Archive for April, 2008

Streamlining Your To-Do-List and Adding Value

Last spring I took a unique class in grad school called Show Me the Money: The Financial Side of PR. That class, taught and developed by Dave Meeker, a truly respected PR professional, opened my eyes. In addition to learning some basic business sense, Meeker hammered home the importance of connecting public relations activities directly to an organization’s bottom line.

Although at first glance, I know many of those in non-profits will think “what does this have to do with us?” Well, just about everything. Even though non-profits aren’t working for a “profit”, so to speak, they have a definite bottom line, whether it be cash, people, resources, etc.

Non-profits can be chaotic at times. Short staffs, small budgets and tight deadlines sometimes create situations where employees are just getting through a day by checking off their to-do-lists. If a PR professional ever had a chance to slow down and examine his or her to-do-list, he or she probably could trim a lot of fat.

Like I’ve mentioned so many times, non-profits have limited resources. Why waste them on trivial activities with little impact. So this week’s lesson, do less work and get better results. Who could complain about that?

Now before you start running around the office shouting with glee because you don’t have to create an annual report this year, hold on. There are some steps you must complete before giving projects the axe.

Have everyone in the department list all their projects, big or small. After compiling the department list you may be surprised at how many and what type of activities appear. To go even further, have employees record how much time they spend on each activity. Go through each item and ask “Does this activity contribute to the bottom line? If so, how?” Separate the list by items that do and items that don’t directly contribute.

Take a closer look at each item, whether you deemed it to contribute or not. Consider why each activity takes place. Is it because it’s essential to business or because the CEO thinks it’s cool? Rank each item by importance and then rank each item for how much time and effort goes into it.

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea at the activities that contribute to the bottom line. You should be able to identify the resource zappers from the valid projects. Now, go through the list of items that don’t contribute. Are there activities that need to stay on the list for some reason (unfortunately your CEO thinking they are “neat” may be one of them)? If they need to stay, consider how you can modify the activity to contribute or at least be less of a drain.

Let Go

Inevitably there will be items that no one understands why you still do them. Just because you’ve done them for 20 years isn’t a valid reason to keep doing them. Use this activity as a cleansing opportunity and let go. Crossing off an activity for good can be a real morale booster, not to mention a friend to the budget.

As public relations professionals, being good communicators is a given. However, our real worth shines through when our activities align with the overall business goals. Doing less work can be a good thing, especially when you shift your focus to the bottom line.


Pitch so your non-profit doesn’t strike out.

Baseball season has finally returned. As I sat at Progressive Field this weekend, braving the cold, I couldn’t help but think of pitching. And no I don’t mean the breakdown of the Tribe’s relief staff in the seventh.

The pitching I’m referring to is to the media. For years, the corporate and agency sides have proficiently procured media attention for their clients. As I look into more non-profit organizations, it appears that they too are increasingly proactive with media.

Since it is no secret that non-profits maintain tiny marketing/advertising budgets, free press is definitely the way to go. Approaching the media with your story is great. However, there are some pitfalls non-profit organizations must avoid to become successful.

Pitfall 1: Not everything is news
If your media strategy is to deluge journalists with every mundane coming and going of your organization, don’t expect too many bites.

Media pitching is one area where quality wins over quantity any day. Above all else, a story must be newsworthy. How can you decide if your story is newsworthy? The book Robin Hood Marketing: Stealing Corporate Savvy to Sell Just Causes offers a three-quiz.

Why now?
Why is this news?
Who cares?

If you can’t answer all of these questions, not waste for energy.

Pitfall 2: Making the same pitch to everyone
The media is like a smorgasbord. There is a little bit out there for everyone. Each newspaper, radio/television station or blogger has a different audience. Don’t make the mistake of creating one cookie-cutter pitch per story.

Each story can be told many different ways. Look for all the different angles. For example let’s say a local library employs senior citizens as its new for-profit bookstore located in a renovated historical landmark. In that one sentence description there are at least three different story angles to pitch to different media. Which angles can you spot?

Pitfall 3: Pitching to inappropriate outlets
Just because a media outlet is popular doesn’t mean it’s good for you. An after-school program for children shouldn’t go for a story in Playboy, no matter how many men read the articles. Ok, that may be extreme, but you get the picture.

If you are a small local non-profit, will a national story help your cause? Why waste your effort going for the limelight when cultivating a relationship with local media will much better serve your interests.

Consider this. If your target audience doesn’t utilize the media outlet, neither should you.

Media relations can do a world of wonders for a non-profit if conducted correctly. Just remember that one-size doesn’t fit all. Each non-profit must create its own unique media relations to get the right attention.

Why can’t we all just get along?

For many non-profits there is a great divide among employees. One that often goesbroken-chain-2.jpg unnoticed or ignored, but could destroy a great organization.

As I witnessed at my previous job and have discovered during interviews at other non-profits, many non-profits are split almost into two separate cultures—the business side and the service side.

As an idealistic intern and young professional, I never understood this phenomenon. I wanted to work at a non-profit to help people and I assumed that is what everyone else was there for too. Working toward the same goal was a no-brainer to me. But to everyone else, it seemed like a turf war.

This venomous distain between business (i.e. accountants, HR, communication professionals) and service (i.e. caregivers, guides, therapists) staff is a potentially disastrous threat to an organization.

I look at this problem from the communications side. Since it is hard to believe that any employee works at a non-profit for a malicious intent, there must be a lack of communication causing this riff.

The underline issue here is the everlasting search for respect. Each side wants respect from the other for what they contribute to the organization. No side is willing to concede complete respect to the other because neither fully understands the importance of everyone’s contributions.

I believe this classic feud is another opportunity for public relations professionals to prove their worth to an organization. Communication is our forte. Although small non-profit budgets tend to focus on communicating to the outside to generate interest, funds, etc., time needs to be set aside to specifically communicate to each other. And I don’t mean the humdrum employee newsletter updates, I mean real meaningful communication.

Recently, an organization I interviewed with mentioned the organization’s three-month orientation process (my last orientation was two days, so I was intrigued). During this period new employees shadow other employees in different positions throughout the whole organization. How great is that? First-hand knowledge of my peers’ daily duties. After walking a mile in a nurse or a payroll clerk’s shoes who couldn’t respect what they do every day?

However, orientation is not enough; coaxing employees into a unified team is a never-ending process. Although PR pros are known for being great communicators, we must remember that an essential of communication is listening. We must keep our ears to the pulse of the organization. What are employees’ concerns? What do they really care about? Although a big donation check is exciting to all the bigwigs, it is also important to recognize what excites employees.

Internal communication is vital in creating a cohesive culture. Authenticity is huge in today’s world. With the ability to blog available to anyone, one irate employee can shatter a non-profit who boasts to the public about its “team” while inside a rage is roaring.

To the outside world, all non-profit employees are in the same ship regardless of position. So it’s about time we realize we’re all hands on deck before we start a real mutiny.