Media relations can be tricky. Even more so for non-profits who often face smaller staffs, budgets and board members. For the past few years, I've taught a workshop on media relations basics to Cincinnati-area non-profits as part of the workshop series offered by the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati.

We recently decided to put together this brief FAQ to further help non-profits navigate the sometimes-treacherous waters of the media.

Q: Who is the media?
A: For our purposes, this FAQ refers to the media not only as the traditional news outlets – newspapers, radio, and TV, but also much more, including online outlets like blogs.

Q: What’s the first step in media relations?
A: Taking a cue from the relations side of media relations, the first step is to develop relationships with your key media. Identify who covers your target area and get to know them on a first name basis. Follow the stories they cover.

Q: Where do I find contact information for the reporters I want to contact?
A: Many of the websites list contact information for its reporters. You can also call the newsrooms and ask to be directed. There are also several companies that offer media databases like Cision, Vocus and others.

Q: Is there any way to determine what stories reporters are working on currently?
A: Besides having that personal relationship with a reporter, there are two services that connect reporters to sources. The first is Help A Reporter Out. This is a free service. You can sign up at The second is a paid service called ProfNet. For more details,

Q: What is a media policy and do I need one?
A: A media policy is a document that explains how each person in your organization can interact with the media. It answers such questions as who can respond (usually just one or two people); what types of information can be shared; what must remain confidential, etc. offers samples.

Q: Who is an appropriate spokesperson for my organization?
A: Typically this is either someone from the leadership team (CEO, Board member, etc.) or someone in the PR/marketing function (like you!).

Q: What is a press release?
A: A press release (also called a news release) is a document that announces a newsworthy topic about your organization. This could be a personnel announcement, funding issue, milestone or anything else of significance to your organization. It is written like a news article in what is called “reverse pyramid” style, meaning the important information is in the first paragraph followed by supporting points.

Q: Is there a typical format for my press release?
A: Yes. Here's a good one from PR Newswire.

Q: How often should I send out a press release?
A: As often as you have news. But you don’t want to be the Little Boy who Cried Wolf, either. So, make sure your release passes the newsworthy test.

Q: How do I send out a press release?
A: For your first “touch” of the media, e-mail is a good bet.

Q: What are some tips to ensure reporters are opening my e-mail?
A: A compelling subject line, personalized pitch (each e-mail should be customized to the reporter/outlet you are submitting to) and NO attachments—copy your press release into the body of the e-mail.

Q: I’ve got a large media list. How can I possibly personalize each one in a fair amount of time?
A: Microsoft Word allows you to create a mail merge to e-mail. Instructions can be found here:

Q: How do I follow-up with the media?
A: That happens in the form of a pitch call. The following is an excerpt from the Communications Handbook for Non-Profits:

There are three types of calls:

Spray and pray. The term "spray and pray" is used when you simply blast out a press release and hope for the best. It's a technique used for routine press releases such as calendar listings, etc. In this case, in your follow-up calls, you just want to confirm that the person received a press release that you sent. Very often they will say they did not (even when they did). So tell them (don't ask) that you will re-send. Get their fax and/or e-mail. Resend. Also, update your database with their name and fax/e-mail if you don't already have it. Capture any useful feedback they volunteer, i.e. "We don't accept press releases because we only print ads" (like a penny saver publication).

Pitch calls. These are a higher level of call. You want to interest the reporter in a specific story; a sample script is below. You need not reference the release right at the outset. Begin by getting the right person for the story you are pitching. Have a 15-second presentation ready as to why their readers/viewers/listeners would be interested in your news. Make it newsy! The script below offers more guidance.

Exclusives or advanced pitches. Here you are calling a media outlet to offer them something no one else will get. Be careful with these, and use them sparingly. This requires some management analysis to determine whether/when an exclusive is appropriate.

SAMPLE SCRIPT for spray and pray: "Hi, I'm Steve Cebalt, calling for the ACME Health Nonprofit. We sent a press release on a health care news item, and I'm calling to make sure it got there and that we sent it to the right person..." That's pretty much it – ad lib from there. All you want to do is ascertain that your list has the name of the right person. If your list lacks a name, this is a good time to get one, i.e. "We sent that to the newsroom– is there a specific person who should receive this type of news information?" Then you can update your database.

SAMPLE SCRIPT for pitch calls: "Hi, I'm Steve Cebalt, calling for ACME Health Nonprofit. I have a news item that is likely to interest a large part of your (readership) (viewing audience) (audience). Our area has been chosen as a test market for a new nonprofit public health campaign focusing on arthritis. New statistics show that 1 in 3 people in our community has arthritis, so this information is likely to be of interest to a lot of (readers) (viewers) (listeners). This new public-health campaign uses TV and print announcements in your hometown to educate consumers about arthritis of the knee. People can call a special phone number 24 hours a day and speak with a qualified nurse, and take an arthritis assessment quiz. It is the first time the health field has waged a public campaign of this nature. We think this would make a good business or health story. I can put you in touch with a local surgeon to discuss the arthritis aspects of the campaign, or I can put you in touch with ACME Health Nonprofit executives if you want to focus more on the business aspects of this pilot program. I can send you a press release with more details."

Q: What about voicemails?

A: More often than not, you will be forced to leave a voicemail. The number one trick is to leave your phone number immediately after your name, prior to giving the reporter your pitch. This forces the reporter to write your number down (after all, they don’t know if you’re the President’s new press secretary or another important source). That’s step one in getting a reporter to call you back: they’ve got your phone number.

Q: Do reporters want to hear from me?

A: Reporters need sources as much as we need them for coverage. However, it is only natural that you prepare for some negativity from reporters. Many reporters say they don't need follow-up calls on releases, for example. Yet experience shows time and again that making these calls drives up results by as much as 100 percent. Even reporters who respond negatively may go on to do a story. So don't take negativity personally; it's just part of the process and it's a numbers game. The more calls you make, the better your results. Be sure to always track and document everything from the call. All the information they offer may be important.

Q: The reporter bit on my story! Now what?
A: Celebrate! Then prepare. Follow the tips in the interview guide, attached.

Q: The article appeared. What should I do with it now?
A: Don’t assume that all of your intended audiences saw the article in the media. You need to merchandise the article. Post it to your social media networks; send a copy to your board members and other constituents, include summaries in your newsletters, etc.