Media &Public Relations Tools 13 Jul 2007 01:14 pm

National coverage for local organizations

The following inquiry was sent to The Byline by one of our regular readers at SOS Community Services here in Ann Arbor. She has allowed us to copy her remarks and use examples relevant to SOS to answer her questions. We’re always pleased to provide PR insights by directly addressing our readers’ questions and comments. Inquiries are always welcome!

Q: What are the best places to look for national press? I know this is sort of a large question, so let me use an example.

I have done a pretty good job of getting SOS Community Services exposure in the local market. I know who to talk to at the Ann Arbor News, WEUM, 107.1, The Ypsi Courier, The Business Review, etc.

But let’s say I want to go bigger. Let’s say I have a story that I think will appeal to a larger audience (like the fact that we are trying to start a social enterprise with homeless families). Where does one begin to look when trying to get more exposure? How does one reach out to large publications? Any thoughts you have would be much appreciated!

A: Obviously, national or multi-national organizations have an easier time obtaining national media coverage than smaller, local organizations. But smaller organizations can and do obtain national coverage. The trick is to tell your story in a way that shows national media you’re worth writing about.

First, it’s important to realize what journalists are looking for. The criteria for newsworthiness are timeliness, proximity, impact or relevance, prominence (is someone well-known or famous involved?), conflict and novelty. The more criteria met by your story, the better your chances of being written about. That being said, there are a few tricks of the PR trade that can help you fit within the editorial scope of your target national publications:

1. Increase your chances by choosing your outlets wisely

Many organizations want to be on the front page of the Wall Street Journal because it’s a widely-read publication. But, it’s not the best fit for every organization. Often it’s the type of audience, not the size that counts. You’re better off reaching an audience that knows and cares about the specifics of your industry. You can build a reputation of thought leadership and expertise among your peers. The added bonuses—the more you reach out to these trade publications, the better relationship you’ll have with trade media, the folks who set industry perceptions, and national reporters, who are reading these trade publications to stay abreast of trends.

SOS’s target media might include publications like Child and Youth Services, a biannual, national trade journal that focuses on the development and treatment of children and adolescents, specifically covering topics like homelessness, foster care, etc.

Every organization knows its top industry publications. As you read up on your industry, keep track of the reporters; monitor what they’re writing about to increase your chances of choosing the best media outreach contact for your story.

SOS might also consider getting attention for its programs in other parts of the country. Nearly all major U.S. cities have publications that address local homelessness efforts, Real Change in Seattle, Spare Change News in Boston, StreetWise in Chicago, etc. SOS could share it’s own efforts to gain visibility and a leadership position among other similar groups.

2. Connect your story to a national trend

National media outlets, especially trade- or industry-specific publications, tend to focus more on trends and current events than specific examples. They want to demonstrate broader impact, making their stories relevant to most, if not all readers. Connecting your organization’s efforts with larger trends is one way to get noticed. SOS might position its news in relation to national homelessness statistics, an increase (or decrease) in community relief programs around the country, etc.

National media outlets use seasonal trends, major industry events (trade shows, etc.) and other timeliness factors to raise awareness. Homelessness makes news more in the winter months, when its effects become more pronounced. National homeless awareness week takes place every November, so national consumer media will likely touch on the issue by raising awareness of plights and highlighting the groups and programs that provide assistance.

3. Fit into the editorial calendar
Most national media outlets have editorial calendars that outline intended story topics for the year. These calendars can typically be found on the publications’ Web sites, most often associated with the “advertise with us” content pages. Once you’ve chosen target publications, check their editorial calendars for subjects that could fit your organization and offer yourself as an expert resource by writing a brief, clearly defined pitch to the contact and letting him/her know you’re available for interviews.

SOS might offer to speak about its programs with the editors of Affordable Housing Finance magazine, who will be writing a piece about “homeless families, the cost to society and how to correct a national disgrace,” called The American Nightmare in January.

Educational Leadership magazine will cover the effects of poverty on learning in its April, 2008 issue; a great place for SOS to showcase its Early Risers program that provides reading, writing and math help as well as conflict resolution, social and problem-solving skill development to homeless children.

For additional insights into the mechanics of dealing with reporters, see Rebecca’s post about understanding media.

Good luck, SOS! Opportunities abound out there. Here’s hoping you go after some of them.

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