Tips and Tricks for Engaging Media Outlets

A woman standing behind microphones pointing at a reporter.

You have an upcoming event or you want to use an awareness event, like National Runaway Prevention Month, to show your community the work of your staff and volunteers. How can you attract media attention to help you spread the word?

Local newspapers, television stations, talk radio, magazines and blogs can be great allies. But getting a reporter to cover your story can sometimes be difficult. We spoke to some current and former journalists to get the scoop on garnering media attention for your work and your cause.

Messaging, Messaging, Messaging

Start by knowing what you want to get across. Former reporter and public relations specialist Jackie Nedell says being clear on your message and understanding the press’s point of view will help you engage local media outlets. She says:

  • An interview is an opportunity to get out YOUR message. Rehearse key messages you want to get across and stick to those messages during the interview. Don’t worry about being too repetitive or declining to answer questions that stray from your key messages.
  • Keep messaging simple and use quotable language. Remember to be conversational. If you only had one sentence, what would you say?
  • Issues concerning children resonate with an audience, as well as the future. Make sure to weave both into messaging.
  • Use stories and ancedotes about people to make your points, but also use statistics to establish authority and credibility.
  • Wrap your information in something interesting and unusual and people will pay attention.
  • Show your enthusiasm and passion. If you don’t care, no one else will.

Making the Pitch

When you've got your message down pat, start reaching out. Every news outlet, reporter and editor is different, but when it comes to pitching your story there are some tactics to keep in mind to get your story covered.

Brevity matters. Nevada newspaper editor Adam Causey suggests providing just enough information, but not too much. Short pitches, no more than five paragraphs, are best.

Hook them up. “Have some stats already available in your press release, even though good reporters will check that themselves,” Causey says. “And if you can find a real person from their area to hook them up with that would be great, just because they have limited time.”

Kate Howard, a newspaper reporter in Nebraska, agrees.

“Sometimes what might hold a reporter up from doing a story is not having sources, and the prospect of trying to track one down - especially a person who is transient - is daunting and can be discouraging.” 

Think graphically. When you are pitching to a television news station, visuals are key.

“Remember that no matter how important or compelling the story may seem, the first thing a TV reporter will ask themselves is, ‘What will be I able to shoot to go with that story?’” said Chris Otts, a television reporter in Kentucky. “So it's important to think of what visuals your organization can provide that go beyond someone talking on camera.” 

Drop them a line. Busy reporters get more calls than they can answer. The best way for you to contact a reporter or editor is email, Howard says. That way, they can respond to you in their own time.

Be confident. “Reporters get lots of unsolicited PR calls for stories they aren't terribly interested in," Howard says. "Yours is probably better than those they are trying to brush off.”

At the end of the day, reporters are looking for stories that are unique, impactful and important, she says. “Most reporters chose their professions because they wanted to right wrongs. If there's a wrong they can right with media attention or a phone call to a legislator for comment, tell them how and why their story is going to matter.” 

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