Helping Clients Tell Stories that Stick

In nearly 25 years of helping clients spread their messages, I’ve heard a lot of incredible successes and passionate pleas for support and empathy. Sometimes, it can be impossible to resist getting swept away in the energy and excitement of the client’s mission – but no matter how enthusiastic you may become about your client’s story, it’s always important to remember that it’s truly his or hers to tell.

This slightly thorny truth is even sharper today, since the internet has extended the longevity of a piece by making it easy to find even years from publication. One of the first Google results for my name is usually a profile of my architectural drawings in the New York Times… from February 1990!

When it comes to clients, this new permanence – making ancient news immediately available – can cause extra stickiness when dealing with bad press, an ill-advised quote or a lackluster interview. Accordingly, in helping clients tell their stories, it becomes paramount to make sure that they project their personal identity, in addition to their organization’s brand and mission – so that in 25 years, when someone asks their robot assistant to Google the organization, what comes up is a document of passion and personality, not simply a rote list of talking points.Remember to keep a little personality in your nonprofit's storytelling!

One client of ours, many years back, inadvertently underscored the importance of injecting a little personality into a presentation. This nonprofit leader worked primarily with elders. She was passionate and dedicated 100% of her talents to her work, which was clear to everyone who met her. When it came to public speaking, though, she spoke stiffly and kept to her notecards, effectively stifling all the passion and fire she projected in person-to-person interactions.

With an organization like hers, filled with wonderfully touching moments, all funders, donors, families and elected officials would need in order to instantly align to her cause was a well-told, publicly shared story. Instead, each speaking engagement was a lost opportunity, a vacuum of boredom and polite applause where there should have been rapt attention and standing ovations. Something had to change.

We needed to find the key to opening up her usual boundless enthusiasm instead of having it clamped down when she donned her business hat.

We discovered that each evening over dinner, she would share the highs and the lows of her day with her children. Her motivation was to inspire them to do good in the world, and she readily shared her stories with energy and zest. Having heard this, we suggested that she paper-clip reminder photos of her children to the top of her next speech. From then on, she was a firebrand at the podium.

That was a crucial lesson for us to learn as a young firm. Most PR professionals will tell you their job is to tell clients’ stories. To be sure, it is – but when a client can be his or her own best advocate, it’s also our job to step out of the way and facilitate the client’s own storytelling. By helping our client project her innate passion and personality while speaking publicly, her advocacy was twice as convincing. And, unlike another dry press release, her testimony will remain vital as long as it’s search-indexed.

Marketing like the Big Guys for Small Businesses and Nonprofits: Announcing Under3PR

Sometimes that “do-it-yourself” approach can only get you so far. While small-budgeted organizations fueled by passion and talent can be extremely effective, a roadblock might appear that necessitates outside expertise.

Under3PR, a collaborative service from Winkleman Company and Coa Design, was inspired by the interests and challenges posed by my students throughout nearly two decades of teaching at Columbia University’s Institute for Not-for-Profit Management, Mailman School of Public Health, United Jewish Appeal, and Fordham University’s Center for Nonprofit Leaders. Each student’s organization shared the acute need for quick, strategic and affordable guidance to targeted challenges.

Through public relations, marketing and graphic design, Under3PR addresses the most common issues facing small nonprofits and businesses. Projects range from drawing media attention for a program, branding and social media management to crisis response and counsel on leadership continuity – and everywhere in-between. Like many of my students’ organizations, prospective clients must have revenues under $3 million and a short-term project that fits within Under3PR’s targeted parameters.

Our test drive for Under3PR came to us in the form of Heart Gallery NYC. A small nonprofit, Heart Gallery NYC uses the artistic talents of renowned photographers to raise the visibility and public awareness of children in foster care seeking their “forever families” – all on an annual budget of under $500,000. Laurie Sherman Graff, Founder and Executive Director, needed help drawing coverage for a press conference but had limited funds. Heart Gallery NYC was a perfect opportunity for Under3PR – small budget, acute project, good cause – so we set about being perfect for it.

Our PR expertise packed Laurie's press conference with reporters and photographers.

Our PR expertise packed Laurie’s press conference with reporters and photographers.


“The media coverage was awesome, and the professionalism of the Winkleman Company team was so apparent and appreciated! I look forward to continuing to work together on future events,” Laurie wrote in an email to us the day after the conference. As Under3PR, our team brought together the right television and traditional media to help tell these children’s incredible stories to a broad, multilingual audience of potential families.

Working on a project basis can be the right approach, especially when a challenge may be outside the scope of small business or nonprofit managers who is already too stretched for the cause/goal that drives them.

When a small organization comes up against a roadblock, it can’t afford to slow down. Under3PR will help you navigate and resolve those roadblocks.

Please see our full menu of Under3PR offerings or call Katherine at 646-234-8077 to discover what we can do for your business.

Walking the Corridor: Finding PR Stories Where Nobody’s Looking

When acting in a PR capacity, many people struggle with the problem of finding stories. Every organization wants press – but what strikes you as newsworthy about your operation might not seem quite so fresh to a journalist. Where, then, do you find something to pitch?

A very fuzzy journalist

A very fuzzy journalist

One option, of course, is to make the story happen yourself. If nothing new is going on, think of the kind of story you’d like to read and guide the organization toward it. Sometimes this works out and sometimes it doesn’t. But the best kinds of stories are the ones that serve themselves up organically – complete and irresistible, like catnip for journalists, and never where you expect to find them.

Just because the best stories happen by accident doesn’t mean you’ll find them by accident, though. Our colleague Roberta makes a point of visiting clients as often as possible, learning everyone’s name from the reception room to the boardroom, and stopping to chat. She calls it “walking the corridor.”

Even if it’s easier and more convenient to conduct all your business over the phone or via email, those intentional channels only bring you the first kind of story: the ones that you and your client expect. The real gold only ever comes to you when you’re not (appearing like you are) looking for it. It’s like keeping your eyes in a softer focus to look for new patterns, or, as Ann Handley puts it, “seeing content moments everywhere.” 

From the New York Daily News

From the New York Daily News

One of Roberta’s stories, for example, was a grade-A “people story” about a resident at a client’s elder care facility. A veteran of World War II, this gentleman took public transit by himself into Manhattan at the ripe old age of 90, in his old uniform, to help out at the Occupy Wall Street protests. Incredibly, nobody knew about it until he mentioned it to Roberta while she was on-site! He simply never thought to tell anyone, because he wasn’t involved in the traditional PR loop – Roberta just happened to be there when he shared the story of his experiences. It ended up widely reported and shared.

Of course, many trips don’t include such wonderful gifts of stories wrapped up with bows. They’re a bonus, not an expectation, but you have to be in the right place at the right time. Besides, you can never have too many friends. So the next time you’re stuck for a story, don’t go back to the drawing board – walk the corridor and chat with the folks at the water cooler instead.