Ashoka: Innovators for the Public is a nonprofit organization supporting the field of social entrepreneurship. Kyle Taylor, global spokesperson for Ashoka Youth Venture, was aware that nonprofits traditionally do not receive their fair share of media coverage. He determined to change that during his recent Road Trip America campaign. This interview shows how a 23-year-old with little media experience successfully pursued media opportunities and landed prime coverage, in the New York Times, Seattle Herald, and on NPR Seattle. ‘‘Our generation is replacing signs and protests with individual actions,’’ says Kyle Taylor, 23, an advocate for the social-entrepreneur movement who started his own mentoring organization. ‘‘This is our civil rights movement and what will define our generation.’’
Tell me about Ashoka Youth Venture
We give young people around the world inspiration, guidance, and up to $1,000 in funding to lead and launch their own sustainable social ventures. We operate in 14 countries on 5 continents.My ongoing challenge is raising awareness about the growing global youth movement that is defining an entire generation actively improving their local communities.
You recently completed a 40-day road trip across America. What were your goals for this road trip, from a PR perspective?
We wanted to spotlight youth initiatives around America. We sought national and local media attention and exposure for Ashoka’s Youth Venture and the incredible work young people are doing in their local communities. We wanted to reach parents, government officials, and young people and provide a catalyst for taking action.Initially, to handle our PR, we counted on a major national public relations agency that had agreed to help us on a pro-bono basis. However, in the first week of the tour, it was apparent that we were low on their priority list. Despite our strong story, we weren’t getting any traction with the media. I decided to take action on my own.
Since you were relatively new to media relations, can you provide a quick overview of your approach?
I learned that the media depend on businesses and nonprofits to provide story ideas. This was a major shift in my thinking, and it made approaching the media easier and less intimidating.Through Get Slightly Famous’ Personal Fame Program, I compiled a list of media outlets in each city along our route where our teams were located. We included TV, radio, and print publications, as well as national news outlets such as radio talk shows and morning television shows. Then, instead of begging for media coverage, I positioned Youth Venture as a story that our targeted media outlets (and by extension their readers, listeners, and viewers) would like to know about.
Instead of blasting a generic press release to everyone on my media list, I customized our release to each media outlet. I emphasized the local nature of the story. I showed each media outlet that I respected their time by pitching our story in a way that was relevant to their audience. Next, I picked up the phone. I called each media outlet first to ensure that my press release would reach the right person. This was simple but powerful, and ensured that my email was not perceived as spam, because it was personalized to only those editors who would likely be interested in our story.
How did your recent success with PR differ from past experiences?
In brief, we secured nine print stories, four radio stories, and two broadcast stories, which was remarkable, given that I’m relatively new to media relations and had a short window of time. A huge success from our end! We landed coverage in the Denver Star Tribune, New York Times Magazine, West Seattle Herald, Baton Rouge Advocate, Nashua Telegraph, Denver Post, and on radio, NPR radio appearances in Seattle, Minneapolis, and Atlanta, plus television appearances on NECN, the regional New England television network, and the ABC-TV affiliate in Boston.
How did the advice in Get Slightly Famous help you where past PR efforts had failed?
In the past, PR was always difficult. I was easily overwhelmed by the complexity of managing press release distribution, newsroom phone calls, and media follow-ups. If you don’t understand the process or the system, it makes media outreach nearly impossible.Get Slightly Famous simplified the media process with a simple but powerful secret: gaining media coverage lies in positioning our organization as a partner in the news-making process. Get Slightly Famous offered an easy roadmap.
In the past, we were never quite sure of the order of tasks–that is, when to call, when to mail a press release, when to fax a press release, who to seek out within the media organization. Get Slightly Famous clearly outlined where to begin and how to proceed in the days leading up to our events. I think the most helpful strategy we learned was how to open a conversation with a reporter. By simply asking, “Are you on deadline?” We were able to break the ice in a professional manner, signaling to the media outlet that we understood and were familiar with the media world, even though we were beginners.
Can you provide a call to action to others about the value of proactively pursuing media coverage?
It’s simple: if you don’t get the word out about your organization or business, you limit how much you can achieve and grow. Media coverage is one of the most powerful, effective ways to spread your message and helps you on so many levels. Get Slightly Famous shows you how to create an effective media campaign and boost your image and presence on limited resources. If you are willing to bring an honest, real story to the media, and show professionalism and respect, the media are open to giving you coverage.