Getting Your Brand in the Press

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The following post is one in a series of guest posts I am featuring this year. It’s written by Emily Dammeyer, Public Relations Manager of Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.  Emily and the whole PR team at Children’s National get some of the best national and local media coverage around, thanks to their perseverance and saavy (I can brag about them!).  Enjoy.-Amy

With today’s new economic realities, getting your brand and your message in front of the media is a growing challenge. Thanks to shrinking budgets, news producers are now being asked to do what used to be done by a reporter, producer, cameraman and sound tech. I’ve also noticed print reporters focusing a lot more on the web. This includes everything from creating unique content on the web (photo galleries, interactive tools, etc.) to negotiating embargoes that are best for the web.  The days of breaking an embargo at 6 am, when the newspapers hit the doorsteps, are gone.

More Expectations

Before you begin to develop a pitch, keep these things in mind:

  • Traditional beats are widening, so reporters are being bombarded with more information than ever before
  • With a greater need to create web content, reporters are under increasing pressure to get stories out quickly
  • Reduced staff means less time to devote to “soft” news stories

Change your Pitch

The strategy for pitching has evolved too. A basic press kit – fact sheet, release, bios – likely won’t cut it anymore. That’s because a simple written article isn’t what the reporter needs. Consider providing the following:

  • Packaged video content, including high-resolution b-roll
  • A photo gallery or illustration
  • A complementary story for an online edition

Understand your Audience

Larger outlets, like the Washington Post, have condensed or eliminated many of the softer sections (Home, Food, Health) and national bureaus to focus on politics and Washington news. The softer sections still exist, but in different forms. The Health section, for example, has no full-time staff writers, so the paper is dependent on freelancers. That can be good, because it means new people to pitch, but it can also make it harder to figure out who you should be pitching. The section has also been running more syndicated content, including that from Consumer Reports and Kaiser Health News.

To pitch a larger, traditional outlet, I find it best to keep the story focused on trends.  I could have the best medical story, but if it isn’t going to resonate with a national audience, it’s useless. But if I can find a way to tie in with a bigger story – such as health reform – my chances of getting noticed improve.  I’m also focusing more on building relationships with freelancers, as another avenue into some of the larger outlets.

On the other hand, more local or hyperlocal web-based outlets are popping up, providing a great opportunity to target a specific geographic area. To reach this audience, you have to make your pitch relevant. Provide a subject in the area to illustrate your point. Pull data from that certain area and have it ready for the reporter or blogger.

This changing media environment has definitely added some frustration.  But if we learn to adapt, I think there are great opportunities to get out strong messages.

Dodge Charger Brand: Women Need Not Apply

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Okay, for those of you who are regular readers of my blog, I promise I’m not becoming a car blogger, but…

During the Superbowl, I was surprised by the ad for the new Dodge Charger. Now those of you who know me well know that I’m a sucker for a muscle car.  And lately, I’ve had my eye on this one.   Of course the Charger goes way back (like the ’73 beauty driven by Michael and Fiona in “Burn Notice.”) One of the options on the new model is a ridiculously powerful 6.1-liter SRT® HEMI® V8 5-speed.  A girl can dream.

So imagine my surprise when the ad unfolded as a paean to the wounded male ego.  A car to salve the soul of the beleaguered husband, which the ad defines as a guy who is forced by his wife to “separate the recycling” and “put the seat down.” Oh puh-lease.  Guys still get to run 487 of the Fortune 500, and have 444 seats out of 535 in both houses of Congress, okay?

What really upset me about the ad, though, was not its false premise that marriage emasculates men and women rule the world. What really bugged me was the fact that Dodge was saying to me “you’re not our customer.” Wow.  That hurts.  I was actually seriously thinking about becoming your customer. And maybe so were other women.  And, we car-driving womenfolk actually watch the Superbowl (we’ve done it for years now).

