MEDIA: How to give your charity's PR a helping hand - Knowing the right reporters underscores any effective media relations campaign Claire Atkinson talked to those in the non-profit field to get their advice about whom to pitch and how.

Mentioning that you're representing a charity or non-profit can be an instant turn-off to some reporters, unless you've figured out a way to make your story a must-read.

Mentioning that you're representing a charity or non-profit can be an instant turn-off to some reporters, unless you've figured out a way to make your story a must-read.

Mentioning that you're representing a charity or non-profit can be an instant turn-off to some reporters, unless you've figured out a way to make your story a must-read.

In most cases, knowing what story the media wants is half the battle in getting your ideas picked up. Suzanne Boland, president of RFB Communications in Tampa, FL counts United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) as a client and offers this piece of simple, but often overlooked, advice: 'Don't start off with what you think is a story. First, know what each journalist is interested in writing about.'

She says, 'One reporter may be interested in clinical stories, not human interest. Try not to push inappropriate material.'

Linda McNeil, director of development and communications at Volunteers of America for Greater New York, says that it pays to know that certain reporters cover homelessness, for instance. Other beat reporters to look out for are those that cover philanthropy or social issues.

While outlets such as The New York Times have specific philanthropy reporters - Reed Abelson in this case - covering the charity world, others look to assign stories on a case by case basis.

The Wall Street Journal no longer has a dedicated philanthropy writer since Monica Langley moved over to book reviews. The newspaper suggests calling spot news to see who would best deal with your item.

PR departments at non-profits of-ten look to avoid pitching their organizations in their own right, and instead aim for a mention in the context of broader business, health or education stories.

Boland, for instance, has pitched numerous workplace stories about how disabled people have been brought into the workforce by UCP. But it's often a challenge to squeeze stories from her staff. 'The most difficult thing is to get the story out of their heads,' she says. Boland draws human interest stories from employees by getting them to fill out regular tip-sheets.

McNeil, who gained extensive press coverage for the Street Santa project, also suggests contacting political writers covering issues that could affect charity status on the whole. The repeal of estate tax laws is something that could affect planned giving and has been given wide media coverage.

As always, attaching your story to local news events can help generate interest. Michael Ertel, PR manager at Qwest, a Florida-based organization aimed at helping people overcome disabilities, says he helped put together a debate involving local political candidates during the election season.

The candidates discussed the importance of getting as many people as possible out to vote, which helped generate some local news coverage. The host was a local radio reporter.

Ertel got coverage from the Orlando Business Journal, and suggests trying Spanish language TV networks such as Univision and other minority outlets.

He asks for editorial calendars from parenting and women's magazines to see how he can fit in disability stories.

For charities looking for additional news hooks, it's worth knowing that the United Nations has declared 2001 International Year of the Volunteer.

Latching on to news reporters is not the last resort, according to the resourceful Ellie Schlam, PR director for the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) in New York. She's found there are other ways of getting press.

In addition to beat writers, Schlam targets advice columnists such as syndicated writers Dear Abby and Ann Landers, whose audience is estimated at around 90 million.

Schlam's aim is get her organization's 1-800 number included in responses to problems such as bedwetting. Though information packs are not always used by columnists immediately, information can appear months later. 'They are very open to receiving health information,'she says, and are also effective at generating feedback. Schlam adds: ''Dear Abby' can generate 10,000 requests for information.'

Schlam has also found that ghostwriting 'letters to the editor' on behalf of patients helps gain additional requests for information if she includes numbers or Web site details.

Volunteers of America's McNeil suggests that letters to the editor and op-ed placements can often work well. Shelley Borysiewicz, media relations manager of the Catholic Charities USA, suggests that op-eds can be tailored to run in local press anywhere.

The NKF's Schlam has also worked on a variety of story ideas such as organ donation with magazines such as Hachette Filipacchi title Woman's Day, which appears receptive to philanthropy stories. Woman's Day's health director is Madonna Behen.

Schlam also suggests using the various news services, which carry stories to newspapers across the country. 'They are more features-oriented, so they'll pick up stories about preventative tips that don't have to be new,' she says.

If you're pitching the Associated Press, 'go after a specific reporter at a local bureau,' says Schlam. 'But make sure you have something with national impact. If you can work in a sex angle, they like that.'

National AP writer David Crary has written numerous stories about charitable donations in recent weeks, while Borysiewicz names AP reporter Karen Gullo as particularly helpful. Gullo covers health and human service issues from Washington, DC.

If you're trying to reach younger readers, you could always try Marvel Comics, which has a readership of children and adults. Schlam targeted them on the subject of bed wetting. 'They were receptive and they have a wide circulation,' she says.

One of the most successful charities in attracting media attention is AMFAR (American Foundation for Aids Research). According to Deborah Hernan, vice president of communication, the organization's aim is to make the public aware of its research efforts. Hernan denies that the media are cynical about charity stories and says she has no trouble getting gossip columnists to write about AMFAR events involving celebrities. On the more serious side, Hernan works with the science press on medical breakthroughs.

In terms of pitching the trade press there are two major titles that cover the sector: The Chronicle of Philanthropy in Washington, DC and the NonProfit Times, based in New Jersey. Both titles publish bi-weekly.

The Society for Non-Profit Organizations, based in Madison, WI, also publishes a title called Non-Profit World magazine. In addition there are numerous regional magazines, such as Philanthropy in Texas which also has an online presence.

Since many non-profit Web sites offer content, try pitching them if your organization is related to what they do. The Qwest Web site carries numerous links to other disability sites.

As an alternative to pitching the press, the Ad Council helps non-profit organizations produce and place free advertising or PSAs. Details of their current campaigns and how they work are available at the organization's Web site (


Trades: NonProfit Times (;

The Chronicle of Philanthropy (www.;

NonProfit World magazine

National press:

The New York Times - Reed Abelson (philanthropy);

Associated Press - Karen Gullo (DC), David Crary;

Syndicated advice columnists: Dear Abby, Ann Landers Web sites;;

(These outlets or writers were selected for being receptive to PR pitches on charities).

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