Ideally, you should start thinking about these steps 2-3 months before your event:
1) Find (or create) a story
- Decide on the story you're going to pitch to the media, whether it's hard news or a feature.
- Invite local community leaders to your event, such as the mayor and other local government officials, local sports figures, school and hospital administrators, business groups and other organizations. The more VIPs that attend your event and the bigger the turnout, the more likely the media is to cover it.
- Talk to your committee about possible feature stories – interesting things your group is doing, individuals in your group that have inspiring stories, etc.
- Think advocacy! What are some examples of pending local, state, federal legislation that might impact people with Down syndrome in your community? How does your group work to protect and defend the rights of individuals with Down syndrome?
- Think about milestones and accomplishments. Did last year's event break past participation and fundraising records? Are you expecting to break them again this year? Is this year a special anniversary or milestone for your group?
- Don't forget National Down Syndrome Awareness Month in October! It gives you an immediate "hook" when you talk to the media. If your event is in October, ask your mayor or other local government representative to sign a proclamation recognizing October as National Down Syndrome Awareness Month.
2) Create Press Materials
Before you pick up the phone, you need to put some facts and persuasive story pitches on paper. Following is a list of all the written materials you might use for your media outreach. You might not need everything on this list, and you might not have to finalize all of it before you start reaching out to reporters. At the very least, you need a few talking points and a media alert (if you're pitching the event as hard news) or pitch letter (if you're pitching a feature).
These are clear, concise messages that you want to communicate to the media. You will use these when you are pitching the media and in any interviews. Your talking points document is for internal use only, not for distribution to the media.
This is a simple and effective way to get media attention. It briefly lists the "who, what, when, where and why" of your event and serves as an invitation for the media to attend and cover it. NDSS recommends using a media alert, rather than a traditional press release, for your pre-event media outreach.
Like a media alert, a pitch letter may serve simply as an invitation to the media to attend and cover your event. However, a pitch letter can also suggest a good story idea and facilitate its coverage by offering helpful background information. For example, a pitch letter may suggest a feature story idea related to your event, offer important background information about your group and Down syndrome, and offer interviews so the reporter can get more details.
The fact sheet can accompany the media alert and/or pitch letter to provide the reporter with quick facts about the event, your group, NDSS and Down syndrome.
A press kit is a comprehensive resource that provides the media with background information about the event, your group, NDSS, Down syndrome, VIPs in attendance, etc. Press kits are typically distributed on the day of the event, but a reporter might ask you for a kit ahead of time, so you should have them ready. The press kits might include:
- Detailed schedule for the day of the event
- Bios, publicity photos of attending VIPs
- Additional literature about your organization, NDSS, Down syndrome
- Contact information for someone in your organization who handles media inquiries, in case they have questions after the event
Post-Event Press Release
If you choose to write a post-event press release, it should be distributed immediately following the event to maximize coverage.
3) Pitch Your Story
The key to getting media coverage is developing a relationship with the local media. First, find out what relationships already exist. Do your sponsors have media contacts or public relations departments that can assist you? Do any group members have connections to local TV, radio or newspapers? Do you know any individual news reporters? Have you worked with any media outlets on past stories? Have any reporters contacted your organization for background information or a quote on a story?
Once you have a list of personal and business contacts, focus on local reporters who have recently written stories about Down syndrome or other health or disability issues. Also contact reporters who cover community events.
You can also check your local media outlet's website or call the main number.
- Community calendar editors
- Metro/city desk editors (or ask who covers community events)
- Disability issues reporters
- Education reporters (for a feature story about an education issue impacting people with Down syndrome)
- Online editors (if there is different content on the publication's website than in the print edition)
- Producer of a specific show (e.g. your local morning news show)
Make Initial Contact
Opinions vary on whether your initial contact with a reporter should be via phone or written correspondence (fax, mail or e-mail). If you have a connection to the reporter or you live in a small media market, an initial phone call is probably your best approach. If the reporter is at all interested, he/she will ask you to send more information. If you live in a large media market, don't know the reporter at all, or simply don't have time for lots of phone pitching, it's fine to start by sending a media alert or pitch letter.
- Be confident! You're calling because you're promoting awareness and acceptance of people with Down syndrome through your event - a great cause and the media will be more inclined to listen to you than other "pitchers"
- Know your pitch. When calling local media, know what you're going to say before you get on the phone. It's always wise to ask if the reporter is on deadline before you launch into your pitch (try to avoid calling daily print reporters after about 12pm). Make your pitch concise and informative. Also, don't be afraid to show your enthusiasm for the cause. Here's a sample media pitch that you can adapt to highlight the strengths of your walk and to focus on different story ideas:
"Hi, this is Sally Jones calling from the Anytown USA Down Syndrome Group. Jane Washington mentioned that you might be interested in covering a great event we're having on October 2. Do you have a minute to talk about the event? October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month, and to celebrate, we're holding an (insert type of) event to promote awareness and acceptance of Down syndrome. In addition to hundreds of individuals with Down syndrome and their friends and families, Mayor Williams will be there to kick off the day and Local Famous Person X will be in attendance. We really think it will be our best event ever."
- Don't get discouraged! About 99% of your initial calls will result in "no" or "maybe" answers. It's rare for a reporter to commit to a story during a first conversation. They'll probably ask you to send more details about the event, say they have to pitch it to their editor, etc. If possible, ask when you can follow-up with them
Sending Written Information
- Have your media alert or pitch letter and fact sheet ready to send as soon as you get off the phone with a reporter. Even if a reporter doesn't explicitly ask for more information, if he/she shows any interest at all in covering the event, it's customary to follow-up your pitch with supplementary written material. If possible, ask for their preferred means of receiving the information (mail, fax or e-mail)
4) Follow Up
- If time permits, we highly recommend that you follow up with the reporter several days after speaking with them on the phone/sending your written materials. During the follow-up call, reference the written correspondence you have sent, reinforce your invitation for them to attend the event, offer interviews with the head of your local organization, local families, VIPs at the event, etc., and ask if the reporter needs any additional details or has any questions.
- Don't forget - this is the time to sell your event! If the reporter you are speaking to isn't interested, ask if he/she can suggest another reporter or editor who might be interested. It is completely appropriate to contact more than one contact at a media outlet, but etiquette dictates that you notify the reporter/editor/producer that you are contacting others.
If a reporter wants to cover your event or write a feature story related to one of your programs, you will have to facilitate interviews. Find out who the reporter wants to talk to (have some people in mind to suggest and make sure they are agreeable to speaking with the press). Then coordinate the logistics of the interview either before the event (via phone or in person) or at the event itself. Make sure the person being interviewed is familiar with your talking points, so he/she can reinforce your messages!