s expertise and authority on the subject. Sometimes being a local expert can catapult you on to a national stage. (22:18)
  • Anyone (or any organization) can become their own media company today with online tools for sharing your stories. Developing your own audiences on these channels is another way to get the established media to notice you and think of you for news stories. (22:40)
  • Who should be the point of contact for media at your organization? Nonprofits should have designated individuals on the team who are authorized to speak to the press on particular subjects. (24:57)
    • These people should be trained in dealing and speaking with media.
  • Newsrooms are constantly looking for great content. Your pitch has to present it to them in a clear value-driven way. (28:04)
    • What is newsworthy about this moment?
    • How does your local problem resonate on a national level?
    • Why should the reporter being pitched care about this story? You have to be able to relate it back to their readers, and why they’ll care about it.
  • Sean recommends free and paid tools that you can use to track what’s happening in the news around your cause, and what’s trending that you might be able to speak to? (30:54)

Action Steps: What Now?

  • Resource Spotlight

    In this episode, the following resources were mentioned:

    • Substack – online platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters.
    • Medium – open platform where readers find dynamic thinking, and where expert and undiscovered voices can share their writing on any topic
    • CISION – PR and Marketing Tool that you can use to track and distribute news
    • Meltwater – Also a PR and Marketing Tool to track trends and news
    • Google Alerts and Google Trends – On a budget, this can also help you track trends and news about contents that you are interested in
    • You can also be active with Twitter and use the hashtags (#) to see what’s trending under their trending section.

About this week’s guest

Sean Kosofsky

Sean Kosofsky

Owner, Mind the Gap Consulting

Sean Kosofsky is the Nonprofit Fixer! He is a coach, consultant, trainer, and strategic advisor to nonprofits. For the past 28 years, he has helped causes, campaigns and candidates raise millions of dollars and transformed nonprofit organizations and leaders. He has served in a wide variety of roles in nonprofits (policy, communications, development, organizer, direct service, boards, and five stints as an executive director. He has worked on a wide range of issues including LGBTQ equality, reproductive justice, voting access, bullying prevention, climate change, and more.

His work has been covered in media outlets internationally and has received numerous awards. He is an author and the owner of Mind the Gap consulting. Sean is currently the Executive Director of Climate Advocacy Lab. He is a proud Detroit native, but lives in NY with his husband and their dog, Harry.

Connect with Sean Kosofsky