Bright Idea: Do's and Don'ts of Media Relations

Close up image of a hand holding a microphone.

With National Runaway Prevention Month and the holiday season -- both great times to try to get attention from the press for the work you are doing -- coming up, we thought we'd reprint this NCFY article about interacting with members of the media.

  1. Do call reporters back promptly when they call you, even if it’s just to say you can’t help with this particular story. And if you don’t have answers, do refer them to sources at other organizations, if you can.
  2. Don’t call journalists the day before the event you want them to cover. A week or two notice is courteous, says Patty Fisher, a former columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, a California paper.
  3. Do e-mail background information to the journalists you know. For instance, ping them when you have a new program or when you can inform them about a topic that’s been in the news. After the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Arizonans were talking about a need for civility. So Angela Hagen, communications and public relations manager for Our Family Services, a social services agency in Tucson, sent several reporters information about her organization’s 30-year-old mediation program.
  4. Don’t harass or prod reporters.
  5. Do make sure your website is up-to-date, professional and well-written. “Your website should just nail it,” Hagen says. “That may be the media’s first interaction with you.”
  6. Don’t expect the media to cover the same event every year.
  7. Do think creatively about what the press might be interested in. Hagen suggests letting them know about photo opportunities, such as anything involving children and animals, or a firefighter Santa giving gifts to youth in an afterschool program. Or send the food editor of your paper a recipe for a dish that will be served at an upcoming fundraiser.
  8. Don’t pitch a story about something happening outside the geographic area the news organization covers.
  9. Do find out in advance how much information you can provide to the media about youth without violating their confidentiality. Fisher prefers to use a first name or nickname, rather than a pseudonym.
  10. Do create a policy as to who can and cannot speak to the media. At Our Family Services, program managers may speak to the press without first getting an OK from Hagen, but line staff may not. And Hagen prefers to prepare all staff before they’re interviewed, so she can give them pointers on what questions reporters might ask and how to answer.

    For smaller organizations with no dedicated communication staff, Thom Mozloom, a communication consultant in Miami, recommends picking one spokesperson and sending that person to media training. Many local public relations and communication firms offer such training, often at low cost.
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