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Nonprofit Media Tour: Free Press Makes Cents!

What is a media tour and how can it positively affect my bottom line? Many years ago, I asked the same question. When our public relations (PR) agency first mentioned this concept, I immediately assumed it was something that authors and actors do to promote their latest creative endeavor! Whatever the term media tour might mean to you, though, in the PR business, it means free money!

Media Tour Defined

A media tour is simply a method for taking your message to a variety of communication outlets with the end result of free placement. For example, if your organization is hosting a food drive in the near future, your best bet for free media coverage might include "pitching" the local city paper to run a story on your event. In this manner, you are assured that a certain percent of readership will not only read the piece but will attend and support the food drive. This process works well for both single or yearly events. The use of a media tour for developing and promoting a brand, however, is quite another process.

Integrated Public Relations (IPR)

Whether you employ the services of an outside PR agency or utilize internal talent, the question of how you plan and implement a media tour can vary considerably. In most organizations, PR activities operate as a separate entity or under the umbrella of marketing. By virtue of this separation, the PR department may be in pursuit of unrelated goals. Whatever the functional composition, the question of how PR operates to achieve strategic objectives and provides a measurable return on investment lies in its organization and execution. For these reasons, "integrating" PR into the overall business strategy is crucial.

How Does It Work?

The process of developing a media tour can be reduced to four constituents: strategic intent, IPR design, execution, and return on investment (ROI). Every organization has some message, event, or offering it wishes to promote. In addition to other marketing activities, utilizing free press as a means to reach your end goal makes good business sense.

Strategic Intent: From your vision and mission statements, draw out your core intent for the year. Next, distill a single message you want to propagate throughout the organization and to your targeted audiences (donors). In short, your rallying cry should be reduced to a few key words.

IPR Design: Your strategic marketing plan details the promotional components (advertising, billboards, radio, PR) you will employ for the year and their specific roles. These components should be harmoniously integrated and support your strategic intent. Your PR initiatives for the year, including a media tour, will be designed into the overall fabric of your plan. The next step includes how you will integrate free press into your business strategy.

Execution: The components of a media tour include a press kit, presentation material, and a representative (internal or external) schooled in interfacing with the press. The representative will set up appointments with key editors of select media vehicles (TV, radio, trade magazines, newspapers, etc.) in advance and typically will schedule this tour over several consecutive days. The goal for every appointment is to reach an agreement on the free placement (editorial, radio spot, etc.), when it will run, and the desired venue.

ROI: The return on investment for this undertaking lies in media placements achieved minus your total expenses. After the tour concludes, your PR representative must maintain contact with editors to determine when the editorial will run and the equivalent cost for each venue achieved. In the weeks or months that follow, tally the number of free placements and their associated costs to calculate your ROI . The economic outcome should exceed the initial investment two to five times. For example, I undertook a media tour that cost $15,000 over a two-week period, but the return in free placement equated to over $200,000!


A media tour is an effective tool under certain circumstances. A business leader must weigh the financial benefit perceived by this endeavor versus all associated costs. Once an assessment confirms that this approach makes good business sense, the next step includes defining your strategic intent followed by an intelligent IPR design. Paramount to achieving your objectives is the organization and execution of the tour. If properly developed, the benefits of achieving your strategic PR goals with minimal investment should yield a ROI that would make most analysts on Wall Street blush!

Bill Nissim, March 2005
© 2004, 2005, Bill Nissim

Bill Nissim consults with nonprofit organizations on brand management issues. His Web site,, contains reference materials, links, and helpful articles on the many facets of branding.
Topics: Communications