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