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Tips and tricks in outreach

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In your work, you have probably encountered challenging situations in getting media representatives or maybe you faced challenges in reaching out to your target groups. Maybe you had issues in actively persuading people to participate in your activities. All of these are challenges faced by youth organisations around Europe. Therefore, it is good to know outreach techniques in order to boost participation of target groups and get better visibility and recognition in the local community. All in all, good outreach can help get exposure and media coverage. 

Outreach is a special discipline within public relations that deals with the strategies we use in order to inform people about our projects and activities. More precisely, outreach is closely connected to pitching your idea or activity to specific target groups so they can promote it further. Outreach can be done with several groups: media (journalists), community (target groups), influencers or politicians. In this article, we will be covering outreach to the media and community.

How to do outreach?

In order to do quality outreach, there are several steps that need to be fulfilled. According to Dennis, 2018, every organisation should start with the following:

  • Understanding your own unique value, branding and target audience: If you do not understand the unique value of your organisation and what you want to achieve, it will be harder to communicate with journalists, target groups and influencers to get them involved in your organisation.
  • Creating an outreach list: It is a good idea to have an outreach list, which you can create by searching bloggers, journalists or influencers in your local community. Make a list of their name, contact details, site or company they work in, their position and the date of outreach. In order to create the best outreach list, you can use available data on social media, use advanced search options on Google or search through forums and blogs. Think about your content – quality is always more important than quality: don’t always contact the whole list, just a group of people who might be interested in the topic.
  • Understanding your outreach contacts: Remember, you are not reaching out to an organisation or a media company; you are reaching out to real people who have their own lives and other work obligations. Therefore, communication here is crucial. It is always a good idea to know who you are reaching out to, what their interests are and what topics they are covering.
  • Crafting your outreach messages: You need to be clear and open in your communication. It is crucial that you personalise your contact with journalists/influencers/community members, as this helps with better visibility and recognition. Moreover, always use call to action (CTA), in which you need to describe why you are contacting them and how they will benefit from spreading the word about your organisation/project/cause.

Media outreach and media relations

After you have created the outreach list, now is a good time to put it into practice! You will probably have some journalists or bloggers to pitch your organisation/cause/project to. However, this is not an easy task.

Firstly, it would be a good idea to create a strong relationship with journalists or bloggers from your list and this can take quite some time. This relationship-building process is called media relations. This means that you communicate actively with journalists, talk with them regularly or just show them you care. For example, if a journalist has published a news story about your organisation, you could send a follow-up email and thank them. Find the reason to follow-up and don’t send a lot of emails, as they are seen as spam. Later, you can send them personalised emails or even offer exclusive content (e.g. preliminary results of research you did on young people). You could even send them information which is in their area of professional interest. Relationship building is a long-term process and takes time. Do not forget to track responses from your contacts, as you will know who expressed interest – this means you can contact them in future with specific information.  

When you finish relationship building, you can start implementing media outreach. According to Dragilev, 2020, media outreach is the process of pitching your news or content to journalists and bloggers.

So, how to contact journalists and pitch your idea? If you are using email, follow these guidelines:

  • Your subject line needs to be creative and interesting: It is highly recommended that you don’t use subjects such as ‘Pitch idea’, ‘Our Education Event’ or ‘This may interest you!’
  • In the body of the email, address the journalist and continue to introduce yourself and the organisation you are representing.
  • Tell them the reason you are contacting them and summarise the lead of the story (two or three short sentences explaining 5WH questions: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?).
  • Continue with a description of the story and why the audience of this media outlet would be interested (this gives your story publishing value).
  • At the end, indicate when would you like to receive a response and what would be your follow-up.
  • Don’t forget to thank journalists for their time spent reading your email (Roberts, 2020).

Remember, outreach fails because we don’t know enough about the journalist or we contact them with a topic they are not interested in writing about (e.g. contacting a journalist who writes about politics when we want to promote an educational event). If you do not receive a response right away, don’t be discouraged; as journalists are under tight deadlines so they may not respond immediately (Dragilev, 2020).

