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Working with your friendly local media

by Teresa Campbell and Connie Davidson

It’s now official: the words "corporate" and "media" have become inseparable. This nightmare "voice" of America tells us that the millions of people nationally and abroad unified for peace are irrelevant. It has minimized Iraqi war casualties while hyping such expensive extravaganzas as our president landing in a jet on an aircraft carrier.

Although many Americans are uncomfortable with the direction the country is taking, they don’t know what to do about it because positive solutions for change aren’t reaching them. Most of what they hear is angry rhetoric on both sides of the issues. Grassroots organizations may be the last hope, filling the void left by national media. Small, determined groups can host educational forums, teach-ins, video presentations and other imaginative events that will tell mainstream America, on a local level, there are positive solutions to our nation’s problems and that it’s patriotic to work towards them.

But how do you get your “alternative” message across, given the current corporatization of the media? Local media is willing and often enthusiastic to publicize the efforts of peace-related organizations if you follow some of the basic steps noted below:

Create a newsworthy event or activity. Local reporters are always looking for interesting news and are constantly under deadline pressures. So, make your event truly newsworthy and make it exceedingly easy for reporters to know about it, preferably with something that’s positive. People respond more favorably to positive events or information. Get creative. Think big. Try to reach many people, (including politicians and community leaders), not just those who agree with your point of view. Your event might be so interesting even the governor will show up (if he’s invited!)

“Pitch” your event to the media. “pitch” differs from a press release in that it is used to interest reporters in your event so they will want to do more than just run the release. They may want to do full-page story on your group and why you’re presenting the event. “Pitch” your story by phone or send an email first and follow-up by phone. Be enthusiastic about your event. Make sure the headline in your email is attention-getting. Call in the morning, when reporters are less likely to be under deadline pressure. Notify TV stations about a week in advance of your event. Lead times for newspapers are longer. Check with them for deadlines. Contact radio stations at least a week prior to your event. If you want to schedule a spokesperson to appear on a talk show, send your “pitch” to the producer.

Develop an effective press release. This is your key written communication to both print and broadcast media in your area. Here are some tips on crafting a good press release:
Summarize the who, what, when, where, and why of an event right up front. Fill in with details. Be clear, concise, and interesting.

  • Use quotes from key spokespeople
  • Include a brief headline (and subhead if appropriate) describing the event.
  • Make it no longer than 2-3 pages and double-space between paragraphs.
  • “For Immediate Release” should be placed in the upper left corner above the headline.
  • Provide contact names and phone/ email numbers.
  • Note page continuation by adding “MORE” at bottom of pages and using “###” at the end of a release.
  • Print the release on a letterhead from your organization, if you have one.
  • Include a photograph that relates to your event, i.e. speaker, theme, etc.
  • Email, mail or fax it to newspapers no less than 3 weeks prior to the event.
  • Check the timing on when your area newspapers need to receive releases, i.e. Thursday edition papers like to have releases by the previous Friday, but may accept them as late as Monday. Dailies will have completely different deadlines.

Don’t forget to follow-up. “I sent them a press release and they didn’t run anything.” This sad statement is usually the result of not following up.

  • Call after you send your release to make sure it was received.
  • You may have to re-send your release. They may not have received it or it’s buried in their inbox along with hundreds of others.
  • Send a “thank you” note after your event to all media contacts. This will help you solicit coverage for your next event. Everyone appreciates appreciation.

Produce flyers/posters. These pieces need to communicate your event at a glance. Here are some basic guidelines:

  • Use a bold visual to get your point across.
  • Keep the headline simple and actionoriented.
  • Keep copy to a minimum: where, when, what, who, and why.
  • Don’t forget a contact name and phone number.
  • Produce your flyer as a handout, in a half-sheet size for counters at retail stores, and as a poster for display windows. Produce the same piece and adjust for different sizes

Send invitations.

  • This adds a personal touch to your PR campaign and is appropriate for key community leaders, government officials and local organizations.
  • A personalized letter describing what the event is and why it’s being held is an excellent way to get your message out even if the recipient doesn’t attend.

Create event signage.

  • Put sandwich board signs around town at least a week before the event.
  • Place a sign by the parking lot on the day of the event.
  • Building banners are also effective.

Videotape your event.

  • Depending on the nature of your event, you may want to videotape it.
  • If the subject and quality is appropriate, your local public access station may air it.

In conclusion, try to have some fun! Warmly approach every media person you contact and every individual who attends your event. Try not to stress over those unexpected mishaps that always occur. Remember, every action we make toward a sane and peaceful world will have a positive effect somewhere, sometime.

Teresa Campbell has lived on the Central Coast since 1977 working as a potter, art instructor and mosaic artist.

Connie Davidson has been a writer and public relations professional for the past 15 years. She currently provides advertising, graphic design, public relations, event planning and other related services to businesses and nonprofit groups on the Central Coast.