Nonprofits should build relationships with local media

April 20, 2021
Reading Time: 3 minutes
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Advertising is essential for nonprofits, but finding the right strategy that works within the required budget constraints isn’t always easy. As a result, nonprofits often put advertising on the back burner—and consequently miss out on an opportunity to connect with a broader audience, promote their brand, and build awareness around their work. 

Luckily, there are simple steps a nonprofit organization can take to improve advertising without wasting a ton of time or money. 

Write Advertorial Content

Nonprofits looking to up their advertising game should consider investing in “advertorial” content—content that looks like an editorial or objective journalistic article, but is written by an advertising partner. As opposed to more traditional ads, advertorial gives nonprofits the space (and the word count) to amplify their mission and fundraising efforts while making connections with newspapers and magazines in their communities.

Certainly, the cost of an advertorial program might make some organizations pause. However, nonprofits can typically negotiate lower advertising rates or create programs to have advertising donated through in-kind programs

Connect with Local Journalists 

Through advertising programs and contests, nonprofits can build mutually beneficial relationships with local media outlets. Nonprofits can grow their volunteer and donor base, improve visibility in the community, and share their story with their community members. In turn, media outlets can generate advertising revenue and promote causes that matter to their readers. 

Reach out to journalists at your local paper. If you work in a variety of markets, start building relationships with media in each region or city. These personal relationships with local reporters can help you take advantage of advertising—and potentially win you earned media coverage, too!

Ask Media Partners to Get Creative 

Advertising in local media outlets isn’t limited to display ads, or even advertorials. Nonprofit clients can purchase branded content, such as articles, videos, and live or virtual events, through programs at newspapers and magazines within their community. 

A study from Pressboard Media found that branded content is 22x more engaging than display ads. Readers spend an average of 36 seconds engaging with written branded content, which is significantly higher than the average 1.6 seconds that they’ll spend with a banner ad. Nonprofits can tell the stories behind their fundraising efforts through paid editorial-style content and highlight the people and places behind your work. This content feels more authentic to your nonprofit’s voice and values than traditional advertising. 

In addition, many media outlets also have in-house creative studios and events teams—giving partners access to high-quality video, podcasts, and events. Bring your big ideas to your local paper or magazine—and see if they would be willing to partner with you!

Understand What’s Possible (And Point to Examples from Other Local Media Partners)

To find the best way to leverage local media in your advertising strategies, start by exploring the options available in your area—and do your research on what has been done before. 

The Chicago Sun-Times publishes sponsored content in partnership with businesses, nonprofits, and other third-party organizations. The content reads like traditional editorial content, but since it’s technically paid advertising, the partner organization is in the driver’s seat when it comes to storytelling. The partner organization is listed in the preview of each story on the Sun-Times website, which means even the skimmers and scrollers will get a glance at your organization’s name. 

The Chicago Reader also hosts a branded content program that features local nonprofits and social impact giving opportunities. Program clients pay for and participate in developing the content that is written and produced by the alternative weekly’s editorial team. 

Minnesota’s Mpls. St.Paul Magazine, which is dedicated to service journalism and promoting events within Minneapolis-St. Paul, hosts several events each year to help drive traffic, brand exposure, and sales for their partner organizations. The nonprofit or business is listed as a partner on the event’s content and gets additional exposure to the magazine’s audience. In turn, the magazine can demonstrate its values and its commitment to the community. 

These programs, and others like them around the country, offer nonprofits a critical opportunity to tell their story on their terms, grow their supporter base, and increase brand awareness in their community. 

Advertorial content in local media outlets is an essential tool that nonprofit organizations can use to reach a wider audience and control the narrative surrounding their work. Nonprofit leaders shouldn’t hesitate to reach out to their local papers’ advertising departments to initiate a brainstorming session. Together, you can collaborate on ideas for articles, events, and other media services that serve your storytelling needs, promote your organization, and engage your community. 

Katie Powers

Katie Powers is a copywriter and journalist from Illinois. She is passionate about telling stories that speak to lived experiences and celebrate the things that make life exciting. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Reader, Supermajority News, Marketing News Magazine and more.
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