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Q & A with Communications Expert Thom Clark

Guest post by DeAnndra B.

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Community Media Workshop President, co-founder, and resident communications expert Thom Clark, to pick his brain about the upcoming Developing A Communications Plan training.

It’s currently one of the most requested trainings and is offered by The Workshop multiple times each year. Led by Clark, it has been a core training at The Workshop for more than twenty years. There is clearly a demand, and need, for this type of communications training; marrying traditional media relations strategies with new media strategies.

Thom Clark

Q1 – How did the Developing A Communications Plan training come to be one of the most popular trainings at The Workshop?

It’s a basic strategy workshop we’ve done from day one. Born of the first week of the core training, Professional Media Relations, there was a need to provide a shorter training for a conference in Denver as an early effort to help children advocacy groups improve their access to the media and their storytelling. Collaborating with Workshop co-founder Hank DeZutter, we built a syllabus and curriculum as an effort to get down on paper what this training was really about.

Over the years it has evolved as I collaborated with former vice-presidents of The Workshop, including some spokesperson and messaging training elements, similar to week two of Professional Media Relations. In addition to some elements from Sue O’Halloran’s Storytelling training, in particular the elevator speech technique. The current version of the training is a basic strategy workshop with a sharper focus and far better materials, establishing the basic plan as something we ought to put front and center. It worked well and I am doing this training all the time now.

Can you speak to the need for a non-profit to have a communications plan?

Most nonprofits have identified a problem that they’re trying to solve. There are customers and clients they want to attract to programs, there are board members, funders, donors, and volunteers they need to tell their story to, which includes successes or challenges in addressing that problem. Often, there are policy makers, government officials, and regulators who also need to hear how an organization discovered a problem and have come up with, or attempted, a solution to it.

If a nonprofit operates in a vacuum, they wont be as successful in changing public policy or moving clients along to be more successful in their lives (after the program), much less raise money, and attract the right staff and board members if they’re not telling their story. Organizations can tell their story through their own media (websites, e-newsletters, etc.), and/or traditional media (print and broadcast). Media coverage doesn’t just happen, it takes strategy and some persistence to gain media attention to help amplify your work which will hopefully help raise more money and attract better staff and volunteers to the organization.

 – Here at Community Media Workshop we produce a media guide. How do you plan on incorporating how to use the media guide* into this training?

I could do a better job than the seven minutes I cover it, usually. “The book alone can be a training in terms of what’s in the front part as well as what’s in the back.” We do try to cover the media guide in trainings especially if participants have this tool in front of them.

In a recent training, I talked about how to use it as a browsing tool. I usually talk about finding reporters who you may not know are covering your issue, and get to know one a month, every other month. At the end of the year you will have 6 new reporters who are paying attention to your issue. I discussed how to attract the attention of a reporter, who doesn’t know you, by phone or email and it is largely by paying attention to their last piece, or last several articles and commenting on them, usually with a glass half –full approach.

*(Note: the media guide contains an editorial section with tips on pitching, worksheets for creating a communications plan, building a media list, an online communications plan, a social media policy and more.)

 – Can you tell me your top three objectives or goals that you would like attendees to get out of this training? If they leave with nothing else what are 3 things you would like them to walk away with?

First, we often use an elevator speech exercise that leaves most participants with a far keener sense about the importance of being concise. They have to decide what one program or offer you want to tell this new audience about. You have to get them to the point where they’re asking for more information instead of overwhelming them with too much in the first few minutes of talking with them.

Secondly, a better sense of strategically discovering which 6 or 12 reporters they need to build a relationship with and not worrying about a several hundred-name press list. They should pay attention to the media and figure out whom they need to learn and get to know.

Lastly, I expect people to have a keen sense of the 3–legged stool model of goals, audience, and message working together leading to better storytelling. That’s really at the core of what we do. That basic approach to strategy has not changed much over the last 20 years even with all the new technology available and changes in the media landscape. This model is a really good way to break down to the non-media relations professional how to get a handle on building an effective communications plan.


Q5 – You often mention that, in developing a communications plan, working with the media, and doing media relations is not about getting publicity for the boss, what do you mean by that and why is that important?

It comes out of my sense that for many years we had trouble getting foundations to support our work because they say it as so much PR for the boss and didn’t feel the need to fund that type of communications. It was perceived that, “if a group is making news the media will find them”. Not only is that a naïve understanding about how the media works, but also more than likely if a group is making news and the media finds them, it is because of a crisis. So, it is not the type of coverage they want to have.

