In the summer months, my day job is mostly event PR – specifically, charity runs, walks and rides. It is rewarding, largely because it presents unique challenges.
If you’ve ever pitched media stories about covering charity events (the event itself, not pre or post event coverage) you know these are, broadly, the following:
- Each summer, in most North American cities, there are a zillion charity runs,walks, and rides for great causes.
- Competing media outlets don’t like to run the same story – unless it is some kind of cataclysmic event. This trend is increasingly prevalent.
- Most stakeholders in a charity run, walk, or ride (the beneficiary, sponsors and participants) feel that they DESERVE on-event media coverage because of what they’re doing. They are not wrong, or unjustified, it just means expectations are not nil.
Tactically, you have a number of options to address the above challenges.
Rather than discussing them all, I’ll examine use of an old PR weapon, the exclusive.
Charity runs, walks and rides are typically chock full of participants with moving stories. These folks might have survived a terminal disease, have raised tonnes of money for a cause because of the death of a loved one, etc.
Participant-centric human interest stories that tug at people’s heartstrings are, bar none, THE BEST way to galvanize wider public support and action for charity events. It is great to have people conducting breakthrough research on diseases in front of media doing interviews. Likewise, securing an interview for a Foundation spokesperson or professional fundraiser who can speak to “dollars at work” type questions is helpful (and a necessary task for the PR team on charity runs/walks/rides). However, neither of these interview typologies is likely to be as effective as the having an “average” person tell a moving story.
So, to be clear, you need to find those participant stories (don’t worry, there are always LOTS) and you need to package them in a way that puts you in the best position despite the fact that: a) there are a zillion charity runs/walks/rides every summer and b) media don’t like telling the same story.
Here is what you do:
- Pitch key media outlets exclusives stories on participants with moving stories. This does two things: 1) It humanizes an event and provides a micro (the human interest) and macro (the event) angle to the story – this is stuff kids learn in PR 101 – BUT oh how we “seasoned” veterans forget. 2) It allows media to tell “different” stories but still talk about your event, interview your client, and generally do things that make you, fellow Flakian, look good.
- Tailor the participant pitch to the reader/viewer/listener profile of the media outlet. I will use Toronto as an example since it is a media market I know well. Let’s say I was working a charity bike ride in TO and had a story about a construction worker from Ajax who was riding because he’d survived cancer and wanted to give something back. I’d likely take this exclusive to the Toronto Sun – because it is a “working man’s” paper read by a lot of people like my construction worker. The fit is perfect – journalists at the Sun would get to tell their readers about someone they can relate to. You get it.
- Be sure to include details about the “macro” story and offer help telling it. By now you understand what’s is going on with this. You offer the exclusive human-interest piece to tell help buttress your goal of securing coverage about the “macro” – your client and the charity run/walk/ride. Don’t forget to offer help to your target media regarding the macro. Reference it in emails, offer up client-side spokespeople, etc. You’ll make a bunch of people happy if you succeed at this.
It can work.
I saw proof of the effectiveness of this approach last weekend in Toronto (sorry new media junkies, I am about to cite 3 “old” newspaper examples). Each of the major dailies in the market was pitched an exclusive on a story about people walking in our event. What happened?
The Toronto Sun piece ran Friday.
The Toronto Star piece ran Saturday (on page A3 at about 3/4 of a page)
Check these pieces out. All have those micro and macro elements I refer to (admittedly, some do a better job of balancing them than others).
Tell me about your story regarding PR for charity runs/walk/rides? How did you gain media’s attention and address the ever-present challenges surrounding event PR?