Stick With Old Media: Not Cool But It Works

In the age of social electronic media, media expert Holly Minch dares to defy the Twitter evangelists and makes the case for the power of traditional print and radio:

There's tremendous strategic value in traditional media . . . yes, still! Three reasons why writing press releases and pitching reporters are still worth it:

1. Third-party validation. As pithy as your latest tweet is, as fun-filled as your latest Facebook update is, there's one thing that social media simply can't give you: third-party validation. Don't forget that more than 58 percent of people get their news from television and 34 percent read the newspaper. Face it: an article about you in the Chicago Times will impress your funders and donors; a post on your Facebook page won't.

2. A reach beyond the choir. Social media shares news with people who already care about you, but mainstream media introduces your organization to new audiences. E-chaperoning and advertising reach beyond the choir, but none can match earned media's bang for the buck. All it takes is time, the right approach, and a good story to tell (see below for tips).

3. Something to crow about online. A local news segment about your event or a flattering profile of your executive director can make waves in your social media stream. Many organizations make this "long-tail effect" a core of their social media strategy. Use social media to push your traditional media coverage, with emails to supporters encouraging them to share it. Traditional media coverage engages your community while making them proud of their connection to your organization.

But how to get that coverage?

Now that we've convinced you that traditional media is worth pursuing, how do you actually go about getting yourself media coverage? Here is one fast "how to" and one unexpected opportunity:

The fast "how to:" Getting coverage isn't rocket science, but it takes smarts. You need legitimate news: something remarkable, a trend that tells a story, or research you've conducted. Second, you need a hook. For example, during the winter, tie a story about hunger to the cold weather. Third, before you pick up the phone to pitch your story, familiarize yourself with what the reporter has written, particularly as it pertains to your issue. Don't forget to email a reporter to let them know you liked a story they wrote with an offer to buy them a cup of coffee . . . getting on their good side before you need to pitch them.

Unexpected opportunity: Ethnic media and local/neighborhood papers are overlooked outlets in reaching your target audiences. Ethnic media continue to grow by more than 10% a year . . . exactly the opposite of mainstream print. (Did you know there are more than 250 African American papers?) Neighborhood newsletters are the original hyper-local, much-read media. Ethnic media and neighborhood papers are often smaller operations looking for relevant material -- maybe a new service in a neighborhood, or a community member who is on staff.

And remember: when you land that story -- whether in a national magazine or a neighborhood paper -- you'll have great news to tweet about!

Holly Minch is former executive director of the Spin Project which teaches nonprofits how to get covered by the media. Through her firm, LightBox Collaborative, she consults to foundations and nonprofits, helping them hold their ideas up to the light. When the local paper arrives on her doorstep, she always reads the funnies first.

Comments (7)

  • Anonymous

    Good points here. Another key factor for media choice is age of an intended audience. Older people still rely on traditional media much more than social media, and they place a premium on the old media "validation" that the author talked about. This older audience has more dispoable time and income than younger groups, at least for the time being.

    Also, I can't prove it, but I suspect key audiences (politicans, government executives, funders, other nonprofits, and corporate leaders) in many communities still read papers for community engagement reasons even if they rely on social media in their personal lives.

    Dec 29, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Absolutely! The local paper is the paper of record when it comes to connecting with policymakers about issues in their districts!

    You make two great points -- thanks for the comment on the piece!

    Jan 04, 2011
  • Good piece. I'd add the following:
    1. In addition to "an article about you," it doesn't hurt at all to be one of the key people the press calls for opinions about or reactions to issues in your field or about nonprofits in general. That's a measure of credibility that funders notice. It's not just making news that gets covered, it's being seen as the place with the reputation and credibility that the press respects enough to seek you out for comments and perspective.
    2. Also very useful is taking advantage of the opportunity of placing an op-ed. To be able to give your funders an op-ed with your or your board chair's byline is very impressive. Particularly in regional papers, there's often an openness to op-eds.
    3. Don't forget letters to the editor. My time in public office taught me how well read the op-eds and letters to the editor are. That always surprised me, but people notice.
    4. I fully endorse Holly's reminder to pay attention to the ethnic media and the local neighborhood newspapers. I'm constantly generating lists of ethnic media outlets to which groups can send press releases, particularly when the issues really have a strong ethnic/racial component, and I'm always surprised about how reluctant people are to make the send to that swath of the press. I don't get it.

    Good job, Holly. Keep pushing the print. I rue the day when we have to tell our grandchildren about those ancient times when we read about the news of the day from sheets of newsprint covered with ink that came off on our hands and cuffs, and sometimes that newsprint was actually delivered to us at home or the office, and where we would read those ancient artifacts over our morning coffees.

    Dec 30, 2010
  • Anonymous

    Thanks Rick for your great additions to the recommendations -- all smart and strategic ways to advance your organization's positioning and credibility!

    Jan 04, 2011
  • Anonymous

    It would be a mistake for any organization to miss out on the social media opportunities that are out there. As the 20 somethings get older this is the source of news they'll rely on. It is already the #1 source of news for the 13-29 year old.

    Today your organization needs a website, a Facebook fan page & sometimes a blog. Not to mention taking advantage of the exposure a site like Living Social can offer. Paper is still good but it is not getting better! Ask any business who spends thousands print advertising. A 1-2% return just is not good enough anymore.

    Jan 05, 2011
  • Anonymous

    Couldn't agree more! It's a both/and equation, rather than either/or -- you need to mix and match approaches to reach all of your relevant audiences in the right way at the right time. A smart communications strategy deploys both for greatest impact.

    And you can see tons of tips and tricks for navigating both social media and tradition media on our blog at

    Jan 06, 2011
  • Anonymous

    I strictly recommend not to hold off until you earn big sum of money to order all you need! You can just get the loans or short term loan and feel yourself free

    Aug 12, 2011

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