Public Relations Tips

Planning: Starting on the right foot

Setting your communication objectives

Basic objectives for communication plans often include:

  • Increasing awareness of your organization in the community
  • Obtaining support from a variety of stakeholders such as members, volunteers, sponsors, funders, employees, customers/clients/users, levels of government and community leaders
  • Expanding operations to benefit more members

Defining audiences that make a difference

Identify the specific individuals and groups you want to reach. Ask yourself:
  • Who needs to hear about our organization?
  • Who benefits from our activity, efforts, work in the community?
  • Who can influence public opinion in a favourable way?
  • Who can help us reach our goals?
List and rank these stakeholders or audiences by order of importance to your organization's success. Then consider the best ways to reach these audiences: print media, television, radio, newsletters, meetings, blogs, websites, social media networks etc. By preparing these lists, you will be able to determine the best methods of communicating with your audiences or stakeholders.

Creating powerful messages

Now that you know your audiences and how best to reach them, what should you tell them? The best messages are clear and simple, yet powerful and memorable. Use language your audience will understand, in a style they are used to i.e. blogs, twitter, online messaging.

1. Accessibility initiatives: Everyone is welcome here
2. Programs for children and young people: Learning through play
3. Arts and cultural programs: Sharing ourselves by showcasing our talents
4. Facilities improvement: Our space is more comfortable and welcoming now

What is really important for your audience to grasp is the impact or result of your efforts - the end result. Think of the message as a headline and what you would like to say about your organization.

The ABCs of media relations

Building your organization's profile with the local media can generate coverage that galvanizes support for your work in the community. It can also increase interest or contributions to specific projects, strengthen participation of members or volunteers, create awareness of your fundraising efforts and encourage positive change at the community level.
Newsworthy items: (any of these can make your story appealing to the media)
  • Involves or affects people and organizations;
  • Tells an audience something they don't already know or something new about a familiar person, place or thing;
  • Has emotional impact;
  • Uses big numbers: e.g. affects many people, or covers a large geographic area, or has a strong economic impact;
  • Involves high-profile individuals (e.g. celebrities, political leaders, experts, local heroes);
  • Is unusual or unique (e.g. biggest or smallest, first or last, only);
  • Is timely, fits with seasonal interests, or coincides with a special day or month.

Not all good news is 'news'

Your work and the announcement of your grant are good news, but will they actually make the news? Sometimes you have to 'create' a story by staging special events that can highlight your work in interesting ways and can also create a focus for your story.

When you tell compelling stories with clear messages, the media usually reports them. However, other events in your community or breaking news could draw reporters away.

If that occurs, make your special guests feel welcome and appreciated. You'll be glad you invited staff, volunteers and other organizational partners to be part of the event.

Marketing your story to media

Have a good story. Compelling stories share certain elements, such as a theme, or a hero, with a beginning middle and an end. Journalists recognize a good story; so learn how to tell yours quickly and clearly.

Create an event. When events are designed to be clever and fun it often attracts media attention and may show up on the evening news - but they should also be designed to clearly communicate your message to onlookers, participants and the media alike.

Get personal. Reporters write about people. They want to hear to hear personal, first-person accounts by real people who have benefited from your organization.

Ways to include a personal element:
  • Involve clients, participants, volunteers or others who are willing to be interviewed about their experiences, as part of a media-focused special event;
  • Prepare case studies that illustrate how your organization has helped others to achieve their personal ambitions or overcome a problem or issue;
  • Recreate or stimulate your group's work with clients for the camera. For example, invite media to observe your staff, volunteers or participants in action (dynamic demonstration instead of passive photo)
Names in the news. Media are interested in events involving dignitaries and celebrities. Your organizations' leaders, provincial government Ministers, Ontario MPPs and other elected officials, visiting athletes, authors and artists, even your longest-serving volunteer or community leader, are all potential draws for media interest.

OTF can help by liaising with your MPP's constituency office to arrange his or her involvement.
Know your media. Prepare a customized list of reporters or editors who are interested in your organization or area of focus. Don't forget to include reporters from regional, provincial, national or special-interest media who are interested in either your geographic area or your subject.

Make personal contact with journalists, editors and producers. Don't just fax or email your news release or media advisory into newsrooms. Identify the individual who reports on your area of interest and contact any reporter who has covered your group in the past. Ask your Board members for any media contacts that they could suggest.

