A Tale Of Two Articles

Yes, a terrible pun that has been used many times before… but it’s very accurate. This month (March 2018) in Encore magazine I did have two articles, on two different topics:

  • The Marmalade Dog game convention at Western Michigan University
  • Slot car racing at the Gilmore Car Museum

They’re both “nerdy” hobbies, that’s true, but that’s also something I focus on when writing for Encore (just recently I wrote about cosplay, and computer games, tabletop games and much more in the past). So it stands to reason that I’d write about them.

Actually writing the articles is one part of the process, but it’s actually toward the end of everything that needs to be done.

The Pitch

When people find out I write magazine articles, they ask if I have to come up with the ideas (and if so, how do I come up with them?). The answer is “sometimes, and other times they’re presented to me.” For this month’s articles it was one of each. I’ve attended the Marmalade Dog several times in the past — I’m a fan of tabletop games, and it’s very nearby — so I thought a profile on the convention would be a good compliment to the other “nerdy” articles I’ve written about before. Slot cars was offered to me by my editor, but I readily agreed to write it, since learning about obscure little hobbies is pretty fun for me.

The Interviews

This is the real part of reporting, even feature reporting like I’m doing here: talking to people. Pick up the phone, send an email, ask around about who to talk to in order to learn more. The internet has been the perfect tool for this; when I was starting out as a journalist, there were BBS and primitive sites like Prodigy, but they were definitely not the first place you went for information. Now, a quick web search turns up an email address or a phone number (note: if you want people to reach you, don’t require them to fill out a contact form, give them options so they can better explain what they want, instead of cramming it into your little form).

Contact Form

This is OK, but not just this. (image: 1stwebdesigner.com)


Figure out what you want to ask about first. I ask myself what a reader would want to know and ask that; even if I already know the answer, it’s good to hear it from an expert’s mouth (plus, I could be wrong). People are also protective of their time, and if you can’t explain the story you want to write, they’ll feel they’re wasting their time talking to you.

Ask questions that can’t be answered with a “yes” or “no.” You can’t write an article if you don’t have enough material to work with, after all. Also ask for statistics (number of participants, amount of money spent, length of time devoted to the project, etc.). Just like on a resume, everyone appreciates seeing concrete figures; it’s something to hold on to.

That’s where I start when I’m working on an article.

Inbound Marketing For Nonprofits

Inbound marketing for nonprofits is not a new idea: Hubspot, the company that created the concept of inbound marketing, has a document written specifically for nonprofits, introducing inbound and how it applies specifically to nonprofits. Their theory is that anyone can benefit from the strategy, even if you’re not in the business of selling a product.

Big name nonprofits (the Sierra Club, UNICEF), have no problem with marketing — you recognize them and their mission, even though all I’ve done is written their names. It’s the small nonprofits, local charities in your neighborhood, that need the help. They’re the ones that don’t have the resources to get their name anywhere and everywhere. They’re not sponsoring local foot races or sending out calendars with cute pictures every winter; they’re hardly able to provide any service at all.  As the saying goes (sort of), “the spirit is willing, but the wallet is weak.”

Empty Wallet for Nonprofits

This doesn’t have to be your organization. (image: Anna H-G)


So what can an inbound marketing plan do?

  • It’s open to any kind of promotional push: the most fun thing for a lot of nonprofits is being among their beneficiaries, seeing them take advantage of what the nonprofit is offering. Post pictures of events, when they’re happening, even before, while you’re setting up for the day.
  • It encourages constant updates: board members and staff are already on the computer, doing web searches for grant opportunities or coordinating meeting times. Add a quick description of what’s happening that day to show the organization is active, even when it’s not time to look for funds.
  • The Delight phase: one part of Hubspot’s plan is the “delight” phase, where a group using inbound marketing methods can help someone achieve a goal, solve a problem and go beyond. Solving problems is why nonprofits are founded (for-profits, on the other hand, are founded to sell you a product or service; if it solves a customer’s problem, that’s great, too). And going beyond that is easy, especially once the nonprofit sees other ways it can help — and there’s always other ways to help.

What goes into an inbound marketing plan, one for a small nonprofit without a lot of money? Plenty that’s already there, if the staff and board are willing to spend what they do have: time.

Creating A Media Kit

I passed my Hubspot exam on the first try, which is rewarding; the next step is to promote it everywhere (this web site, LinkedIn, etc.). Most importantly, I’m going to use the knowledge I gained during the course to develop what I’m calling “Media Kits.”

This is the kind of thing that Hubspot encourages, and that marketing/design studios work on all the time — a package of online and off-line material that publicizes, promotes, and in some cases operates as damage control for a company. It’s an easy thing to set to the side in the chaos and busy day-to-day activity of running a business, or a non-profit organization. But at the same time it’s something that’s so essential that everyone needs it. You can’t get anyone to pay you if they don’t know you’re there, after all.

What is in a Media Kit? I’m still developing that, though I think back to when I was writing music reviews, and we would receive the following. Keep in mind this was the early days of the internet. There was email and bulletin board systems, but no YouTube or Facebook, not even Myspace. To promote yourself in those days you had to send pieces of paper by mail!

A press kit would include:

  • Pictures of the musicians, in a black and white format.
  • A one-page summary of what they were promoting (usually the latest album, or an upcoming show in town).
  • A CD copy of the album, and once in a while, even a cassette. It would have something like “For Promo Use Only” on it, but otherwise it was just like a CD you’d get at the store. I guess I was pretty limited in my music knowledge; in probably 10 years, I only saw one CD from a group I recognized: Van Halen, Best Of Volume I. I don’t know why it came to the newspaper where I was working; it’s not like a review by me was going to affect sales one way or another. But I did have the album, until I sold it in favor of the later 2-disc Van Halen greatest hits, which I haven’t listened to in a while, or thought about, really.
  • There might be a sticker or something too, but most kits were pretty simple. Nobody had money for publicity back then, either.
Media Kit CD - Van Halen

This is what it looked like, except with a gold “Not for resale” and some other text on it.

Media Kit sample - Paul Burch

You can see the “For promo use only. Not for resale.” down at the bottom there; I sold some of them anyway. This album is pretty good, though; I have another Paul Burch album too. Yes, it’s from the 1990s, I did say I’ve been doing this for a while.











I’ve since worked on publicity materials for a few organizations, but these days it’s mostly about a nice website and social media presence… which brings me back to this Media Kit idea. Establish a schedule for promoting content — informative, uplifting, not-directly-selling-based content — and make sure there’s enough material available if something goes awry. What does the schedule look like? What does the content look like? We’ll get into that next.