Miracle upon miracle. After weeks or months of pitching, cajoling, pleading and flattering, a member of the fourth estate has agreed to do a piece on your organization.
Before congratulating yourself and resting on your laurels, know that now the important work begins, especially if the reporter involved is a new contact.
If the reporter is coming because you’ve sold them on a positive story, remember that you both want the same thing: an article that is informative, memorable and valuable. A good, well-reported story provides an opportunity for your agency and the reporter to shine. It should be a win-win for all involved, especially if it launches a positive, ongoing relationship with the newsperson.
As you prepare, whether you work for a family services agency or an arts program, don’t think of yourself as an administrator or a public relations professional. Come at it as an advocate, a believer.
For the media, there is a fine line between perceiving a source as competent and dedicated or as an overly slick salesperson. Be prepared with in-depth, meaningful information.
What is your organization’s overall mission? How does the specific subject of the proposed story fit in with your mission? What objective measures or research do you have to show that the initiative you are plugging actually works? How is it different or better than other similar programs that have the same objective? Why? What are your plans for the future? What lessons learned will enable you to improve the project further?
Putting a face on the story
Think of the individuals who will meet with the media as members of your cast. Good casting is essential, crucial. Know your cast and their backstories. If you are the executive director, be able to answer the big picture questions, but try to have a front-line worker or department head there who can provide key, humanizing details.
Have the other staff person suggest at least one or two program participants they know well who can share their experiences. It doesn’t have to be the client who landed the best job or a young artist with the most talent. You want someone engaging, positive and forthcoming.
Meet with the individuals beforehand to ensure they know what questions to expect so you can know what answers they are likely to give. Prep them to be clear and concise.
Don’t tell them what to say – you don’t want them to come across as force-fed. It sometimes helps to ask them likely questions and write down their answers. This way, the ideas and thoughts remain the speaker’s, but you can clean up or hone the language. This is especially true for a phone-in radio interview where there is not a face-to-face interaction.
Preparing a press kit
Press kits are nice (board members love them), but consider holding off proffering one until toward the end of the interview. You want the reporter’s impression of your organization to be fresh and original. Have a one-page fact sheet on your agency that includes information on your mission, major programs, budget and funding sources, and demographics. If possible, go beyond numbers served. Share statistics that show your efforts are objectively evaluated and proven effective.
Also have a fact sheet on the initiative being reported. In addition to covering the same bases as the general sheet, it should spell out why the program was begun, give credit to private funders, describe the problem being solved and the positive outcomes brought about.
For example, if it is youth-oriented – whether educational, recreational or vocational – highlight long-term benefits. While it’s great that kids enjoy participating, it’s more important to show that participants are more likely to stay in school and go on to higher education.
After the article runs or the interview airs, write a thank-you note to the reporter and copy the editor. Let the reporter know you would be happy to be of assistance whenever appropriate, not just when it benefits your organization directly. It goes back to the idea of being an issue-oriented advocate, someone who cares about the people your agency serves.