Communications tips for corporate philanthropists

Mar 20, 2018 admin

Earlier this week I joined the Greater Boston Givers Group for a panel discussion (with Bianca Olson of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Leah Johnson of Aetna, Paul Burton of WBZ-TV and moderator Briana Curran of Wells Fargo) on how corporate philanthropists can communicate their good work.

A few themes emerged throughout the event. First, almost everyone struggles with securing news coverage of their philanthropic gifts. That’s not a surprise: good news is often not news and at a time when the media is overwhelmed with covering serious issues, corporate generosity does not often make the cut. The other challenges include:

  • Managing expectations internally about news coverage; those who don’t work in communications often assume media is the best and only way.
  • Communicating the organization’s good work to employees.
  • Handling the disconnect between those who create the giving program and those whose job it is to communicate it. Most agreed that PR should be involved in the conversation from the inception of the idea to maximize its newsworthiness.

Here are some ways the experts in the room find workarounds to these issues:

  • Humanize the story. Take the emphasis off the donation and shine a light on the problem the contribution is helping to solve. Tell the story from the perspective of a person you are trying to help. If that person is an adorable child, even better.
  • Be relevant. Connect what you are doing with what is happening in the world in a way that people can relate. If there is a hurricane, and your donations are tied to relief efforts, chances are better that the media will be interested. “Consider a ‘WIN Approach’ (What’s Important Now) to storytelling. What is relevant and important now to the communities/audience you are serving? How can the media promote a company without it being a commercial?” Burton said. He also urged PR pros to “shrink the press release.” He knows within the first three sentences if he’ll cover the story.
  • Make it visual. Not every announcement needs to include a celebrity to rise to the level of news, although having an interesting photo opp (beyond the oversized check!) does help. But even in terms of how you tell your story, consider more video and graphics to cut through the clutter on social media. If an event is part of your awareness efforts, make sure to include an “Instagrammable moment.” Be sure your branding is included.
  • Tell your own story. Since the bar for media coverage is higher than ever, leverage every channel your organization controls. In addition to publishing the news on the typical “owned” platforms such as a corporate blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn, try Medium (a blog platform with nonprofit and philanthropy channels), and LinkedIn Publisher, where an individual expert can post content. Olson said HMH created a volunteer spotlight and a podcast to highlight the volunteer work of employees so they feel pride in what they are doing in the community. Also, don’t forget the obvious: spread the announcement through internal email and all-hands meetings. Along the way, use fewer words and more images, graphics or video to encourage engagement and sharing of the information. Email and print newsletters are becoming popular again, at a time when people are feeling overwhelmed on social media.  
  • Help your partners.  Consider creating a strategic communications toolkit for your nonprofit partners. This helps them to promote their work and your contribution easily and do so on message to different audiences. This toolkit can include a press release, social media content with hashtags, images and media pitches and contacts.

Repeat. Just because you did everything above once, does not mean your audiences absorbed the information. Keep spreading the news, varying the messaging over time with different photos, video clips or social content. “Employing a campaign approach is important for effective internal communication,” Johnson said. Eventually, they’ll get the message.

Topics: Media Relations, Public Relations, Storytelling, Strategic Communications, CSR, internal communications

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