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10 Best Practices for Pitching Cause Efforts to the Media

I recently participated on a panel organized by the Corporate Volunteer Council of Greater Boston. The topic was “Telling Your Story, How and When to Showcase Volunteer and Philanthropic Programs.” At Cone, we believe telling your story is a critical piece to ensure your cause-related efforts are most effective in making both business and social impacts.

Here are 10 best practices for pitching your cause efforts to the media:

  • Don’t Be Shy! – These days both consumers and employees expect companies to “stand for something” and those expectations continue to rise. Even during the current economic downturn, 52% of Americans have the same expectations for companies to support causes, while 26% believe companies should be doing even more. And consumers want to know what companies are doing – 91% of Americans believe that companies should communicate their cause efforts. So be proud of the great work your company is doing and find newsworthy ways to tell your story.
  • Be Authentic – While you’ll want to find the right angle to pitch your story, you always want to make sure you are being authentic and transparent. Consumers are savvy and look for companies that “walk the talk.” Make sure that your story is credible and be willing (and prepared) to share the details of your efforts.
  • Identify Your Objectives – Getting your story published should not be your end goal. Hopefully there is a strategy behind your efforts. Understand what you are trying to accomplish by telling your story. Do you want to be seen as a good corporate citizen by the local community? Are you looking to get in front of potential employees or existing stakeholders? Are you trying to recognize the efforts of your current staff? Identifying your objectives will help you focus your efforts and determine the best channel(s) for reaching your target audience(s).
  • Consider All Your Channels – The local news media is just one of many communications channels available to you. Take some time to brainstorm potential channels and then identify those most appropriate for reaching your target audience. If you are looking to reach an external audience, think beyond traditional channels to include social media, blogs, etc. You may also engage your nonprofit partner to release its own announcement and add a layer of credibility to your story. If you are looking to reach an internal audience, consider leveraging your employee newsletter, intranet, staff meetings, etc. Be creative and give these channels the same thought and care you do to external communications.
  • Make It Their Story – Keep in mind who you are pitching your story to and why it matters to them. Find a way to make it their story. For example, you might pitch your most recent volunteer effort to revamp a local computer clubhouse to a reporter covering the tech beat, focusing on how your company is addressing the digital divide.
  • Focus On A Trend – Try to align your story with a broader trend. The recession continues to be the biggest story of late, so positioning your story in light of the recent economic downturn may help it get some traction. Or, even better, identify a new trend and pitch an exclusive. Journalists love the opportunity to be the first to cover a story. At the same time, take care not to capitalize on something in the news simply to be timely. Ensure there is a relevant and appropriate connection to your cause. Leveraging the recent tragedy in Haiti to tell your own story, for example, could be viewed as insensitive.
  • Show Impact – Highlight the measureable, positive impact your company is making. This may include the number of employees engaged or the number of youth served. Whatever it is, demonstrating the positive effect you are having on society will illustrate the importance of your efforts and make it more newsworthy.
  • Tug On Some Heart Strings – While data are important, making your story emotionally compelling will be most effective in getting your message across. Tell the personal side of your story, whether it be from a volunteer, beneficiary, or even employee, perspective.
  • Use Visuals – Provide images, from pictures or videos, to help bolster your story and highlight your emotional human tales. A picture really can be worth a thousand words!
  • Continue To Do Great Work! – At the end of the day, it’s the powerful work you are doing to support a cause that is most important. Continue to find creative ways to leverage all your assets to benefit both business and society, and your story will tell itself.
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