Let’s Meet the Press and Tell Our Story
Catherine Marshall

One of the observations that came from our recent survey of the field was: Public awareness about microenterprise is generally low, and there is a consensus that microenterprise needs to better make the case for its impact on local communities. Survey results recommended that our field launch a statewide public relations campaign as a way to increase public awareness and support.

We all know that forming good relations with media contacts is vital. Good media coverage and public relations help us to:

  • build an individual donor base
  • recruit program volunteers and board members
  • rally supporters to speak and write letters to policy makers
  • raise our public profile to help develop funders and partners
  • reach out to prospective customer microentrepreneurs

Many of our California microenterprise programs are masters at public relations. Julie Abrams, Executive Director of Women’s Initiative in San Francisco, offers the following words of wisdom for developing good media relationships:

  • Make it a real story.
  • Give it the face of a client—make it locally relevant.
  • Know who to pitch it to, and what they usually cover.
  • Make friends with people in the media.
  • Say thanks if they give you nice coverage.
  • Call, call, call!

Stories of clients’ successes
Client stories continue to be a great way to capture the media’s attention. But how do we tell client stories so they inspire people to do something positive for microenterprise development? I acquired some valuable insights from a workshop led by the consulting firm Douglas Gould & Co., Inc. They are directors of a Ford Foundation project, “For An Economy That Works for All.” Their research showed that advocacy groups need to frame their message in a way that appeals to fairness for everybody.

Client stories that appeal to people’s sympathy for struggling clients may backfire. Like it or not, the general public commonly believes that personal pathologies are at fault for a client’s barriers to success and it’s the individual’s responsibility to get over his or her own problems. The general public also holds other beliefs that get in the way of acting to change system inequities, such as, “The economy is like the weather and there is nothing we can do to change it.” Douglas Gould suggests that we reframe our media message to focus on fairness and responsible planning for a community that produces employment opportunities for families in the future. The project has developed a media tool kit that provides guidelines on message framing for poverty advocates. I highly recommend you check it out at www.economythatworks.org/toolkit.htm.

CAMEO has published a public education document that can be freely used by CAMEO members to assist with media campaigns. This document appeals to the general public and frames the message using the One Economy guidelines. It includes client success stories, California–based program statistics and an appeal to the general public for action on behalf of microenterprise programs. If you'd like a copy, call CAMEO. Another source of information is Client Success Stories: The Fundraising Edge in the Microenterprise Program Library.

A nonprofit strategy of keeping a low profile and shunning the spotlight in order to prevent an overwhelming demand for microenterprise services no longer serves us. Telling client stories that appeal to the public sympathy may backfire. What would happen if everyone in your community knew that microenterprise services were available when they wanted to start a business? Maybe, just maybe, a microenterprise program would be a standard community service as well known and accepted as a standard community service like a public library or a community college. What if the general public became outraged over funding cuts to the microenterprise program? Now that would be a story!