Don't take it personally. A reporter or assignment editor may not return your call, attend your event or cover your story. Remember that even in small communities, there is lots of competition for a reporter's time and space in the news line-up.

Follow-up. If your story is not covered, talk to or email reporters afterwards; send them a photo and description of your event; Ask if the would consider doing a story at a later date or publishing an article provided by your organization. Keep reporters informed about your organization's activities and achievements on a regular basis so they can follow your progress.

Tools of the trade

There are many tools for communicating with reporters, editors and or producers. Some of the most common ones are described here.

Media advisory
A media advisory is the 'heads up' to alert reporters to your event and get them interested in your organization's "story." It tells reporters WHY they should attend the event, WHO the key speakers are, and WHAT they will learn. It also provides information on WHEN and WHERE the event will be held. The Foundation's Public Relations Associates can assist you in preparing effective advisories.

  • Never more than one page;
  • Use your letterhead and your logo to clearly identify your organization;
  • At the top of the page, write: "Media Advisory" with the date and indicate if a French version is available
  • Use a headline that tells what will happen at the event e.g. Minister to announce funding for local children's charity; local sports organization opens new facilities;
  • Include the 5 Ws about the event: who, what, where and when and why;
  • Describe photo or interview opportunities;(date, location, time)
  • Include a contact name and number is listed (see template)
Caution: Don't give your story away before your event. Media advisories should provide just enough detail to create interest and curiosity (ie do not include grant amount or quotes from your organization).

News release

One of the best ways to tell your story is to write it down. Make sure the release is written clearly and has been proofread. Send it by email or fax to your media contacts. The Foundation's Public Relations Associates can advise you about how to prepare a news release and should review your draft news releases.

If you are planning a news conference or other media-focused event, do not issue a news release beforehand. Instead, send a media advisory that describes the 'news' reporters will get at the event. Hand out your news release and any other background materials to journalists at the event and send your media kit to any contacts that could not attend.

News release tips:
  • Limit length to one page;
  • Put detailed information and visuals (e.g. drawings, biographies, schedules) in your media kit or hyperlink to your website;
  • Use a readable size and style of font;
  • Use plain language. Avoid jargon or technical terms;
  • Use your letterhead and your logo to clearly identify your organization;
  • At the top of the page include the following heading: 'Media Release' and 'For Immediate Release' and the date;
  • Indicate if a French version is available. Ideally, Francophone media should receive information in French at the same time as the English;
  • Consider ethnic media that may be interested i.e. Chinese, South Asian etc.
  • Use a catchy title/headline;
  • Start the first paragraph with the name of your town or city;
  • Summarize the story - state the news - in the first lead paragraph which should be no more than six lines.
  • The next paragraphs should expand on the story by explaining the Five Ws: Who, What, Where, When and Why and, if appropriate, how much;
  • Convey the impact of your grant using quotes from senior members of your organization. Your Public Relations Associate will obtain a quote from your local MPP;
  • Include a brief description of your organization in your news release;
  • If your news release involves OTF, your Public Relations Associate will help you use the required tagline;
  • Centre "30 " at the end to indicate the media release is complete (standard practice in Canada);
  • End with an organization contact name, telephone number and email address. Ensure that person is available to respond to inquiries and is prepared for this role

News article

Community newspapers often do not have the staff resources to cover everything they would like to. Offer to write an article or column about your project or your organization - a letter to the editor can also do the trick. This gives you a chance to tell your story in your own words. It is also an opportunity to publicly thank your supporters, including OTF and its funder the Government of Ontario.

Media kit
Hand out your media kit to reporters at the event and send it later - by email - to media contacts who could not attend (if you have a website, post the kits' contents).

A media kit contains background material to help reporters write their story, such as:
  • News release;
  • Summary of your project (a good idea to adapt from the OTF grant application);
  • Fact sheet about your organization's work, achievements and beneficiaries;
  • Photographs with captions that identify individuals in the photograph and what is happening;
  • Contact name, telephone number and email address.
Choosing your media
There are many different types, styles and forms of media available in every community.

City-wide newspapers - Find the reporter who is interested in your geographic area or your subject. Contact the assignment or city editor of the news section or, if appropriate, the editors of other sections to identify appropriate reporters.

Neighbourhood newspapers in urban centres and community newspapers in smaller centres focus on events, people and happenings of interest to particular neighbourhoods or communities. The editor is typically the best contact for your news.