In addition, the perception that most nonprofit organizations are run by self-described visionaries who had a great idea, was able to get some funding and went on with the work, but are primarily ego-driven ‘cause why would anyone want to do this work for next to no pay. And, in some times that stereotype is true, but more often than not it undermines the real motivations of people who are in this field.

The nonprofit sector represents over 7% of the employment base in Chicago. So there is something we’re trying to do to help the world. We see gaps in what people need to have fulfilling lives and we try to help them with those gaps. So the story, to me, is not about who is running the organization, but what the organization is doing. My interest in helping organizations tell their story more effectively is to get other people to join the journey. To understand what problems they are trying to tackle, why they’re effective, and to come help us. Whether it is volunteers, donors writing larger checks or bringing in clients. That is far more effective than having the ego of a founder or executive director soothed with a profile in Crain’s Chicago Business or the Chicago Tribune.







Wonder Web! Packing a Punch with WordPress

Guest post by Adriana Diaz

Are you managing your organization’s website? Do you know who your website’s for? Do you know your website’s specific audience? How is WordPress facilitating your website’s conversations?

Brooklyn-based, communications consultant Kathleen Pequeño joins us June 4th at Making Media Connections 2013 and plans to help you tackle these tough questions with an intermediate WordPress workshop.

Interested in learning more about June 4th’s WordPress workshop and how it can help you advance your mission and build your organization’s web presence?

We caught up with Kathleen this week; here’s a sneak peak at the morning workshop she’ll be leading:

Wonder Web! Packing a Punch with WordPress from Community Media Workshop on Vimeo.

Register today for Making Media Connections 2013

Modern Mobilizing: Activism in the Digital Age

Guest post by Thom Clark

The Internet brought more information to each of our desktops than we ever dreamed of 10, 15, 20 years ago. But in the last five years, the rise of social media and digital tools, like the tablet and smart phone, are transforming how many organizations get their work done, engage existing members and expand their base.

“While engaging your current community is critical to fulfilling your organizational mission,” according to Tracy VanSlyke, co-director of The New Bottom Line, “Broadening your community to advance your work is equally important.”

Effective use of digital tools for organizing one’s members, campaigns and program is critical in this 24/7 world of data dumps and info overload.

VanSlyke will moderate an afternoon panel June 4, 2013 at Making Media Connections on activism in the Digital Age, featuring activists who use digital tools in their work: Martin Macias, Jr. of Chicago Fair Trade; Eric Tellez of Grassroots Collaborative and Charlene Carruthers of National Peoples Action.

“Digital tools allow you to go beyond one-way organizing to engage and build relationships within your community,” she says. “If you want to be influencing the media, to expand and deepen impact of your work, you have to be serious about building community both online and off line.”

A veteran of many local and national campaigns, most recently around stemming the tide of home foreclosures and holding banks more accountable, VanSlyke will engage her panelists in a conversation about successful, and some not so successful efforts to use these tools to further organizational goals. “There is still so much to be discovered with these new tools,” she reports, “with many possible complications. It’s still more an art form than a science, that is constantly evolving with experimentation.”


Modern Mobilizing: Activism in the Digital Age
2:15-3:30 June 4 Film Row Cinema, Columbia College 1104 S Wabash

Digi-wha? Digital organizing is modern campaigning and we’re here to help you improve your digital work in activism and organizing. Learn how digital tools, like social media, can help you not just say something, but be heard.  Panelists: Martin Macias, Jr. (Media activist/Youth Organizer at Chicago Fair Trade); Charlene Carruthers (National Peoples Action); Eric Téllez (Grassroots Collaborative); Moderator: Tracy Van Slyke (co-author of The Echo Chamber)

Making Way for the Mobile Revolution

responsive web design example

The Making Media Connections conference website boasts a responsive web design.

Guest post by Marissa Wasseluk, opinions are that of the author.

When a stranger asks you to use your phone, what are the chances you’d wholeheartedly pass it to them? Personally, I have trouble passing my phone to good friends without trepidation. A phone is an object with deep personal attachment. It’s your personal connection to the rest of the world – the communications tool you carry with you nearly all the time.

If you’re reading this blog in America, there’s a 50% chance that the phone in your pocket is a smartphone. Recent studies show that half of American adults own a smartphone, which means that half of American adults are regularly carrying an Internet browser, audio and video recording devices, games, and social networks on their person

Given these statistics, it is estimated that by 2015, most interactions with the web will occur on a mobile deviceSo in order to stay ahead of the curve, now would be a good time to consider incorporating mobile-friendly messages into your organization’s overall communications strategy.

