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4 Ways to Make the Most of Your Nonprofit’s Media Coverage

Marcella Vitulli

Your nonprofit is crushing it - running great campaigns, sending awesome emails (that are actually making it to inboxes), engaging influencers in your space, and generally doing a stellar job at storytelling - and you're getting recognized for all of your hard work! Congrats!

Now what? We asked Sacha Evans, Senior Associate at DG+CO, for expert tips nonprofits can use to leverage media coverage. Read on!


Over the years, I’ve seen a variety of nonprofits that monitor media outlets in a narrow way – essentially, to gauge how often their organization is covered. It’s a worthwhile exercise, no doubt. But is “counting press clips” really enough to help your organization enact social change?

Imagine that there was a giant database out there that could tell you how often your key issues were discussed. Not only that – it could also reveal the vocabulary surrounding your issue and the context in which it is addressed among your key target audiences.

It should come as no surprise that, when analyzed in the right way, traditional and social media coverage can do exactly that.

So the question is: why do so many nonprofits only examine their own media coverage instead of their broader issues?


News You Can Use

Dramatic, often surprising, results can be collected when you use media as a barometer of social change. Here are four quick tips to help you start tracking your issues in the news.


1. Establish Your Keywords 

Identify a set of keywords related to your organization’s big issues. Be choosy –only include keywords that reflect your organization’s top priorities.

Then, use your media database of choice to examine how often media outlets cover these issues. Look at both current and historical coverage and record the trends and add the data to your regular analytics reports.


2. Sample & Survey

Every month, select 10 sample stories around your key issues. Better yet, use an online randomizer or handy RAND function in Excel to make it a random sample. Divide up the stories and assign them to your staff.

Each staff member should record the main topic of the story, the main actors and organizations described, who’s quoted, and the overall framing of the piece.

Also include a strategic question. For example, if your organization promotes cardiac health, ask staff to answer a big-picture question like, “Overall, was this story helpful or harmful to our cause?” Or, “Was the story aligned or opposed to our agenda?”

Staff can input their data in a simple survey questionnaire (SurveyMonkey is, obviously, a great tool for this). This will allow you to provide quantitative analysis to what would otherwise be very subjective questions.


3. Take It From the Experts

Don’t have time for the two steps described above? A quicker (but much less informative) approach is to use Google Trends for a high level overview of the news stories about your key issues as far back as 2004.

Through the “Explore” feature, you can also see geographical hot spots where your issue is an especially popular topic of conversation.


4. Broaden Your Alerts 

Most organizations already have Google Alerts and/or media monitoring alerts set up for any news coverage of they might receive.

Try adding issue keywords into that mix. Monitor hashtags and keywords that relate to your issue area. You’ll be the first to know about big news in your field.


Strategies at work

Research like this requires combining new and old technologies in unexpected ways, and it requires communications and program staff to collaborate creatively. But most of all, it requires people who are willing to think about media coverage in a new and, I think, transformative way.

Here are two examples of ways our firm has worked with clients to make the most of their media coverage.


Planned Parenthood Global

DG+CO recently completed a major media analysis to help Planned Parenthood Global understand the conversation around reproductive rights and health in four developing countries that battle extremely high rates of child mortality and teen pregnancy, and significant barriers to quality information and care.

By examining media coverage with a rigorous, academic-style approach, we could effectively turn the news into numbers and establish hard statistics that indicate how well Planned Parenthood Global’s issues are currently understood in those countries. This will help to shape the language Planned Parenthood Global uses in outreach campaigns, as well as measure how much progress it has made in the years to come.

This kind of analytical foundation goes beyond the typical realm of public relations. And yet, it underscores how important it is for anyone involved in communications or advocacy to better understand the role media outlets play in shaping public debate and popular opinion.


Internews Europe

DG+CO also partnered with Internews Europe on an in-depth investigation of the current quality and quantity of media coverage on child rights in India, Kenya, and Brazil.

The study found that across all countries and media platforms, there was virtually no media content produced by youths. This exposed the shortcomings in media coverage on children’s issues in those nations, which Internews Europe is now working to specifically address.


If this is a topic your organization would like to explore further, check out our proposed session at 16NTC. Together with representatives from Planned Parenthood Global and Internews Europe, we’ll be discussing media analysis in international contexts, explaining the basic building blocks of this kind of research and how it can be used to decipher media coverage across linguistic, political, and cultural barriers.

SE_larger-650158-edited-255761-editedSacha Evans is a Senior Associate at DG+CO. With an expertise in strategic communications for nonprofits, Sacha helps DG+CO’s clients with research, writing, and major campaigns. She has worked in-house at the Ad Council, StoryCorps, Orchestra of St. Luke’s, NPR, and Harvard University. Her writing has appeared in The Huffington Post, the Columbia Journalism Review, People.com, and UTNE Reader.


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Topics: strategy, communications