Maybe the folks at Dodge have decided their brand will settle for targeting 49% of the market, instead of 100%. And with this ad, they’re only targeting a small subset of that 49%–married guys who are super-insecure and don’t like to separate the recycling.

So what did the ad do for the Dodge brand?  Well, it certainly got a lot of attention. In addition to the getting eyeballs during the Superbowl’s largest viewership in history, the ad’s have close to 765,000 views on YouTube. And plenty of controversy on blogs other than this one.  As David Ogilvy famously said, “any publicity is good publicity.”

But maybe he wouldn’t say that in this day and age, when a bad impression can be multiplied and amplified millions of times over through social media.  My own take is that a company needs to be very careful with both market segmentation and humor. It can be done brilliantly, of course.  (Case in point, the IBM “training” film that spoofed The Office and shot up sales of mainframes.)  But it can also fail miserably, and lead to an actual degradation of your market share.

The jury’s still out on the Charger.  But they lost at least one customer.


Feb 12, 2007 – After I wrote the previous post, this video response to the Charger ad surfaced on YouTube.

Can Toyota’s Brand Recover?

Take the Short Poll at the End of this Post!

On February 1st Toyota announced its now-famous recall of eight models of 2005-2010 cars and trucks and stopped its production lines due to an accelerator pedal issue .  It had signalled the recall days earlier, in an announcement on January 21st.  By this Friday, February 5th, according to Toyota all dealers will have special parts to solve the issue and will handle free replacements.

Did Toyota react fast enough to save its name?

Some say no. Toyota should have known of the problem earlier, due to reports of acceleration-related accidents recorded by the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) as early as 2002.  After four people in a Lexus were killed when their car accelerated into an intersection and hit an SUV last August, Toyota had already received more than 2,000 complaints of similar issues.   Toyota could have “connected the dots”  sooner, and saved lives and perhaps its stake in the auto market for years to come.  On the other hand, their fast response once they did issue the recall, and their ability to reach out to customers and the press through multiple channels–television, press conferences, social media and their own website–has helped the company’s image.  Crisis communications experts always cite the Tylenol poisoning case of 1982, when manufacturer Johnson & Johnson recalled more than 20 million bottles of Extra Strength Tylenol, destroyed them all, and developed new tamper-resistant packaging, and then communicated all of these steps to the public, early and often.

What can other brands learn from Toyota?

  1. Not Listening to Your Customers Can Kill Your Brand.
  2. Not Working with Others Who Serve Your Customer (i.e. NHSTA) Hurts Your Brand.
  3. Developing a Solution-Oriented Response Helps.
  4. Communicate Everything, Early, Often.
  5. If You Don’t Already Have Multiple Channels for Reaching Your Customer and Decision-Influencers (the press, experts), Put Them in Place Now!

Can Younger Staff and Members Add Value to Your Brand?

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I’ve asked some colleagues to contribute to this page.  Here’s Melissa Houghton, Executive Director of the Washington D.C. Chapter of Women in Film & Video (WIFV) on how younger members and staff have increased the impact of this professional membership association.  If you are interested in guest blogging, please feel free to email me at amy[at]amydelouise[dot]com.

WIFV is blessed with many members who are early adopters of all types of technology. Social media platforms have been no exception. But when it came to WIFV moving from its members-only listserv into a social media platform, so we could reach beyond our members, we didn’t jump in with both feet.

What held us back? What keeps us moving forward?

Sometimes, the same thing.  WIFV has about 1000 members, many of them filmmakers using the latest non-linear computer-based editing tools and digital cameras.   The organization has a vibrant listserv for members that makes it easy for them to get technology questions answered, fill positions, get references and learn what films are screening.

On the one hand, why do anything more?

Our goal is to provide services for members and the listserv is where we’ve encouraged them to go for information. At the same time, they expect WIFV to be available to them wherever they are and they are on social media.  And they want others within and across industries to know more about us. When some members set up Facebook and Linked In profiles for the organization, and we only found out after the fact, we realized we had to become pro-active about our brand in this new space.

Who could help us?

