Making friends with the media

Cindy Sink

Finding it awkward to navigate around your local newsroom? Not sure who’s in charge of what? Wondering why everybody is in such a big hurry?

What you need is somebody on the inside. We found her at Capitol Broadcasting Company’s WRAL-TV, the CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C.

Leesa Craigie is director of news operations and special projects at WRAL, overseeing news coverage of community events and other special projects.

Here is some straight-to-the-point, no-nonsense advice for how nonprofits can start making friends with the media and get coverage for events and issues

Know your local reporters and anchors

This is so obvious, but Craigie says it’s not uncommon for nonprofits to request coverage of, for example, a public health screening but have no idea who WRAL’s Health Team producer/reporter is.

Learn what beats local reporters cover, and any special angles and interests they favor.

Also ask if there are specific market segments that the newsroom is focusing on such as women, seniors, or kids.

Know your local assignment desk

Always email (no mail or faxes) your news release to the “assignment staff,” especially if you do not have a specific reporter as your key contact.

Make the text in the subject line of the email an attention grabber-make them WANT to open it.

The assignment staff will file your release in a day planner, which the editorial staff uses to plan each day’s news coverage. Follow-up with a call to make sure they received it.

Be a resource

There’s an old saying in broadcasting: Content is King. And now that’s as true as ever.

Local news can be found 10-12 hours a day on television, and newspapers have multiple editions micro-marketed to communities.

Every news organization has expanded into new media, adding links, resources and related articles on their web sites.

Go to these news web sites, search for articles related to your nonprofit issue and start feeding the reporter your story ideas.

Be the expert with the latest study; be the source for personal stories that make the emotional connection; be the dependable source of referrals to related resources.

Cover the basics in your news release

That means the who, what, where, when and why. Include contact information. Cut long sentences and omit mission statements.

The “why” section is where you provide the hook, the reason your event is noteworthy: Is it new information, groundbreaking, important? Part of a trend? A local angle on a national story? A dramatic personal story? Does it set up a controversy? Put a fresh angle on an old story? Is it an anniversary story? Capture something coming up on the calendar? Is it topical and timely? Find one of these hooks and sell it.

Highlight opportunities for strong visuals, giving specific times and locations for the most TV-friendly opportunities.

If TV cameras can’t make it to the event, send high-resolution photos and a synopsis after the event. Web sites will often post still photos or slideshows if the visual interest is high. Hint: make your event visual.

Timing is everything

* Schedule your event just before or during broadcast news times. This allows news crews to gather footage and/or do a live shot during the newscast from your event.

* Send your news release at least one week in advance. Follow-up with a phone call in a few hours to make sure they got your release. And be prepared to resend, as they get hundreds of emails per day and yours may be overlooked.

* Determine if you actually want coverage of the event, or if the media can best help by airing preview information.

Nonprofit representatives are often interviewed on the noon news prior to an event to encourage interest and participation. News producers will also run short blurbs in newscasts of upcoming events.

Email high-resolution JPEGs of logos and pictures for use in on-air graphics. If you know the news organization has covered the event in the past, mention that, so they know they can access archive video.

* Understand that newsrooms receive a large volume of requests for coverage and simply cannot get to every event. Weekend events especially are less likely to get coverage because of reduced staff.

Cindy Sink is a nonprofit marketing consultant based in Cary, N.C., and a Shoestring Creative Group Network Affiliate. Cindy can be reached at or 888-835-6236.

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