Local radio and TV stations are often interested in community-based news and most have a large local audience. Send news releases to the assignment editors in radio and television newsrooms. For morning shows, radio 'drive-home' shows, or other special interest programming, contact the show's producer with your news. The station website often lists the contact info for specific shows.

Local and regional cable providers frequently allocate programming time to cover topics of interest to their viewers. Contact the office in your area to identify any opportunities in your region. Check the cable provider website to identify suitable shows and producer contact names.

Magazines are published about almost every interest or activity (more and more are available on line). Your news may appeal to special-interest publications about the arts, environment, sports or human services; or to organizational magazines such as the Lions Club or Kiwanis Magazines. Note that magazines typically working three or more months ahead of the current date. If your story has a spring theme, you need to connect with editors before the start of the year. Many magazines have websites that include their editorial schedule; check it out before you propose a story.

Newsletters - You may already publish a newsletter, or this may be an opportunity for you to start one. A newsletter can be an effective way to get your own news out to your stakeholders, to community leaders and media contacts. You may also want to seek out the newsletters of other community organizations to publish your news. Using new technologies, the distribution possibilities are endless.

The internet and social media - You can post a message or a news release on your website or send them to an email distribution list. You can also link your site to other organizations, including the Ontario Trillium Foundation. Consider tweeting about your event - before, during and after - and link it/them to your websites, news release and/or organization's feedback page.

Prepare your spokesperson

To ensure messages are communicated clearly, consistently and accurately, select one individual to speak for the organization. When that is not possible, it is important that everyone who speaks for the organization knows and understands your communications plan and the key messages.

Others in your organization who may receive media inquiries should know who the organization spokesperson is so reporters can be redirected. If you have an office, tell the receptionist who your spokesperson is and how that individual can be reached.
Choose your spokesperson carefully.

The person should:
  • Be comfortable being interviewed by journalists on camera, over the phone or even "on the run"
  • Be well-versed in the specific topic area you are publicizing, as well as about your organization.
  • Know your messages thoroughly and be able to speak with authority.
Many organizations rely on their presidents, executive directors or other leaders to be their primary spokesperson. The spokesperson may refer specific interview questions to "experts" within their organization who know and understand the details of particular programs, projects, issues or initiatives.

Make your spokesperson's job easier:
Prepare sample "questions and answers" that your spokesperson could expect to be asked during a media interview. Include questions about any sensitivity related to your organization or the project you are promoting. Depending on the type of information it contains consider marking it "CONFIDENTIAL" so that it doesn't accidentally get distributed outside the organization.

Examples of typical questions:
  • Why is your organization committed to this (cause, activity, individual)?
  • Who else is involved?
  • What is your organization's role/contribution?
  • What is your objective?
  • How much money is involved?
  • What results do you want to achieve?
  • Why should people use your services rather than (an alternative service)?
Prepare and practice a brief (10 second) 'sound bite' that summarizes your most important message or messages.

"The 20 percent increase in children between the ages of 10 and 15 in our community means that demand for our services will grow at least as much. We're very committed to doing our share to meet that demand."

"These new facilities will help a fast-growing population of seniors and others who require special assistance to participate in recreation programs."

"Our recycling program is working! Together our community has diverted nearly 100,000 tonnes of garbage from our local landfill - extending its expected life by more than two years!"

So your spokesperson won't have to, pro-actively provide reporters with basic background information available in your media kit about your organization's mission, scope, history, role in the community, notable achievements and results - including any statistics that support your key messages.

Tips for spokespeople:
  • When possible, choose or arrange for a quiet location for an interview;
  • Turn off cell phones. Give the reporter your complete attention;
  • Listen carefully to questions;
  • Be prepared. Know your key messages and your facts, as well as how you will respond to any questions that touch on any sensitive issues;
  • Be ready with examples to illustrate your points;
  • Know how your organization affects the lives of real people;
  • Give short, clear answers - use your messages;
  • Don't be afraid of the silence between questions. Just wait for the next question;
  • If you can't answer a question - say so and offer to get back to a reporter later with the information;
  • Never make "off the record" comments. Assume anything you say will be reported;
  • Watch out for questions that are started by statements with incorrect information. Correct the error first, then answer the question;
  • Be alert if a reporter summarizes your comments by saying: "So what you're saying is …" If you agree, you are giving permission to use that statement as a direct quote. Don't hesitate to correct a reporter's misunderstanding by saying: "No. What I'm saying is (restate your point)".

