Non-profit events: A PR recipe for success

by Cameron McPherson

(Quick editor’s note: There are few better at getting the word out about events than Cam.  Great ingredient list below. -JN)

I’m fortunate to work at an organization that encourages employees to volunteer and give back to the community. As a guy who loves to work with nonprofits, this makes me so happy. Throughout the year, in and outside of work, I help nonprofits publicize their events to the public. It’s not only an opportunity to fundraiser for a cause, it also gives the nonprofit a chance to tell their story to the community.

I just finished helping with PR for the Cookies for Kids’ Cancer bake sales in Richmond and thought some of the best practices would be helpful to other organizations. So, without further ado, here are 10 tips for getting the word out about your event:

  • Create a storyline: This isn’t just an event, it’s an opportunity for you to explain to the community why your nonprofit’s work is so important. Leverage facts about the issue and localize as much as possible – and then shout it from the rooftops!
  • Do some digging: Community news organizations have engaged readership and often love getting the word out about local events. You’re probably familiar with local TV and the daily newspaper, but don’t forget about blogs.  Do some Googling and ask Facebook friends, “where do you get community news?”
  • Look for interview opportunities: Flip through your radio dial for a week and listen for local drive-time programs that interview guests. Skip nationally syndicated programs, and focus on programs with local DJs. When it comes to TV, look for local newscasts that do in-studio interviews.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery: Have you seen a nonprofit in your area get great press for their events? Google search and see what outlets covered them. It’s a good way to pinpoint outlets that could cover your event.
  • Facebook, it’s free!: You might not have the financial resources to create a website dedicated to your event, but creating a Facebook event page is free.  Not only is it a great way to get attendees energized before the event, but you can use it to find volunteers and provide updates before the event. Even better, a lot of news media have Facebook pages with huge fan bases that will often link to your event.
  • Develop a variety of angles: Ever notice how news organizations sometimes cover a story differently? If you’re pursuing interviews or pre-event coverage, develop different angles. Find how the problem your nonprofit is trying to fix affects various local people. Or, maybe a local program has a cooking segment. Is your event catered? You could offer the chef as a guest on the program as an alternative way to plug the upcoming event.
  • Don’t forget a news release: Some say the news release is dead. For nonprofit events, it is very much alive and one of the best ways to ensure consistent messaging. There are tons of resources online on how to write a release. Make sure to include the basics: who, what, when, where and, most importantly, why. It is important to tell people why they should support the cause and how will it help the community.
  • Award buzz: Will you be honoring someone at the event? If so, contact your local newspaper about the why the recipient is receiving the award. It’s an opportunity to get positive exposure for that person’s work, while also getting the word out about an event.
  • Radios PSAs: Good news! Some stations are required to donate a certain amount of airtime to nonprofit causes. However, submission requirements for PSAs are different from station to station, so your best bet is to call and ask for someone who manages the PSAs. It’s a free way to create a “commercial” for your event.
  • At the event: Do certain outlets include event photos? Give the publication a big enough heads up (at least three weeks) and see if they would be interested in sending a photographer. Don’t be let down because the editor told you “no.”  Often times this is due to a lack of resources, ask if you can submit hi-res photos after the event.
  • Long term vision: Is your event annual? Be strategic with your media relations outreach plan. Every outlet can’t cover your event every year. If your daily newspaper did a feature on the event this year, try looking for other PR opportunities.

Those were just 10 tips, but there are many more ways to promote your event. Please share your ideas in the comments below.


Chick-fil-A’s Turf Toe

by Tony Scida

Recently a Chick-fil-A executive made a statement that caused a bit of a stir in the media and, especially, online. Yesterday, Gizmodo reported that Chick-fil-A (or someone representing them) created fake Facebook accounts (complete with stock photo profile photos) just to defend the company online.

Chick-fil-A denies this charge, but it brings up a very important piece of advice for companies trying to navigate the digital landscape: Do not make fake accounts.

