Week 2: A Conversation with Guest Speaker Dan Portnoy

By UCLA X425 Student Jennifer Alderete

Using Storytelling to Connect and Encourage Engagement

During our evening  with Dan Portnoy, Head Honcho of Portnoy Media Group, we had an insightful discussion. I don’t work in the PR industry, so I listened in awe to Dan as an inexperienced “newbie.” Experienced or not, it’s hard to not be affected by Dan’s enthusiasm and energy when he talks about his work. Working in crisis PR, he characterizes himself as a “fixer” who is frequently called upon to put out fires in the non-profit sector. Calm in stressful situations, Dan uses this characteristic to his advantage.

Can Portnoy

Can Portnoy

In 2012, Dan published The Non-Profit Narrative, a book written for marketing managers at nonprofit organizations. In the book Dan discusses his strategy of using the familiar three-act story structure (based on a beginning, middle, and end) and overlaying it on a January – December calendar. This means that campaigns should be viewed in three parts over the year, rather than monthly.

One message Dan emphasized in his book and during our discussion is using storytelling to connect and encourage engagement. An example he gave is his work with a non-profit whose mission is dedicated to serving men, women, and children experiencing homelessness. Dan was called after the organization was months into a $500,000 campaign designed to bring in $50 million in donations, and projections indicated they were failing.  Dan identified the website as a problem because it had five different “donate” buttons and featured their dentistry program on a website filled with images of just older white-bearded men. Without connecting to the person viewing the website, there’s little chance of getting donations. Dan updated the site with videos of the people whose lives were being positively affected by the organization. This approach included adding images of a wider cross section of people more representative of today’s homeless population (a mom with her children, or a mom, dad and their kids). Dan also put together a campaign using videos of their personal stories. These changes helped increase donations by 30%.

One last tip Dan gave regarding social media is to approach it as a braid. With strands being Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media platforms. When adding posts, update them at different times, instead of having your tweets feed directly to your Facebook page; it’s best to stagger them. Nobody needs the same information at the same time in different mediums.

Dan wrapped up the evening by giving his book to students who tweeted in real time during his in-class discussion. If you weren’t one of the lucky students who won a copy of The Non-Profit Narrative, it’s available at Amazon.

TIP FOR FUTURE UCLAX425 STUDENTS WORKING ON THE COURSE BLOG POST ASSIGNMENT: If you want to record the guest speaker discussion, download an audio-only recording app. I used the camera feature, max’ing out my memory and taping just half of the discussion. For some reason I also held my phone the entire time, resulting in a recording in heavy Darth Vader breathing in the foreground and Dan in the background…DO BETTER!


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One Response to Week 2: A Conversation with Guest Speaker Dan Portnoy

  1. Dan Portnoy says:

    Thanks for the write up Jennifer #DarthVader <– So Awesome!