Community outreach: talking with target groups and the local community

According to Dewson, Davis, Casebourne, 2006, outreach services are used to engage people and draw on partnerships and networks with other service providers. Community outreach is ‘targeted communication by your organisation with a group of people, to meet a particular goal’ (Narayanan, 2019). So, if your organisation is dealing with empowering youth, you could probably use direct communication with youth to attract them to participate in your activities.

So, how can your organisation do community outreach? Sometimes, this can be a challenging task, as you need to motivate people in the local community who are maybe not interested in your work or cause. Therefore, there are several strategies and activities you can use to create better community outreach and attract new members, volunteers or supporters. 

Some of the outreach activities aimed at engaging people in your community can include:

  • Giving out leaflets and newsletters (including graphs and visuals, as people resonate better with graphic content).
  • Putting up stalls and displays in local institutions (schools, libraries, community centres or even the street).
  • Giving people goodies (such as pens, notebooks and badges).
  • Setting up billboards and advertising on local buses.
  • Sponsoring local events such as local football tournaments or charity dinners (Dewson, Davis, Casebourne, 2006).

When doing community outreach, it would be good to have the following strategies in mind (Forbes, 2017): 

  • Encouraging discussions: Encouraging discussions with different stakeholders helps create meaningful and deeper relationships as well as assess the needs of the community.
  • Participation in local events: Your participation in local festivals or events will help you get to know the community and raise their awareness and the visibility of your organisation.
  • Being a partner: The crucial part of community engagement is understanding the needs and issues of the community and addressing them; if a community knows your organisation and is aware that you are addressing the needs of the community, they are more likely to become supporters and volunteers for your cause.
  • Targeting leaders: In your local community, there are probably several leaders who are respected and valued – include them and inform them; they could be one of the most important advocates for your cause.
  • Using your facilities: Using your office or meeting rooms to organise activities and inform local communities about your cause can be helpful – use posts in the local newspaper, local online groups on social media or meetups to promote your cause.
  • Leveraging the community for knowledge: Use available knowledge in the local community – maybe you can include parents with specific knowledge to give a lecture or include them in volunteering actions.

Find people who can help you in creating community outreach – they can be your ambassadors or advocates. They can spread the word about your organisation and cause. One good example of community outreach was made by the European Parliament where they decided to have Youth Ambassadors in each country who promoted voting in the EU elections in their local communities and beyond. With this approach, they detected leaders in communities and engaged other young people to vote. Youth Ambassadors within the ‘This time I’m voting campaign’ organised discussions, round tables and short workshops and participated in events to talk about the importance of voting and civic participation.

What now?

As you saw, outreach takes time. In the beginning, you might not be successful, but the key is to be persistent, proactive, responsive and open. When people in the community get acquainted with you and see that you understand their problems, it will become easier.

A person doing outreach should be educated, communicative, open-minded and friendly. This is especially important for community outreach, where you will be dealing with people who have (positive or negative) opinions about the cause you are promoting. You should certainly be ready for some negative reactions (both offline and online) and elaborate a strategy on how to react to this. 

In the end, it is important to think about the evaluation of your outreach strategies. In this context, evaluation needs to be implemented in order to give you an overview of what went well and what could be improved in the future. Think about your messages, relationship-building and the strategies you use and host a short evaluation and discussion with everyone involved. The results could be beneficial for your future work.

So, that being said, we would just like to say: get ready, set and go create some outreach activities. Good luck!

Authors

Domagoj Moric
Domagoj Morić

Facilitator and a trainer in the field of youth. He holds MA in Communication Sciences and currently is attending PhD in the same field. For the last ten years, he has been working as consultant for public relations for different NGO’s and has implemented several campaigns related to civic education and sustainable energy. He regularly works as a trainer in the field of youth and school education. Domagoj is member of the trainers’ pool of Croatian National Agency and SALTO SEE and is also working with other NA’s and other institutions such as European Parliament and Council of Europe, as well as private companies and NGO sector.