It’s awfully tempting for companies that see criticism online to want to jump in there and post in their own defense. And since an official response may not be taken at its word, some companies engage in what’s known as astroturfing (I’m sure much to the chagrin of the presumably fine people who make imitation grass sporting surfaces), which is meant to look like grassroots support, but falls short on closer examination.

What makes astroturfing even worse is that it’s often not even necessary. If CFA did indeed create these accounts, they’ve just made themselves worse. Their fans had already come to their defense, with Fox News correspondent (and former presidential candidate) Mike Huckabee already calling for a Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

In the best case, astroturfing just costs a lot of money and fools no-one. In the worst case, your brand could be tarnished long-term (but you won’t be around to see it, because you’ll be fired).

#PRSARVA and social media, now what?

It could have been the “level” of the people in the room since it was billed as a professional development session.

It could have been the amount of attention, time and effort people are spending on social media these days.

It could have been a lot of factors coming together at once.

But I came away extremely impressed with the group at spoke to and with at PRSARVA’s professional development event last Friday.

Here are the presentation slides for all who want to take a look…

Click here to view presentation

If social media is a ladder and each step up is another level of education and commitment then I think Richmond’s PR and marketing community has climbed another rung or two over the last six-to-twelve months.

Outstanding crowd at PRSA session last week.

In the past, my hope as a speaker was to get everyone to the same level of understanding with a great deal of teaching going on in similar hour-long sessions.  Last Friday, it was clear that everyone in the room was on the same page and my role was more of a validator than teacher.  My hope is that each person came away with one little nugget as opposed to many bars of gold.

Needless to say I was impressed.

So where (as a community) do we go from here?   I think while we continue to educate ourselves about the new platforms, etc. that seem to pop up daily, it’s time to focus more on getting better on the core work.  Some of the themes of the presentation (storytelling, using images, understanding mobile and its opportunities) will hopefully help you focus.

Thanks again for the opportunity to present.  I really learned a lot.

PR pros should “dance with the one that brung you”

by Jon Newman

OK, here we go.  Time for your daily dose of blasphemy on this Thursday.   Hold on to your hats but this is something that’s been bothering me for a while especially as a personally stand one foot in each bucket.

Are we spending too much time focusing on social media when good old-fashioned public and media relations still works just fine?

Before you say Jon, we can and should do both, I will quickly agree with you but add that maybe we should prioritize the time spent on both so we meet all of our clients goals.

Is it summed up with a question I recently asked my PR/social media class at VCU as they were wrapping up their semester-long social media projects.  “Given the choice would you rather have a smooth and successful social media campaign for a client, or get them a media relations hit on Good Morning America or The New York Times?”  To a person (and they are pretty plugged into the changing PR landscape) they choice the big national media relations hit.

I can’t say that I disagree with them.

I haven’t changed my thinking about social media and what it can accomplish, I am saying we may be hitting a slight plateau.  Given the continued struggle to prove ROI and the fact that EVERYONE (ad agencies, marketers, the guy on the street corner) is offering what they claim to be as comprehensive social media consulting, maybe we in PR need to re-look at our core competencies and what we can still offer.

Sure the media pool is shrinking, but it’s not dead by a long shot.  And clients eyes still get really wide when they see their products or companies on TV, online and in print.  As it gets harder to “break through” on the internet interstate that Facebook has become and as we try on the fly to figure out if Pinterest is going to be the next big play or big fail, let’s not forget what has worked for us for the last century or so.

So while we blog and slog it out to see who will comment or share our next post, we may have clearer sailing and a larger “ROI” by making sure we still reach out to national media who still know and can report a good story when they see one.

No, I haven’t changed my overall thinking.  Yes, we at Hodges are still defining best practices for social community management and have three Facebook contests going on for clients simultaneously.  But we also just completed some very cool New York media tours that will bear tremendous fruit.

As Darrell Royal, the patriarch of University of Texas football used to say, “Don’t forget to dance with the one who brung ya.”

It’s gotten us this far.

