Member Spotlight | Author: Katie Smith
March 2, 2015 - This Wednesday UW PRSSA was fortunate enough to host a meeting with guest speaker Andie Long. For 5 years she worked as the Senior Communications Officer for Mercy Corps, a non-profit organization that helps people in the world’s toughest places survive the crises they confront and turn them into opportunities to thrive. She presented our members with her personal experiences at this organization and offered up some advice about what it takes to do PR at a non-profit.
Long started off her presentation by explaining that working for a non-profit is really rewarding and provides exposure to some pretty amazing experiences. The majority of the employees are extremely driven and passionate about the cause of the company. However, in this field there is a large turnover in employees, making the work environment a fast one where you need to be ready to take on new projects and wear many different hats in order to effectively pursue the mission of the company. Large turnover rates, smaller working staffs, and limited funding also result in some long work days at low pay; for instance, she worked for 5 hours on her own wedding day. Now that is some dedication to the cause.
Aside from Andie Long’s overview of non-profit work, she broke down her overall experiences in non-profit PR into the following four main points of wisdom:
1. There are no random acts of media
The great thing about working at a non-profit organization is that there are so many great stories to tell because of the heroic work they do. On the other hand, you must always keep in mind why you are telling a story. Every piece of content you produce should be targeting a specific gain from one of what she calls the 3 P’s:
· Profile: telling stories that let people know your non-profit is an entity of substance that people want to work with.
· Policy: writing stories that bring awareness to legislature that will impact the work of your non-profit either negatively or positively.
· Partners: showcasing the work your organization accomplishes with it’s partners in order to garner the interest of new sponsors while maintaining lasting relationships with current partners.
2. Find the real storytellers
Some of the best stories that can be told won’t necessarily be created by those in PR at a non-profit. It’s important to keep your eyes out for those who live the stories that you want to tell, and find ways for them to tell how your organization has helped them. Long gave an example of a time she went to the Philippines six months after a typhoon hit the area. She was searching for stories to tell about the work Mercy Corps had been doing there. While conversing with a young Pilipino woman from the area, Anna Yap, she found herself being drawn to her story about the devastation the area felt after the typhoon and the rejuvenation and help they received form Mercy Corps. Below is a short video Long recorded of Anna Yap giving thanks to Mercy Corps for their work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=20&v=qd9ki8e8hNc
3. Have a bias for action
When you work for a large organization, it can be a very slow process to get things done. However, when working PR, things are always moving at a quick pace and it’s important to produce timely content. She is a firm believer in listening to your instincts which can sometimes lead you to act now and apologize later. Nevertheless, it is also just as important to be aware of boundaries that cannot be crossed. She also advises to build strong relationships with the field staff of the organization, this will allow you better access to some of the most inspiring and interesting stories that need to be told.
4. Expect the unexpected
After graduating from Carleton College in 2001 with a degree in political science, Long wasn’t interested in going to law school nor was she wanting to work on political campaigns like many of her classmates. After receiving a suggestion from a friend to pursue public relations, she sought out an informational interview with an alumni member from her school and networked her way into a PR internship for Waggener Edstrom. This led to a 9-year long career with the company. She then explained that if she had one bit of advice for college students, it would be to not try too hard to predict where you are going to end up. You never know what life is going to throw at you and there might be something even better out there for you than you could even imagine.