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September 21, 2014 | 26th Elul 5774

How to Work with Press

Perhaps the greatest single factor in the external impact of your event is the media exposure you receive. While a great lobby visit might electrify those who are there, even a short newspaper story or a 10-second evening news clip will alert many of those who were not there. Attention also begets attention: people who miss an event but see media coverage often call afterward, providing you with an opportunity to recruit new volunteers and reach a larger base.

The fact that the media is so crucial is, of course, both good news and bad news. The good news is that working with the media is not a difficult or rarefied process; with a little patience and plenty of persistence, anyone can make even a small event into a newsworthy story. The bad news is that the news cycle is often out of your control; even the best planning sometimes gets derailed by a major breaking story elsewhere in the area or the world. Here, however, we will focus on the good news.

There are five basic steps to producing good media coverage for your event.

1. Have clear answers to the basic journalistic questions (Who? What? When? Where? Why? How many? Whom do I call for more information?) about your event. These are the most fundamental pieces of information that any media outlet will want. If you are unclear or do not have these answers, you are likely to get a frosty reception. It is important to include these details very clearly in your media advisory. Keep in mind that you do not need to hold an earth-shattering event for it to be newsworthy: the activities of local religious organizations are, by definition, news to the local paper and local broadcast media; in addition, even a small group is newsworthy if someone with local notoriety or an issue of local interest is to be discussed. Don’t be shy about pressing for news coverage of your lobby day.

2. Tell them what’s going on. Make sure that the local news media know what you’re going to do and have all of the information that they need to decide whether or not to cover your event. This is usually done through a press advisory (see below). A media advisory should go out as soon as you have all of the answers to the questions above, and it should go out again a week before the event, and then again the day before the event. It is appropriate to follow your advisory with a phone call (Did you receive our advisory? Do you have any questions? Are there any special arrangements you need? I hope we’ll see you there.), but not with an endless stream of calls.

3. Be prepared to help members of the media if they come. Have a press packet with an agenda for the event, a list of scheduled visits and participants, some background information on the event and its organizers, a copy of any relevant newspaper articles, etc. In addition, be prepared to spend a few minutes with the media: know what message you want to spread and have a few participants in mind for brief interviews or comments. If you anticipate television or radio coverage, work out in advance where the camera might go and know where there are electrical outlets for lights or other equipment. Always introduce yourself to journalists who come to your event and make sure that you offer to help them. Before they leave, thank them, exchange phone numbers, and ask them to send you a copy of their finished story.

4. Be prepared to help them after the event. It is always a good idea to do a follow-up press release touting the successes of your event and containing some brief comments by organizers and participants. This is especially helpful for those journalists who were unable to attend; this way they can still write a story. In addition, be prepared to field calls from journalists who did attend but need more information after the fact.

5. Maintain good relations with the journalists you meet. Not only are people who already know you more likely to respond to your next media advisory, but it is also the case that you will receive unanticipated calls on other topics once you have a relationship with a reporter. Anytime the reporter needs a comment from a leader in the Jewish community, it will be easier for him/her to call someone he/she already knows. Return all such calls promptly, even if just to explain that you don’t have any comment on the subject. If you can, however, give the reporter the name and contact information for someone who might be able to speak on that subject.

There are a few additional factors to consider when working with the media:

• Deadlines shape the calendars and lives of reporters and not all reporters work on the same deadlines. If you want local TV news coverage, for example, you should not plan a 5:45 p.m. event. The station needs time to package and edit the story before broadcast. Analogously, most Jewish newspapers have Tuesday afternoon deadlines. If you want coverage, a Tuesday afternoon event will complicate matters. (In general, late afternoon events and very early morning events are inconvenient for reporters, who have afternoon deadlines and morning meetings.) Deadlines should govern more than your event planning: try to be considerate and not call reporters when they are finishing up stories or are under heavy deadline pressure. Ideal calls to follow-up a media advisory include a two- or three-minute conversation during which the reporter looks at your advisory and you briefly describe the event. A call when the reporter is too rushed to speak with you or just shunts you into voicemail is not a successful one.

• Remember that even though you will quickly find working with the media to be straightforward and mostly pleasant, not everyone has had your experiences. If you want participants at your event to talk to the media or pose for a photo, some might be hesitant. It’s never a bad idea to have planted the idea in a couple of people’s minds beforehand.

• Reporters are under great pressure and sometimes make mistakes. If you are upset that your event was not covered or that a story was incorrect or incomplete, do not hesitate to express that complaint. But always do so politely. Often, reporters are displeased with how much space or time they were allotted by their editor, and not all decisions about headlines and about what gets cut are theirs to make. The long-term benefits of good working relationships with the press are many. Rather than burning bridges over a story that you didn’t like, be constructive in your criticism. Often, you’ll find that a reporter who feels bad about having made a mistake will compensate by calling you for inclusion in a different story or will do a better job covering your next event.

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