Thank goddess for interns and student members! They are fearless with social media and were able to watch the sites for a while to learn who was using them, and what were the most active discussions. Our younger members’ experiences in the office with program development also helped them understand what types of postings would generate the most interest and keep the sites active with valuable and engaging content. They’ve also been tireless about getting involved with our committees and bringing their enthusiasm and know-how to the members who had more reservations about how WIFV would use social media.

It has been a learning experience for us all.

Our older members are beginning to engage through SM and build the same personal connections they’ve always used to produce and distribute powerful films, just in new ways. The young professionals in our midst realize that there is a business as well as personal need to share content and resources and keep pushing us forward.  They don’t let us slack off with postings and make sure we re-tweet, write on walls, and link with others. And hey, here I am, blogging!

Help Haiti

I’m suspending my usual post for the day to list these organizations through whom you can send help to the people of Haiti.  The poorest nation in the western hemisphere, Haiti was hit by a major earthquake today and is poorly equipped to deal with this disaster. Most Haitians live on less than 2 dollars a day and only 20 percent have access to clean water.

Here are some organizations that can direct your dollars to Haiti:

International Medical Corps

Yele Haiti


American Red Cross

Catholic Relief Services

Save the Childrenwatch the CNN interview with Save the Children’s Ian Rodgers


You can learn more about Haiti, and Dr. Paul Farmer’s lifelong work to change the destiny of its people through better healthcare, in the book Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder.

Five New Year’s Resolutions for Your Brand

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Here are some resolutions to consider for the New Year.

1. Consistency. Everything you say should, well, say “you” and not someone or something else.  Old logos, old tag lines, old ways of doing business need to hit the recycle bin.

2. Connectivity. Social media is here to stay. Join the conversation. Connect to constituents, customers, policymakers, thought leaders. That said, human-to-human connections are still the gold standard when it comes to cultivating policymaking relationships, customers and donors.

3. Relevancy. Convey what makes you relevant in the last year of the first decade of a new century. (I know, I’m old-school. Despite all the news stories, I believe the last year of the decade was not 2009!)

4. Creativity. Interconnectivity means choice for customers, donors, viewers, readers, users, etc.   If you’re not creative about reaching them, they’ve already moved on. Examples: iPhone apps by nonprofits, video trailers promoting books, Twitter contests to raise issue awareness.

5. Simplicity. With all the clutter in our lives, and the meshing of work and home lives thanks to the Blackberry and iPhone, simplicity wins the day. That goes for strategies, design,  messages, and most importantly, mission.  If it’s too hard to explain in an “elevator pitch,” rethink it.

Wring out the old. Ring in the new. Here’s to your success in 2010!

Happy Holidays!

I’ll return on January 5th. Until then, I leave you with this funny take on the holidays…wait for it in verse two: women’s octet Venus d Minor sings their version of the holiday classic, Silver Bells.

Should Nonprofits Lobby?


The following is not intended as legal or tax advice. If your organization is embarking upon lobbying activity, you should consult a tax attorney, accounting firm, and other legal resources.

The question of whether to lobby—and whether it’s even possible for a nonprofit—comes up again and again.  It’s true that the IRS has been more aggressive in questioning exempt status for organizations who are active politically–for example, the IRS’s NAACP case, which was eventually dropped.  But the question really is…

Can your nonprofit succeed in its mission without engaging in the policies that affect the very people or places you were created to help?

Today’s Washington Post story about the Chesapeake Bay evokes that question as it assesses whether the Chesapeake Bay Foundation can clean up the bay while still refraining from being politically active. It’s a good question and one which nonprofits of all sizes should ask themselves.

Many nonprofits don’t even engage in the most basic policy activism because they fear for their tax exempt status. But legally, all nonprofits can engage in some non-partisan policy activities.

So which 501-c’s can lobby?

There are actually 28 different “501-c” designations by the IRS. Wow. We won’t be covering the bulk of these today. But most organizations fall under 501(c)3, (c)4 or (c ) 6.

