How researchers get heard

Media Are the Sprinkles

Years ago I asked a consultant to consultants (it’s nice work if you can get it) for a recommendation on a good media relations person.

I’ll never forget his response — first a sharp laugh, and then: “That’s still a thing?”

The consultant and his new book were soon after profiled in The New York Times, quite favorably. Cue the rim shot.

At the same time, a client’s fundraising director was telling me they didn’t see the point of creating content to email to their list. “We should be focused on getting into The New York Times,” they said, with a different kind of sharpness.

One of the biggest lies in nonprofit communications is about the value of a media hit. When you look at the metrics afterwards, it’s usually undetectable — for membership, audience growth, donations, or long-term funding.

There’s nothing wrong with “getting into” The New York Times, or getting earned media. But there’s something very wrong today if you’re making that objective a pillar of your growth strategy.

You can’t news jack your way to growth. That was true even before journalism by humans began to evaporate as a profession, before millennials were getting their news more from YouTube than traditional news outlets, before those traditional news outlets started cutting back on entertaining opinion pitches.

Cultivating media should be at most 10 percent of your outreach efforts. The near-future of public scholarship and thought leadership is in activating a network and creating an ecosystem for your ideas and conversation — some combination of cultivating an email list (Substack or not), Twitter, video- and/or podcasting, Instagram, LinkedIn, blogging and private networking with communities.

If you’re not excited about your network’s ability or willingness to share your ideas and content, then take a hard look at your ideas and content instead of pitching it to a whole new audience.

Earned media is a trailing indicator of success — of your ecosystem’s ferment and the freshness of your thinking.

To mix metaphors: Media are the sprinkles. Not the frozen custard.

Image by Jason Leung on Unsplash.