The Official Hodges Facebook Timeline Cheatsheet

As a public service (as promised) and also because we’re really swell, here’s the official Hodges Digital “cheatsheet” for Facebook Timeline for Brands.

From the Hodges Digital FB Timeline Cheatsheet

This six-page PDF gives you more than enough information to be “dangerous” as you navigate next week’s official change to Timeline.

It includes advice, shortcuts and key points that everyone should know.

Click here to download the HDS Timeline Cheatsheet

Please feel free to download, share, spread the gospel, etc.

Facebook Timeline for Brands: It’s Crunch Time

by Jon Newman

Don’t be nervous.  Change is good.

That should be the Facebook brand statement.

Just when you get used to things, the mother of all social media platforms changes things up.  No change in recent history has given more marketing folks heartburn as the coming change of Facebook Brands Pages to the Facebook Timeline format.

Timeline for famed soccer club Manchester United.

The change is official in just a few days (March 30) and Jim Belosic does a great job of helping marketing folks face this reality in this blog post on PR Daily.

We at THP and HDS have been spending lots of time getting clients ready for this change as well.  In addition, I’ve been asked to speak to a PRSARVA group about those changes in April (don’t worry I’ll cover Pinterest too).   For some reason I hear seats are going fast so you may want to register here.

I agree with all of Jim’s points but folks really need to focus on:

  • The use of the cover photo as a means to show your brand without being too “promotional.”
  • The increasing importance of custom apps and what they can do to improve the virality of your page.
  • The need to use timeline to tell a creative story and move the conversation forward.
  • The importance of pinning your posts and milestones.

Later this week in this space, we’ll be making a Timeline for Brands “cheat sheet” of sorts available, so look for that by Friday.

Don’t want to give away too many spoilers on my talk but the bottom line is you have about a week….are you ready?

Facebook Timeline for Brands. Holy S#@!

If you are a Facebook marketer like me, today is like Christmas (or for me Chanukah) in February.

Because Facebook Timeline for Brands is here and we have a month before it kicks in for good, whether we’re ready or not.

At first blush (here’s the THP page) it is pretty much what we expected with:

  • The new cover photo offering great promotional opportunities
  • The ability to highlight stories for greater impact
  • The ability to minimize or totally edit past posts to tell your story better

But a deeper dive has marketers like me salivating because:

  • Apps for landing pages, contests etc. now have a more prominent place directly under the cover photo and next to the new photos box.  This will likely lead to greater engagement and interest
  • For admins, the more streamlined admin panel give you additional tools to help you share the page with others including the ability to easily import emails from outside services like Outlook and LinkedIn.

Still to be answered is additional functionality like how this will impact landing pages, etc.  But my first guess is they will still exist and have greater cross-promotional opportunities with the Timeline page.

So the race is on.  If you haven’t created a cover photo or photos, what the heck are you waiting for?

Please share your initial thoughts in comments below.  We’ll have additional posts in the coming days.

Ready?  Go!

Facebook’s Timeline Cover is valuable brand space

Time to get on my PR/social media soup box and proclaim from on high:


So what do I mean when I say “show your colors?”  My current example (below) comes from my own timeline which is now sporting art work supplied by my fellow Springsteen fans promoting his new album coming out in March.

Think of the “cover” as the new expanded billboard version of your profile picture (interesting article on it here).  Now instead of changing your profile picture to show your allegiance to a cause, team or organization or to promote an upcoming event, you can have it live separately on your cover.  It’s also takes about three seconds to change the cover so you can switch it out pretty easily.

Since people will now see someone’s  Timeline when they seek them out on Facebook, think of how important the cover can be in the promotion of a brand, cause, team or event.  It’s really a low-cost no-brainer.  All you have to do is create and supply your evangelists with the artwork and let them do the viral work for you by sending the photo or illustration to all their friends.

Off the soap box now.  Please return to your normal Friday schedules.

Is Facebook getting way to complicated?

