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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)

A third piece ran on the front page, above the fold, of the national Globe and Mail.

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?

Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Krista says:

    Jackson–this is a great post and one that hits home for me. I’ve provided pro bono media relations support for a 5K event aimed at raising awareness about multiple myeloma. The first year, I was able to leverage the “first ever” angle for local (tradtional) media. One effective tactic was to invite a local news anchor, who was himself a cancer survivor, to be the event emcee. Like clockwork, his station sent a news van! The event’s organizing nonprofit also had a connection to the mayor of Philadelphia, who spoke briefly (as most politicians do) and was presented with an honorary award. Again, local mayor at health event = more news vans.

    This year, as the second event, we again invited the news anchor but also had another crowd/media magnet– the Phillies Phanatic! In many cases, local sports teams have multiple people representing their mascots at various events. Putting a well-known local mascot in the media alert headline drew both news blurbs and additional registrations alike.

    The only catch with some of these tactics was that these notable appearances could overshadow the client’s cause at the event. Luckily, most media clips mentioned a few facts from my press release and the pro bono client was also thrilled to see the effect that news vans had on amping up the crowd before their event. The challenge that I plan to take on next year is closer to your approach– find a patient/caregiver/survivor story to pitch in order to put a real “face” on the event.

    Looks like you’re doing great work and getting incredibly touching coverage– keep it up 🙂

  • Hey Krista!

    Tks for compliment and the comment. In fact, I had little to do with the press outcomes this weekend – I simply have a superb employee in Toronto who, despite being young, really gets how media relations works – she is very talented.

    Your comment is insightful. I believe the tactics you speak of, especially getting journos to participate in the event themselves, are winners. Coverage is much easier when an outlet is more invested in an event.

    Your point regarding the problem of celebrity ‘overshadowing’ the event is also interesting. I believe the PR pro is largely responsible for ensuring that this DOES NOT happen.

    Happy to chat more offline if you plan to the tactic I referred to in the post (or to chat more about event PR more generally). Just drop me an email.

  • Jackson, this is a good read. When my work focused primarily on old school media relations, we didn’t often use complete exclusives, but we did often make sure that the leading outlet in its genre, i.e. print, radio, TV, had the story “first.”

    This meant a lot of behind the scenes maneuvering in terms of interview scheduling, because you don’t want to PO even your 2nd or 3rd tier outlets (and they certainly don’t want to be told they’re perceived as such), but we were mostly able to handle it with tact. We also made sure the media outlet in question understood it was not getting the interview “exclusively,” but that it was getting it before its competitors did, and that we were using the same approach for other media genres. So it was in its best interests to run it as soon as possible, which was good for us.

    The advantage to this quasi-exclusive approach is that you still get the coverage you’re seeking, but it’s spread over time, and across media types.

    The other thing that I think is really important is having good b-roll on hand. Stations use it even now, and with almost all types of media incorporating video into their reporting, you never know when it will add that little bit of flavor to a story to take it from standard to engaging.

  • Hey Jedi,

    Thanks for stopping by!

    Your point on quasi-exclusives is a good one. We take a similar approach with certain types of news items (though given the wishes of certain stakeholders in and outside our organization – we do not typically do this with our large events).

    I think some sort of video content is ESSENTIAL these days. Even if it does not get into a report it adds significantly to the ability of Comms pros to tell a story. It is also so easy to get shoot and edit video these days. Moreover, in an era where old media is being cutback and new media often lack the content production capacity that old media once had, you NEED to feed video to EVERYONE.

    Thanks again Shonali, you always add valuable insights to the conversation here.

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