Organizing a media event

A media event is a proven way to attract media attention to your organization and can help you to:
  • Communicate important messages about your organization and its plans;
  • Recognize your partners for their support;
  • Acknowledge the contributions of those who have donated funds, labour, services, goods other support to help you.
Create a special event just for media or include a "media focus" as part of another event. Whichever you choose, make them interesting to reporters and also to reflect your organization, members, programs and special initiatives in a visual and /or an unusual way.

Make your event 'media friendly'
Be conscious of media deadlines and put the media focus at the beginning of your event - when rooms, people, flowers and other decorations are also looking their best!. The rise of the internet and social media means reporters of all kinds may file stories or updates several times a day.

Media events (or the media portion of another event), should last no longer than 25 minutes.

Try to offer 'one-stop shopping' for journalists, especially television reporters, so they can get everything they need for their story, including background information, visuals and live interviews.

Examples of events that can also incorporate a media focus and attract media include:
  •  Sports events - action oriented photos e.g. dropping puck;
  •  Program launches - demonstration of volunteers at work.
  •  Opening ceremonies;
  •  Demonstration of machinery or technology;
  •  Renovations;
  •  Annual fundraising events;
  •  Gala dinners;
  •  Awards ceremonies;
  •  Annual general meetings;
  •  Open houses;
Time events conveniently for invited guests and media
Select a date and time that does not conflict with another known event or community program.
Give your special guests, such as your MPP, as much notice as possible to ensure they can participate. Three or four weeks' notice is ideal. It is easier to work with the MPP's schedule if you have the flexibility to have the event on a Friday whether the Legislature is sitting or not.

Choose a convenient location that also helps tell the story
If your project is all about traffic safety near schools, consider holding your event at a school. If you're teaching adults how to read, a library might be an ideal spot for your event. Always get permission to use a location before you send out your invitations and media advisory.

Think in pictures
Television in particular needs interesting visuals to tell the story, and print reporters are increasingly shooting video for their online stories. Newspapers and magazines may run a photo with a caption even if they don't have space for the full article. Don't forget to use signs and banners to identify your group and its supporters.

You can send your own picture or videos (as soon as possible afterwards) to media that didn't attend. Include a short caption and your news release. The caption should include the names of all of the individuals who appear in the photo.

Take photographs at special events for use in newsletters, annual reports or for volunteer recognition. Some media sell reprints of their images if you don't have your own photographer. Others may send you an electronic copy free of charge.

Email copies of your photos to your Public Relations Associate for use in our newsletters and in website articles to illustrate the broad scope of grants. We're looking for high-resolution JPEG images with 300 dpi. And don't forget to include the name and title of everyone in the photo.

Helpful Resources (pdfs)

Resource 1 - Using OTF's Corporate Visual Identity
Resource 2 - Sample Event Agenda
Resource 3 - Sample Media Advisory
Resource 4 - Sample Media Release

Resource 5 - Photography Tips
  • Invest in a good quality, affordable digital camera. Most cameras are easy to use and allow you to share photos with a wide audience.
  • Know your objective: before you shoot, decide what your focus will be. When you know, you can emphasize it.
  • Keep it simple: good photos are simply composed, including only the subject and an interesting background.
  • Crop behind the lens: don't be shy - get close to your subjects so the important elements fill your frame.
  • Select a spot: in the room that has good lighting so the subjects are not in the shadows.
  • Avoid placing people in front of a window: back-lit photos will throw off the light balance.
  • Try placing subjects off-centre: be creative, no need to shoot a formal pose, relaxed subjects are better.
  • Capture the context: photos need to tell a story. Don't get so close that the camera misses what subjects are reacting to or participating in.
  • Wait for the moment: take your shot at the moment when your subjects look at ease or are reacting spontaneously to events around them, when the animal turns to look at you, or the bird flies across the horizon.
  • Take lots of shots: These moments will never come again, so take many photos so you can take your pick.
  • Go big: make sure you shoot photos at high resolution with your digital camera to achieve good quality results. This will ensure your photos can be printed in hard copy or reproduced in a newsletter and featured on your website.
  • Don't forget the photo releases - get them signed if needed.