For some strange reason, we as a consultancy, got more than our fair share of "different" businesses - social causes, not-for profit and for-profit social businesses, organisations working with marginalised society, children, differently-abled children, culture and heritage, and the list is long.
In media parlance, these are not "breaking news" or "sensational" stories, but things that actually make a difference in people's lives and therefore "boring" and "soft-stories". In the world where the negatives far outweigh the positives, there is not much space for stories such as these, though these are the ones that really make a difference.
All of us know about a Sheena Bora who was killed by her mother - how many of us know about NGOs that works with millions of children from cradle to livelihood??? All of us know about the Kejriwal - Jung spats, how many of us know of the hundreds of organisations that are ceaselessly working with differently-abled children and trying to create a possibility of their reaching main-stream? The media cries foul when there are power outages in the main cities - but what of those who have no energy access(some 600 Mn Indians according to the Planning Commission)???
The reason for this is not that simple to understand - Are we fast transforming into a "I, Me & Myself" generation, so whatever does not affect me isn't important? Or are TRPs impacting the industry to such an extent that we have lost sight for all else? Or is it that the topical and the "here and now" has become way too important than the "what should be"? Or is it that flowing with the mainstream is so much simpler than actually looking at stories that make a difference? I think it is all this and much much more... There is a huge amount of "peer pressure" in the media as well - Almost all the media is looking at the How's and Why's of a story gets traction and then emulate successes. Sensationalism is the new "in".
In this context, creating positive stories, especially about the developmental sector, is a herculean task - especially when we do not have the wherewithal to share revenues, numbers(a large number of these organizations are still taking baby steps), high-profile investors/promoters, and the like - the typical ingredients of a story.
In our experience, when nothing else does, "experiential learning" works the best. We have seen that any journalist/blogger who has the "first hand experience" of witnessing the workings of the projects or participating in their programs is most likely to follow them regularly with interest. Easier said than done! The challenge is getting the media to "sample" the offering in the first instance. And contrary to whatever the PR specialists say, your "links" or "networks" don't really work here.
Our core philosophy has been to share and keep sharing the right "triggers" with the "relevant" target group, till the time they are piqued enough to talk. Plain media relations and press releases do not really work ("Where is the space?" is a constant refrain from journalists), so creating what is called the "nuggets of wisdom", is really important.
The focus is on creating different pitches and sharing them with different people based on their interest areas. And one size DOES NOT fit all here... For some plain triggers, followed by data on the segment works, for some details do, for some it is why and the where that is more important... It all boils down to creating content that is focused, relevant, of topical interest, and looks at adding on to the "expertise" of the media person in question. So in this context, more than any other, Content is indeed the king!!!
Experiential learning can create indelible impressions and therefore it is important that every bit of the time available is utilised optimally! After all a journalist who is giving half a day of his time, is making an investment and if he sees no return on it, he/she is going to be a very unhappy person. Once handled well and convinced, this person is an ally for life and will ask for details and updates on a regular basis.
Cribbing about "no space" isn't good enough, especially when you have clients for whom every bit of awareness counts - they need funds, participation, volunteers, new projects, etc. These are typically the low budget, zero advertising clients and therefore solutions, out of the ordinary, are called for that have the potential to work!
Perseverance, content, perseverance, content,... is the mantra for success for creating positive and eventually impactful media stories for the social or development sector!!!