By Ariana Revelas, PRSA Boston student correspondent – Bentley University
Dick Shaner, Jr. is senior vice president at Martin Davison Public Relations, an affiliate of The Martin Group, in Buffalo, N.Y.. Dick’s experience in public relations spans more than 35 years on both the corporate and agency side. Dick has been a member of PRSA since 1989 and is a past president of the Buffalo/Niagara Chapter.
As a student in PR, I have a passion and keen interest in learning about nonprofit PR. In my research about this topic, I asked Dick for an interview because of his experience in this field.
What kinds of services and expertise do you offer?
Founded in 2001, The Martin Group (TMG) is a leading integrated communications firm headquartered in downtown Buffalo with offices in Rochester and Albany, N.Y..
Established in 2015, Martin Davison Public Relations is a public relations firm in Upstate New York that offers advocacy, community relations, content marketing, crisis communications, event management, internal communications, and media relations.
The Martin Group is a recipient of the Buffalo Business First Fast Track Award multiple times and is recognized as one of WNY’s Top Private Companies.
Do you specialize in helping nonprofits or is this one of your passions in PR, or both?
Our agency considers nonprofits one of its eight key verticals based on our extensive experience in the area. We also invest two percent of our revenue, a significant amount of pro bono work, and countless hours of volunteer service to nonprofit organizations throughout the communities we serve.
Working with nonprofit organizations has been a passion of mine throughout my career, including a total of 17 years working with Catholic Charities of Buffalo on its annual Appeal. The 2018 Appeal was especially challenging—and rewarding—as we were able to achieve an ambitious $11 million goal during the clergy sex abuse crisis that rocked the Diocese of Buffalo. This was executed through numerous news releases, media advisories, and crafted pitch letters. We organized several media events and scheduled editorial board meetings, while focusing attention on social media channels as well. In addition, we encouraged online donations through Catholic Charities’ website, with an emphasis on how Catholic Charities serves non-Catholics and Catholics alike. Anyone can donate and also be served by the organization.
I also provide public relations services (both paid and pro bono) to Mental Health Advocates of Western New York (formerly the Mental Health Association of Erie County), and was recognized with their 2013 Advocacy Award. I am particularly proud of our efforts to help raise awareness for the Just Tell One Campaign, which focuses on the prevention and early intervention of mental health and substance abuse issues affecting youth and young adults in Western New York.
Can you touch on some strategies that you use in particular to assist charitable organizations?
Since 2013, I have dedicated hundreds of hours to promote various fundraising initiatives for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Western and Central New York Chapter (LLS). LLS is the largest voluntary health organization dedicated to funding research, finding cures and ensuring access to treatments for blood cancer patients.
I have served on the executive leadership committee for the local LLS Light the Night Walk since 2013 and the planning committee for the annual Diamond Ball since 2014. Our agency’s pro bono public relations support for these events during this time has resulted in hundreds of articles, interviews and other media coverage. A lot of the strategy for this event is done on a national level because the event is held in many major cities. I worked on the earned media and publicity for the Buffalo event.
We focused heavily on ambassadors—those who survived leukemia and lymphoma and family members of survivors of blood cancer—by featuring their stories of survival. This was a very successful strategy. There has been a lot of focus on families and companies that walk on behalf of their employees as well. To try to get executives from Buffalo-based companies to participate, we recently created an executive challenge to raise significant amounts of money. These promotional and publicity efforts have helped LLS raise millions of dollars. In general, nonprofits are struggling right now with walks, runs, and similar events, and not raising as much money as prior years. The Light the Night event is showing continued growth.
What advice do you have for PR professionals looking to use their experience to help local charities?
Nonprofit organizations can use all the help they can get from PR and communications professionals because they typically have limited resources. They welcome PR professionals who want to assist with event management, social media, and PR. Getting involved as a volunteer, a committee or board member within a nonprofit is also a great way to:
- Develop a strong relationship with a nonprofit you support;
- Help the nonprofit while also connecting with business leaders and their boards of directors; and
- Create good exposure for yourself.
Additionally, I have always felt nonprofit organizations provide recent graduates and entry-level practitioners with a good “foot-in-the-door” to an entry-level career in public relations.