Here are some things to consider when making your communications mobile:

  • Design your website to be “responsive”
    Responsive web design is a web design approach that aims to create sites that adapt the layout to the viewing platform (tablet, computer, mobile phone) for easy reading and navigation with a minimum of resizing, panning, and scrolling. This is achieved by using fluid, proportion-based grids, & flexible images. You can tell a site is responsive when you resize a web browser and the website content continually fills the screen.
  • Make your content interactive
    Focus on action; what do you want your users to do? Sign up for your e-newsletter? Donate? Define your goals and make your call to action. Make it 
    obvious, and make it easy. 
  • Keep your content simple
    Small screens mean less time reading, more time skimming. Text-heavy content is less likely read. 
  • Get Personal
    Every social media platform can be done accessed by a mobile device, so remember that your social media efforts are already a part of your mobile strategy.

More resources and tips on utilizing the mobile web are available from the Knight Digital Media Center.

The rise of mobile technology not only changes the way you consume content, but also the way you create it. Charlie Meyerson, freelance mobile journalist and moderator for our Mobile Storytelling panel at Making Media Connections had an astute observation about mobile technologies reshaping the way we tell stories:



It’s true that there’s an app for just about everything, and digital storytelling is no exception. There are apps that will allow you to take and post short videos, create slideshows, record audio, blog – any tool a journalist can think of using to tell a story is available on a mobile platform!

There is no doubt that mobile technology will revolutionize the way we send and receive messages, and at the rate this communications movement is advancing, it might seem difficult to keep up. But with a little practice and research, you’ll be a mobile mogul long before the mobile revolution!

At Making Media Connections this June, we’ve lined up experts in this field to further discuss what tools you’ll need to create your content on the go, and what to keep in mind for your mobile audience. Join us! 

Lessons Learned as a Non-Profit Communicator

Guest post by Community Media Workshop board member Gary Arnold

Years ago, I moved into the communications role at Access Living, a non-profit service and advocacy organization for people with disabilities, with no prior communications experience.

Stories I’ve heard from my peers tell me I am not alone. Out of necessity, non-profits often assign communications jobs to employees who typically don’t have a communications background.

Like many of my peers, I turned to the Community Media Workshop for support, which helps bridge the gap between communications novices and the skill set necessary to pitch an organization’s story.

I still remember my first class at the Workshop.

To break the ice, Thom went around the room, asking each of us our media goal. Each of us gave roughly the same answer, “to promote and raise the visibility of our organization.”

Thom looked at us with a patient grin, then delivered my first lesson in public relations. He taught us that communications goals should not be as broad as an organization.

Communications is about delivering a specific message that resonates with broad audience. The best way to deliver that message is through a story with which everyone can relate.

While that first lesson proves timeless, public relations has evolved.

With mainstream media operating on fewer resources, the chances of the Chicago Tribune or Channel 11 publishing a story pitched by a non-profit communicator, no matter how specific and compelling the message, are slimmer today than they were a few years ago.

But while selling your story to a daily paper may be more difficult, non-profit communicators have plenty of tools to tell stories. With blogs, websites, social media, and expanded internet journalism, there are still plenty of outlets to pitch a story, and plenty of portals to self-publish a story.

Of course, a Chicago Sun-Times article that cites your organization will please your executive director and board chair more than a blog post on your organization’s website; but the value of publishing outside of mainstream media, then promoting and sharing content, should not be underestimated.

Just last week, I was reminded of social media’s value. I was following the Twitter stream of National ADAPT, a grassroots direct action group that employs civil disobedience to push disability rights. ADAPT was in Washington, DC for three days of protests against the White House; the US Department of Housing and Urban Development; and the Department of Labor for what ADAPT understood to be their failure to follow through on their commitments to the independence of people with disabilities.

ADAPT’s live tweets gave a play by play of the day’s action, but there were no visuals. I could re-tweet the messages, but if I wanted to post on Facebook, the picture-less messages would have little impact.

A few people tweeted directly to ADAPT, asking for pictures. Almost immediately, ADAPT sent pictures of hundreds of protesters marching and rolling in wheelchairs throughout the streets of Washington. The photos were posted on Facebook, generating a response many, many times greater than the impact made by a link to a press release posted earlier in the day.

It doesn’t take a communications professional to post on social media. But the experience last week underscores how media has changed in the past decade.

We may have lost some of the benefits of traditional media, but it’s hard to deny the excitement of instantaneous communication and innovative outreach offered by new media.

Follow Gary Arnold @gary8970

If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is a 6-second video clip worth?


Guest post by DeAnndra B.



This is not an endorsement for Vine nor is it a step-by-step guide of how to use Vine. *cue dramatic instrumental movie music* This is about my journey three weeks using the Vine app with iPhone. Let’s begin.

 Twitter’s Vine is a mobile-only app that allows users to create 6-second looped videos that are posted within the app. This concept seemed so cool to me, but I was weary of how the app would be used for good, and the not-so good that often exists in the social media world. Vine was introduced to the Apple App Store for iOS devices in late January of this year. Sites like Mashable and TechCrunch had helped announce the app’s arrival and it seemed as if everyone was buzzing about Vine. To add to the online buzz, the app’s own Blog posted Vines created by the Brooklyn Nets, RedVines, Paul McCartney and other celebrities and brands.

As a communicator attempting to stay on top of the latest trends in social media, I downloaded Vine immediately. And for a few weeks that was all I did with the app even though it was clearly gaining popularity amongst my peers. We discussed Vine briefly at The Workshop, since we’re all iPhone users, and no one really had an opinion about it other than “it seems cool”. I decided I would try to learn more about Vine, find out how cool it really is, and maybe even become a successful regular user. I figured that I could work Vine into The Workshop’s social media plan, and potentially a mobile communications plan.

I will admit that I struggled with exactly what and how to vine and when was an appropriate to vine. Using Vine was a little more challenging than I had expected. This little six-second video was taking more time to plan and shoot than it would actually run in the app. For about two weeks I shot videos of trainings, videos featuring our media guide, and doodles scribbles notes from marketing meetings. Most of them were posted to my Vine and  Twitter accounts. Many did not make the cut for one reason or another, including my phone dying in the middle of posting. Really, I was challenged because I was over thinking the process and what the finished product should be. There is no editing with Vine; it’s simple and what you shoot, is what you get.

Once I stopped over thinking how to make the perfect Vine, it became more natural, fun, and I wanted to Vine everything. While I still consider myself a Vine amateur, I can say that The Workshop has incorporated Vine into our own social media plan. Here’s why: content is king and mobile is taking over. 

    • Vine allows non-profits and brands to connect with their audience on their iOS mobile device. There are not many social media apps that are mobile-based and/ or mobile-only apps. If you’re looking for a new way to connect with your audience and share content on-the-go quickly, consider Vine. Share quick content from a forum, a rally, or even something in your office like a cat at The Humane Society.  Use Vine to tell a story, share your organization’s messages, or create a call to action.
    • Non-profits and brands can create unique visual content with the app and easily share it with their Twitter and Facebook followers. Now you have instantly updated your Facebook at least once for the day and you have an automatic Tweet to share. In addition, you can create a short paragraph discussing your daily Vine, and now you have a blog post. Which brings me to my next point…
    • You can embed Vines for use on the web!  Add a Vine to your blog or e-newsletter by embedding it like I did below with one of The Workshop’s Vines. I’m sure this is an option for any webpage on your website as well.

[By the way, feel free to take our social media survey.]


Vine is also easy to use as far as design and functionality are concerned. In my opinion, Vine has some functional similarities to Instagram. You can create a profile, including an avatar, link to your Twitter account, follow other profiles, “like” Vines by tapping the smiley face underneath the post and comment. Additionally, you have the option to mute or un-mute the audio on any Vine.

Here’s a little more of what I learned while using the app:

  • A viral Vine post may take a little planning and a bit of a director’s eye, but no experience is necessary.
  • Vine automatically saves the video to the camera roll on the device. So, if your phone dies in the middle of a Vine, all is not lost.
  • I haven’t discovered a way to link to your profile other than users finding you through the app via name, Twitter account, or email.
  • Use the explore tab to search for people, trending hashtags, or popular Vines including Editor’s Picks, Popular Now, and Trending.
  • By nature of the app, creativity is gold. Be as creative with your 6-seconds as you want incorporating text and different sounds.

Lastly, have you seen this Vine resume by Dawn Siff?  And, she actually landed a job!

What do you think of the Vine app? Have you created any Vines already? If so, please share them with The Workshop and follow us on Vine (at) The Workshop.





How Do You Connect with the Workshop?

Social media strategy is ever-changing, and as we, at the Workshop, rework ours, we’d like to know your thoughts on our social web presence. Please take 15 minutes to give us your thoughts, and you will be entered to win a $150 credit to use on any Workshop product – from media guides to trainings! Drawing will be held at noon, May 20th.


Major Tweets…er, Takeaways from #NCMR2013

Guest post by Adriana Diaz. (This piece was originally published on the MAG-Net blog.)

I attended my very first National Conference for Media Reform (#NCMR2013), April 4-7, as a member of the Media Action Grass Roots Network #MediaJustice Delegation. A little more than a week later, I am still chewing through so much of the content I absorbed in Denver; from panels on journalism; activism; technology; social and media justice to policy and politics; the conference was filled with passionate discussions on why media matters.

Diversifying the voices in news and public debates has been a priority for Community Media Workshop since 1989. We’ve worked and done so by providing a unique mix of communications coaching for grassroots, arts and other nonprofit organizations and sourcing grassroots and community news for journalists. Learning how other groups across the country are working towards media justice and media reform, left me energized and hopeful.

As the new media manager at the Workshop, a MAG-Net regional anchor, it’s my job to understand how technology can help keep the lines of communication open and free. As I continue to process and reflect upon what I learned at NCMR, I realize that technology played a large role in how I interacted with organizers, panelists and other attendees of NCMR.

I look to my live-tweets from last weekend and understand moreover how social media tools, like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Youtube, Vine, etc, don’t just allow us to share information with others instantaneously; if harnessed, they allow us to have larger and deeper conversations.

In a conference as large as NCMR, they can also help you find support. For example search under the hashtags #mediajustice, #ncmr2013, #ncmr13 and you’ll find tweets specific to these conversations.

Many panels within the conference were smart enough to create their own hashtags. Like the panel, “Building the Future: Women, Code and Inclusion” used the hashtag #xxcode, making it easy to have a lively discussion with the panelists and other attendees simultaneously.

Here is a small collection of tweets and retweets, that reflect more of my major takeaways from this weekend:

From meeting the MAG-Net staff, and other media justice delegates for the first time,








Q&A with Workshop Trainer Marissa Wasseluk


Workshop trainer Marissa Wasseluk teaches a course on optimizing e-newsletters on April 25, 2013. We caught up with our busy new media associate for a little preview of this brand-new, much-needed training.


Q: Why should an organization consider using e-newsletters instead of paper?
A: Communications on the whole are becoming increasingly digital. Not only does this advancement save trees, but e-communications are faster and easier to use. You also save money on printing costs. In addition to this, you can measure your audience’s engagement given the actions they take as a result of your messaging. WHY E-NEWSLETTERS, you ask me? WHY NOT, I say!

Q: You talk about turning your e-newsletter “from awful to awesome”. What makes an e-newsletter awful? What makes it awesome?
A: My inbox is full of emails (as I’m sure is the case with many readers). I will admit that the first thing I do when I open my e-mail program at the beginning of a work day is weed out the messages that aren’t pertinent. Newsletters that are difficult to read are automatically deleted. There are a number of newsletters that fail to grab my attention because the layout is too busy or the information I care about is buried. Design and content are the keys to an awesome newsletter. An effective e-newsletter will grab my attention every time I see it in my inbox, and there are actually quite a few that I subscribe to that do that!  

Q: What will folks take away from your training?
A: They should have an understanding of “open rates” and “click-thru rates”, the elements of good design for an e-newsletter, how to grab their readers’ attentions, and a renewed excitement for e-communications!


In addition to being a member of the amazing staff at Community Media Workshop, Marissa Wasseluk is an active blogger, digital communicator, workshop presenter, food eater and music listener. You can hear her voice (figuratively) on the Workshop’s Facebook fanpage, Twitter profile, and e-newsletter. Connect with her online, at her e-newsletter training this spring, or at Making Media Connections this summer!

Why You Can’t Google or Bing Your Media List

Guest post by DeAnndra R. Bunch.

I know that many of us take to Google, Bing, and YouTube to gather information or to find out how to do something whether it is for personal or professional necessity. These online search platforms are great tools for learning something new quickly, easily, and, dare I say it, for free.

I cannot tell you how many times a day I search Google for news, research, how to do something tech-related (Excel still puzzles me sometimes), and general information (read: how many stars does this restaurant have on Yelp).

I agree that you can probably “bing” or “google” almost anything these days and receive accurate related search results. Of course there are exceptions, one of which is media listings.

Last week a colleague at The Workshop posed a question to me via Twitter:

My responding tweets:




Believe it or not, we get this question all the time. So much so that about 2 years ago we made a video to answer this FAQ, which I posted for you below.

Media Guide FAQ #2 – Why do I need the media guide? from Community Media Workshop on Vimeo.

Our media guide Getting On Air, Online & Into Print is a comprehensive guide to Chicagoland media. With the exception of the Chicago Tribune (and only within the last year) the majority of media listed in our media guide do not update their staff contact information thoroughly and regularly on their website. So, even relying on an outlet’s website can be ineffective. Our research process is extensive. It takes us an entire summer every year to produce a new media guide, which still requires continual updating all year long. We have already done the research for you to save you time, trust us.

And, being a media guide subscriber automatically increases your professional network. You can call me or any one of our talented staff  members for media relations, social media, and communications advice anytime. That alone is worth a subscription to the guide.


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