Follow @npcommunicator on | NPCommunicator HOME | About

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.







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.

Top 5 summer iPhone apps for the nonprofit communicator


I know… some of you might be saying… “iPhone apps? What about Android and Blackbery?” Well, here at the Workshop a majority of us are iPhone users. But, we would love to hear what apps you are using on other platforms. Add your comments below!

Here’s what we love using lately… Read the rest of this entry »

Communicating, advocating and social media marketing for the public health sector

Public health communicators are understanding more and more that their social media marketing and advocacy work starts with developing a clear analysis of the people they hope to engage and develop relationships with, creating an effective social media policy to guide their work and a plan to reach success. Their job is unique as they need to consider their communications approach as an advocate for health issues and position their brand, products and services in a social market. When do you play the role of a health advocate and a social marketeer? Where do they overlap? Is there a difference?

These were some of the questions that framed our training session at the UIC School of Public Health. In this training Read the rest of this entry »

A communications star was born

The path that Ingrid Gonçalves followed to her position as director of communications at the Center for Labor and Community Research will sound familiar to many nonprofit communicators: “I was hired out of college as an administrator for a program, and I was then promoted to director of communications almost by accident, because we needed someone to do that kind of work,” she recalls. “They liked a newsletter I had done.”

On her boss’s recommendation, she looked up the Community Media Workshop and signed up for a five-week course called Professional Media Relations in January. “It was a really great sort of general course,” she says. “It was good to have someone walk me through the technical aspects of working with media, and to provide strategies for making those interactions effective—even something as basic as asking them if this is a good time for them to talk. It’s not something I would have thought to do, but they’re often on deadline, and they’re not going to be paying attention if they’re trying to finish an article.”

They also got to practice on real, live reporters, who came to the workshop to hear pitches-in-progress. Chicago Sun-Times Reporter Dave Hoekstra liked what he heard when Gonçalves told him about a student-run coffee business—and called for an interview the following week.

“We got a really nice story on the front of the food section, and our students were photographed by a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer,” says Gonçalves. “I never would have thought to pitch a food reporter about a student-run business. I was more focused on education reporters.”

Gonçalves has since gone on to mount major media campaigns on her own, and the Sun-Times story continues to pay dividends. “We use reprints of articles in our fundraising materials,” she says, “and it does grant us legitimacy.”

“Before I took the course at the Workshop, it would be daunting when someone would ask me to write a press release or send something to the media,” she says. “I wouldn’t know what to do. Now I can think strategically: What do I want to say, based on who I’m sending this to? It makes you much more effective.”

For 20 years, Professional Media Relations has been the Workshop’s cornerstone training. This intensive training session is designed specifically for nonprofit communicators to plan media campaigns around one of their own stories, while learning basic public relations skills. Sign up for the 2011 session of Professional Media Relations today. Pitch reporters in person, take a free media guide back to the office, learn tricks of the communications trade. It’s a win-win-win.

Best books for nonprofit communicators

I cross posted this at the Making Media Connections conference site

Pulling together a list of books for the bookseller’s table at Making Media Connections. Reams of reports on communications and other great resources are fresh and new:

  • Simon Perazza drew my attention to this one from Arts Work Fund, for arts groups, here
  • last fall’s evaluating communications guide under the auspices of the Communications Network by Edith Asibey here (you will need to scroll down to the 3rd item on the page),
  • Ford Foundation’s GrantCraft is producing a report on strategic communications next month, too

But we don’t have much between covers on our field.

Since we are having a book seller at our conference who helpfully asked us–what kind of books would your attendees find useful? we did some brainstorming but I suspect we are missing a few gems. Read the rest of this entry »

Facebook’s Growing Pains

Facebook turned 5 years old a couple of weeks ago, so it has now began kindergarten. I’ve been on it since July 2004, when the Facebook was barely sitting up, a mere toddler with no big hoopla attached to it. I’ve watched it evolve through all these adaptations, to the juggernaut that it is today. Mark Zuckerberg and I are the same age, and its crazy to know that what he started as a class project his Sophomore year at Harvard has turned into a multi-billion dollar empire. This project turned into a tool that has revolutionized the way we communicate, the ease of access to people we would otherwise be complete strangers to, and shrank those 6 degrees of separation to about 3. My class project as a Sophomore at University of Illinois was… hmm yeah I don’t remember.