Great time yesterday presenting for our client, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, at two marketing/communications seminars about the current state of social media.  These sessions, which the FCEDA provides to anyone, are a great way for businesses and organizations large and small to learn the latest about advertising, PR, social media, etc.

Because of the wide range of businesses and groups represented it’s hard to cover all the bases on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogging, etc. but our main focus for this group was Facebook.  Mainly because of the sheer numbers of Facebook members and the fact that’s where most marketers start to develop their social media communities.

As usual we got lots of questions based on the changes Facebook has made in the last year: Timeline, Ticker, EdgeRank, changes to advertising and privacy.  Frankly after each of the two-hour sessions it was amazing that we didn’t see more heads literally spinning out of the room.

And then last night Facebook launched Facebook Actions, which will add more action verbs to the Facebook experience, making “like” look tame in comparison.

It all got me thinking this morning, is Facebook becoming too complicated for its own good?

I know the end game is about monetizing the platform but by focusing on ways to make money off the big brands will Facebook make it too difficult for the little guy to market to his or her customers?  In addition will all these new walls, tickers, apps and buttons make it too difficult for the core Facebook user, use Facebook period?

One on side, we seem to complain about Facebook changes, get used to them after a while, and then six months later wonder why we even complained in the first place.  But one the other side, when does too much really become too much?

I’d love for you to answer that question in the comment section below.  I’m going to be watching this one pretty carefully in the coming months.

Thanks and give, a birthday wish.

First of all, thanks so much for all the 50th birthday wishes.  I’m pretty overwhelmed.

For those who don’t know, yesterday was my 50th birthday and to celebrate I asked folks to send me their birthday wishes on Facebook and Twitter and for each wish Kyra and I would donate a dollar to be split between the Eric LeGrand Believe Fund and another charity.  To select the second cause, I asked folks to include their favorite cause in the wish and we’d pick one.

This results were very cool.  Due to the viral nature of social media I received wishes and tweets from folks as far away as Toronto (yo, Bednarski) and Los Angeles.  I also learned that with all the ways people can respond (links, comments, Facebook gift apps, etc.) it’s a little hard to count all the wishes.

After counting a couple of times, I’d say I received about 200 birthday wishes from friends, relatives and friends of those friends and relatives.  Because we want to make each gift substantial, we’ve decided to give 200 each to the Believe Fund and the second charity.

The second part of this is pretty hard since in all more than 40 charities were included with the wishes.  After consulting with my wife, whose direction was “seems like we should focus on the kids,” we’re pleased to announce the second gift of $200 will go to Cookies for Kids Cancer.  Kyra and a number of local public relations folks are very involved in this cause.

A third learning is how much fun this was.  It was a great way to reconnect with friends and meet new ones.  I urge you to try something like this yourself.

Finally, here is a full listing of all the charities sent in by the well wishers.  If I forgot one, please send it to me and I will add it.

I encourage you to donate to all of them.  Thanks so much.

Mario Lemieux Foundation


Save the Elephants

American Cancer Society

Build an Animal Shelter in Honor of Patrick


World Pediatric Project

Children’s Hospital of King’s Daughters

Richmond SPCA

Special Olympics

Wounded Warrior Project

Central Virginia FoodBank

AMP Metro Richmond

St. Jude’s

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Children’s Home Society and Family Service

The Human Fund (LOL)

March of Dimes

United Way

Taylor Anderson Memorial Fund for Japan

Operation Smile

Family Lifeline

Impact 100

Children’s Hospital Foundation

Susan G. Komen

Altzheimer’s Association

Juvenile Diabetes

Elisa and Nathan Bond Family Trust

Virginia Institute of Autism

Four Diamonds Fund of the Hershey Medical Center

Nature Conservancy

Tonsil Cancer Foundation

Sheltering Arms


Salvation Army

Los Angeles Regional FoodBank

Comfort Zone Camp

Women for Women

The Point Foundation

Ronald McDonald House Charity

%d bloggers like this: