It’s Time for Nonprofits to Grow Their Earned Media Strategy

When it comes to earned media, it’s quality over quantity. That’s the takeaway message from M+R’s new MediaMarks study. According to them, the best strategy is to “develop tunnel vision” and narrow your focus to better the results you’re getting from media coverage.

When you review your media hits, you should be able to determine what each individual impression has done for your cause.

The study is a great resource with some useful takeaways, but all of the research is done on major national news outlets covering large nonprofits. The organizations that were tracked had operating budgets ranging from $50 million to as much as $500 million. If a nonprofit is working with that kind of money, they probably have a press secretary and a media team working to control the message. But if your organization is like most, your budget isn’t that big and you don’t have a media team. Most likely, the person responsible for media relations is also responsible for 4 or 5 other things. So we set out to figure out how these smaller, regional nonprofits can take advantage of this national study.

Hot Topics

In 2016, organizations with international causes had the highest number of hits, with environmental organizations close behind. The researchers thought that this could be because of the kinds of news stories that were dominating the front page. In another year, poverty and health issues could be on the forefront, and those kinds of organizations could see a bump in their news coverage.

There isn’t much you can do to control what stories grab the public’s attention but when they do, look at it as an opportunity to educate people about what you’re doing to help. Take advantage of the “piggyback publicity.” It’s a gift.

The Holiday Slowdown

The study also tracked the months that had the best and worst news coverage. They found that coverage in December and January is lower than it should be. The low numbers around the holidays are a problem; as organizations are ramping up in an effort to raise donations with year-end fundraising campaigns, their brand is appearing less in the news.

There’s still time to develop a holiday giving strategy, but if things are getting down to the wire, remember this for next year. There’s opportunity to grow and a story to tell, especially if your organization does something special around year-end. You just have to do a good job of telling the media about it, and they’ll spread the word. The goal should be consistent coverage all year long, so find your lulls—whether they’re around the holidays or somewhere else—and work to erase them.

Who’s Covering You

Finding out what kinds of media are in your “tunnel”—and which aren’t—will go a long way in any media strategy. Not all of them will be for you, so don’t waste time on the ones that aren’t advancing your cause. The study showed that newspapers covered nonprofits the most and magazines covered them the least, but this could be different regionally, or depending on the cause. You probably know what media is covering your nonprofit, but doing some research on where similar organizations are getting covered can give you some great insights. After that, you’ll have an idea of where you are up to par and where you have opportunities to grow.

You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what you want in media. That’s easier to do in owned media as opposed to earned, but calling for change or action in interviews or mentioning it to reporters can help get the message across. As the M+R team puts it, “Are we asking loud and clear enough for the change or action we seek?”


Getting your name in the news and in front of the community is as important as advertising and social media, but the hardest to accomplish. Much like other aspects of your operation, sitting down and developing a strategy is the way to start. Work these findings into that strategy and keep it evolving to stay on top of the earned media game.

Originally published 9.30.16 — Updated 8.22.17

earned media

Austin Heineman

August 22, 2017

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