Anyway, I’ve been on since there were only Ivy Leagues and Big Ten Universities there, and profiles had no tabs, just a simple page. I’ve been on Facebook since wall posts looked like discussion board messages and groups were only intra-campus (not yet global). When I joined Facebook, there was actually a guy with a face that was it’s official icon (I kinda miss that guy holding down the upper left corner of the pages), and profiles used to display the exact date you joined the service.

Each change Facebook has made in the past 5 years has given people easier (and more) access to one another, and the point of “Where does it end?” is quite relevant. The changes have been half welcome, half looked upon with disdain by me. As a full member of Generation Social Network (as I have named us), I cannot imagine life without the internet, and more recently, social networking. However, there ought to be boundaries set, and I sometimes long for the good old days when I was not so accessible. How much access is TOO much? Well, we may have reached that point.

By now, I will assume that everyone has heard about the controversy with Facebook changing it’s Terms of Service to allow them unrestricted use of content users upload on there, even AFTER they leave Facebook. This Orwellian move has rightfully been met with a good amount of backlash, and I believe the brunt of it is yet to come. However, I do think that the whole thing has began a discussion that is necessary to have in this day and age of 24/7 access to everyone and everything.

*With all the content we are uploading to the web (videos, photos, writing, artwork), what rights do we retain once we make them available on such a public domain?

*Will people become more deliberate and conscious of the content they upload to the web?

*What future implications will the permanence of uploaded content have long term in terms of personal responsibility, goals and overall our 2-dimensional representation? (i.e. Will our future president’s Facebook account- which goes back to his college days-be a huge factor in his vetting process and qualifications?)

Now, that shag mullet or bad perm you decided to experiment with is forever immortalized on remote servers somewhere. Oh, the HORROR! *wilhelm scream*

Lovette Ajayi
Marketing Coordinator for Community Media Workshop

P.S. Interestingly enough, Facebook’s deactivation page now says:”Are you deactivating because you are concerned about Facebook’s Terms of Service? This was a mistake that we have now corrected. You own the information you put on Facebook and you control what happens to it. We are sorry for the confusion. – The Facebook Team”

Oh, really?
Edit: This morning, Facebook’s homepage (after you log in) was changed to say “Over the past few days, we have received a lot of feedback about the new terms we posted two weeks ago. Because of this response, we have decided to return to our previous Terms of Use while we resolve the issues that people have raised.”

The people spoke, and they had to listen.

Press Release Resource at Knight Foundation

The Knight Foundation has produced a new site for grantees that it’s sharing with other nonprofits on how to produce a better press release (credit to Chronicle of Philanthropy’s Give and Take blog for reporting it). Should you check it out? Here’s the path they lay out to news media success:

  • Tip #1: Pinpoint your story.
  • Tip #2: Find the right news outlets.
  •  Tip #3: Spread your news clearly, accurately.
  • Tip #4: Stay in touch with the funder. 


Seems like pretty much the classic path. We like the thought that you might want to consider your funders as news outlets/audiences for your organization (depends on the foundation and its capacity, of course).
It’s good to see more attention to how nonprofits communicate… we’re looking into the trend among philanthropies and nonprofits toward investing more in effective communications for an article in the Foundation Center’s Philanthropy Annual publication, so stay tuned for more thoughts on this topic!   


Add to Technorati Favorites

Alltop, all the top stories

RSS Chicago is the World

  • Telling people’s stories, an ethnic media success September 2, 2015
        By Stephen Franklin Community Media Workshop   A 3-year-old child died on a plane from Chicago to Poland. This, Magdalena Pantelis instantly knew, was a story her readers would care about. But she needed more detail to write about it for the Polish Daily News, the nation’s oldest daily newspaper in Polish, founded Jan. […]