Any media outreach effort must have a compelling and media-friendly press kit. The kit’s purpose is to provide basic information that will invite stories or at least further inquiries. A well-done kit signals a level of seriousness that reporters understand immediately. It should be simple, clear, and not too showy, drawing attention to your main messages and themes. It should offer only basic background data, not every available bit of information. The idea is to create interest, not to exhaust it.
A good kit, for example, can be the foundation for an invitation to an on-the-record media briefing, even without an immediate prospect for a news story. The kit can be a quick way to introduce your group to anybody; after distributing it, call and ask to follow up with a one-on-one briefing.
The press kit is built on a standard set of materials”pieces that can be used no matter what the story may be at any time. Print these up in large quantities. The same material, with different cover letters, can be used as information packets for prospective funders, board members, and new employees.
Headlines, subheads, and boxes are road signs that steer a reader through your document. Journalists skim by reading subheads, so make sure your major points are boldfaced or boxed to make them stand out. Keep them short and simple, and let them help present your narrative in a logical way.
Evergreen materials should include a brochure”a foldable single-sheet or longer pamphlet that will fit in a standard #10 business envelope. The brochure can be glossier and more colorful than the rest of your material. This may be your most useful publication, so spend the time and money to make a good one that will still be inexpensive enough to distribute generously. This can be used for reporters, funders, members, and policymakers.
Also include separate sheets that cover the following items:
- Statement of purpose: your group’s mission statement, goals, or reason for existence. Outline the problem you are addressing, explaining why it is important and what you hope to do about it.
- The background of your organization: its history, size, sources of funding and such operational information as chapter locations, activities, and membership demographics. This should be concise enough to fit on one sheet of paper if you use subheads, bullets, and short paragraphs instead of long, expository passages.
- One-page profiles of your spokespeople: sketches that include basic biographical information, such as professional background, education, and some personal information. Offer to supply photographs on request.
- Issue briefs: one-page background and “factoid” sheets on aspects of your issues. These could include a chronology, a glossary of terms, opinion poll data, state-by-state summaries on your issue, press contacts, and academic contacts. Give only a few briefs, putting one on each page and making it punchy in style. Where possible, reduce statistical information to charts and graphs. Again, use bullets and subheads.
- Contact list: names of your principals and experts, inside and outside your organization, who can provide further information on your issues. Include a line or two about each expert’s background or specialty, as well as full contact information, including office and home phones and e-mail addresses. Consider diversity of culture, ethnicity, geography, and so on in choosing names to list.
- Additional resources or bibliography: a list of related books, articles, and other published or taped material available from your organization or elsewhere. Be sure to list any relevant Web sites, Internet mailing lists, or online discussion groups.
- Press clips: three or four favorable newspaper or magazine articles that feature or mention your group, or editorials or cartoons that present your issue as you see it.
- Optional items: your annual report, a copy of your latest newsletter or other publication, endorsements or letters of praise from notables, or the texts of outstanding speeches. You might just list these items as available on request from your office.
As Joanne Omang, a former Washington Post reporter, tells nonprofit groups in training sessions, “The idea is to give enough information to allow intelligent questions, not to explore the debate completely. You may want to raise your opponents’ best arguments and demolish them, so those journalists will then see those arguments as old news. Remember that it is the reporters’ job to write the story. A good press kit will supply all of the facts and still let them do their job.”
Do not forget to provide general background information about your program’s beneficiaries and success stories or about the plight of people who have not yet been reached. You might include anecdotes, with names, places, ages, and individual histories full of drama. Nothing brings an issue home like a human face, especially to journalists. If you can offer pictures, film, tapes, or interviews with the people featured, be sure to note that in the press kit. Be certain you have the individuals’ permission to tell their stories.
Use your basic press kit with cover letters or with dated press re¬leases and additional documents for special events, such as news conferences or fundraising galas. And take it along when you are scheduled to do a major interview or appear on TV. Press kits are also good tools with which to promote your strategic communications efforts to large donors and foundation executives.