Organizations with 501 (c) 3 status—public charities and foundations—can participate in lobbying as long as it is not a “substantial” part of their activities. More on this in a second.

A 501(c) 6 designation is usually reserved for trade associations and professional associations (known in IRS lingo as “business leagues.”) These entities are allowed to have lobbying as a primary activity, as long as they notify members how much of their dues go to such activities.

The 501(c)(4) exemption goes to civic leagues and other organizations operated exclusively for the promotion of “social welfare,” which the IRS defines as “civic betterment and social improvements.” This includes local associations of employees of a particular organization or neighborhood. These organizations have an unlimited ability to lobby for legislation and the ability to participate in political campaigns and elections.  But the catch is that the organization must benefit society as a whole, not just its members.

So, if we’re a 501-c-3, why should we lobby?

The question really is, why not? Aren’t you part of a neighborhood? A broader community? A region? A state? A nation? Don’t the rules and regulations and actions of the key policy players affect you and the people you serve? I won’t deny it, 501-c-3’s have it the hardest time with lobbying because the definition of “substantial” is so squishy. But if you are focusing most of your staffing, budget and attention on your primary mission, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about (see disclaimer above, please!).

On the other hand, if you’re not politically engaged, you might have a lot to worry about–including the very substance of your work.

If you are a school, for example, then local and national education policies, land use policies, and rulings related to local traffic and roadways may all affect your institution and others like it.  Staying engaged and being a voice as these policies are made or revised is vital not just to your institution, but to the broader community (in which other, more practiced voices might be louder). This is playing itself out on a very local level in my neighborhood, where a new land development project could reconfigure a major roadway and an independent school could lose its left-turn lane, and therefore access for most of its families. The school has become actively engaged as local leaders try to finalize the roadway plan. The key is that the lobbying activities do not promote a particular candidate or party, but rather a broader issue.  Even universities, which often hire government relations staff, do not lose their exempt status for their engagement in public policy.

As a nonprofit, you may feel you have enough challenges already and want to play it safe on lobbying. But if your issue is saving your school, or saving the entire Chesapeake watershed, then not raising your voice might kill you. Literally.

For more resources on nonprofit status and lobbying, see Boardsource, Independent Sector’s excellent guidelines and the IRS’s own “Stay Exempt” resource, among others.

Does your nonprofit lobby? On what issues? Or do you strongly feel it shouldn’t? Please share your views!

Competing in the Nonprofit Marketplace

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Nonprofits have competitors in the marketplace, just like anyone else.
Environmental groups compete in a highly cluttered landscape of urgent causes.   Independent schools compete against other independent schools, but also against public magnet schools and charter schools.  American social justice organizations working internationally “compete” with local NGOs and other equally committed nonprofits. These are just a few examples.

Nonprofits usually recognize they have competitors, but they also think of them as peers.  So they are sometimes late to take action when a peer is taking market share.

What can nonprofits—including  government agencies and programs—do to compete better? Here are some steps you can take right away.

Step 1: Recognize Your Competition. Really drill down into who/what is competing with your organization, your cause or your message. This includes things as mundane as local soccer tournaments on the same night as your auction to more high-level issues like competing with an older organization with a stronger brand presence in the market. Or, a common problem for older organizations: competing with an out-dated version of yourself!

Step 2: Analyze Them. Most companies in the for-profit world know exactly what their competition is doing at any given time. I understand that the reason the Hershey chocolate tour is totally produced for the visitor these days is that the folks from the M&M Mars factory not far away used to take the old tour through the real factory to check on any new techniques or products.  Get copies of your competitors’ outreach materials and see how they stack up against yours. What do you like or not like? What makes them stand out?

Step 3: Analyze Yourself. What’s Your UCV?  “Unique Selling Proposition” is the term used in the for-profit world, so I like to use “Unique Community Value” for the nonprofit world.  What value do you bring to the community like no-one else? What does your work accomplish? What would happen if you weren’t there to help?

