The Media Can’t Cover You If They Don’t Know You’re There

Editorial by Jason Wert, Publisher/Editor

One of the good and bad habits I’ve picked over my decades of work in broadcasting and journalism is that I’m always listening to what’s going on around me. Whether it’s a politician trying to whisper something to a colleague they don’t want the press to hear or the guy complaining loudly that his Whopper has tomato on it when he didn’t order it, you hear a wide variety of things during the day if you just stop and listen.

The downside is that you hear all kinds of conversations you want to jump in and participate in because the people involved have their facts wrong, or you know something that can help them, or you just really love David Lynch’s “Dune” and the folks at Alamo Drafthouse know how to have a good debate on the best sci-fi films of all time.

This weekend while I was at another outstanding Artsfest on Walnut Street, I was standing in a line and heard a conversation between two people who worked for a local non-profit organization. (I’m withholding the group’s name to save them some embarrassment!)

The context of their discussion was disappointment in a recent fundraising event. They put months of work into the event and were frustrated that they only raised a quarter of their goal and had less than 30 people at their event. They were complaining that none of the local media covered them and began to launch into the litany of blame that gets thrown at media for not covering something: we don’t cover local stuff anymore, it’s not controversial and we only stir up drama, we’re biased against X, Y or Z.

Then, this exchange took place:

Person 1: “You would think they would want to cover something that benefits children.”

Person 2: “None of them responded to our press release?”

Person 1: “I don’t think we sent one out. We posted on Facebook about it. They should have seen it.”

Person 2: “Yeah, you’re right.”

Um…no, you’re wrong.

You may think we spend all our time on social media, reading your posts looking for something we can use to stir up controversy, but the majority of professional journalists are out working stories that we find either through research and contacts or through press releases sent to us from area organizations. There is so much happening around us that the overwhelming majority of us don’t have time to just and surf Facebook pages for organizations we might not even know exist or who we don’t personally support (because we’re human, too, and we have our own personal interests on our own personal Facebook pages!)

That means unless you reach out to us in some way that lets us know you exist, there’s a good chance none of us are going to cover your event.

Sending out a press release to media outlets with the important information…who, what, where, when, why…is a tremendous way to increase your organization’s chance of being a part of the news of the day. Even if a reporter can’t come out to cover the event in person, they could write an article based on the information in the release (or might even call for more info) and give your group the publicity you’re hoping to receive for your event.

It’s also possible that your event happens to fall on a day that a reporter has no major stories on their agenda. If your press release is in front of them, they’re more likely to say “yeah, I’ll give these guys a shot” than if you expect them to find you through a Google search. I promise you… your event isn’t the only one in town that day, and by law of averages a reporter is less likely to find you in a random search of a day’s events.

Even if they do find you, a search engine result will be far less compelling to them than a press release where you can lay out the passion for your mission and why you’re working so hard on a particular event for someone in need in our community.

You don’t have to hire a big public relations firm to get the word out to your local media. Almost all of them have some kind of public email address where you can send your press release. Type up the information either in the email or a Word document and send it off. You don’t have to write the second coming of Harry Potter and the Cash Cow of Sequels, either. Something concise with all the important facts (date, time, etc.) will do the trick. It’s something that can take just a few hours of time but could yield big results.

Then make sure you have someone designated as the “point person” for media. Include their name, phone number and email, so if your release catches a reporter’s attention it’s easy for them to contact you for additional information. We appreciate it when we don’t have to dig around to find someone who can answer our questions!

So if you’re with a non-profit group, now’s the time to make sure when you’re planning that next big event that someone on the team is assigned to handle press releases and media relations. Make plans for a few releases…one a few months out, one that’s one month from the event and one the week of the event. Include your social media links in the press release if you post more info on social media.

Remember, the media can’t cover you if they don’t know you’re there.