Step 4: Differentiate Your Brand. What messages convey your brand value and UCV? What stories can you tell that set you apart? What visuals can help support the emotional sell of your brand?

Step 5: Use Metrics. How will you measure your success in your market space? How will you know if you are decreasing or increasing in market share? Email surveys, behind-the-scenes research, and focus groups can all help in this area, in addition to your usual web hits, Google Alerts and email open response metrics.

Step 6: Rinse and Repeat. You need to keep up this cycle to be sure no competitor takes a bite out of your space (or to assess how you are doing in taking a bite out of theirs!).

Brand Tools for Local Volunteers and Staff

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Foliage as Shapes - IMG_0052 s.cHere’s a great question that came to me from one of my readers: “How does the headquarters of a national nonprofit support and/or monitor brand consistency among dozens of social media sites run by local chapter volunteers?”

It’s definitely a balancing act to develop a consistent brand strategy—including use of social media—without burdening local staff and volunteers. I believe there are several key elements to a successful plan.

  1. Define Your Mission. Make sure everyone understands your “elevator pitch” about your mission and who you serve, and why you do it every day. Make sure every person, from CEO to local volunteers is able to deliver this pitch and connect it to their own personal story.
  2. Define Your Communications Philosophy. Why and in what tone do you need to communicate to stakeholders? Explain in very clear, non-jargony terms (i.e., without using the word stakeholders!), what about your brand should be communicated, whether it’s through a local walk website, a volunteer’s blog or a Facebook page.
  3. Monitor Based on Philosophy.  Your philosophy should guide your monitoring. The “why” of your communications will dictate how you measure success, and what will flag concerns at the national level. Don’t get too caught up in uniformity. It’s all about achieving mission results in the end, so what matters is anything that can propel or derail that goal.
  4. Provide Tools.  Give every local staffer and volunteer a simple, online-accessible toolkit of what they need to communicate your brand. If they have these tools, chances are high they won’t spend time developing their own look or content that could be inconsistent with your main national brand, because their focus is and should be on on-the-ground activities.

Let’s take a closer look at the local Toolkit.  So what should go into it?

Stories. Ultimately nonprofits are able to communicate best through stories of the people and communities they help. Provide a regular stream of well-written content, with quotations and photos to go along with it, and your local teams can either copy the format with their own or use yours.

Videos. Video is a highly effective tool for engaging donors, volunteers and local staff. A short video can efficiently communicate your brand and message to a large number of people in a variety of local settings. Consider providing a DVD each year to every local chapter that can include: 1) an overview/general marketing video about your organization, 2) a short, peppy meeting opener, 3) case studies/interview-based vignettes that can communicate why your mission matters to real people and their lives (this can be used to cultivate donors, or bring in new volunteers or members), 4) an annual conference and/or local events highlights video.  Once you have the basics, you can just provide updates or periodic new material (such as a brief training video on a new program you are rolling out.)

Graphics. Include a logo as it should appear in several mediums (i.e. it will be different for the web than for TV or for print pieces).  Also, it’s handy to offer a template for newsletters or local brochures. And of course, you will want to identify fonts—either approved or recommended for headers, tag lines, body copy, etc.

Photos. A true gem for busy local staff and volunteers is a well-organized online photo library.  Include downloadable, rights-cleared photos your local volunteers and staff can use in blogs, on websites, in newsletters, e-marketing pieces, etc.  You want images that include major organizational leaders and celebrity champions, volunteers in action, key locations, special events, and most importantly, the people or communities you serve.  Getting rights cleared can be a hassle, but if you set up a regular process for every shoot (and have a downloadable form for getting permissions cleared), you will go a long way towards providing brand and image consistency for your organization.

Communications at the local level is vital for any national organization. But it can also create serious pitfalls for your organization’s brand among key constituencies, including the media, donors, and future volunteers. Providing tools, rather than dictating rules, can help pave the way to a more unified brand.