Feature Article - March 2003
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Good PR

A crash course on handling public-relations crises, dealing with the media and developing strategies for generating positive publicity

By Stacy St. Clair

Tipping the Messenger

Journalists typically welcome news, no matter where it comes from. So why shouldn't it come from you? Some advice on getting good news about your organization in print and on air.

Pay attention to news cycle. Don't pick busy times such as Election Day or a major catastrophe to pitch a story about your organization. The newsrooms will be far too busy to consider—let alone cover—the idea. Slow periods such as summer and the week between Christmas and New Year's Day are often great times to suggest stories because news is slow.

Think trends. Have new programming or equipment at your facilities? Pitch it as light feature to a local television station or newspaper. When Styrofoam noodles became the must-have pool accessory in Dayton nearly 10 years ago, a community pool called the local paper and suggested a photographer come and take a picture. The photo—which featured dozens of children playing with rainbow-colored noodles—was so engaging, an editor sent a reporter back to the pool to write a front-page story about the toy's popularity. The next morning, that little pool seemed like the hippest waterpark in town.

Be mindful of history. Newspapers and television stations love to cover milestones, even if they serve as footnotes for bigger stories. For example, when the Midwest had an unseasonably warm winter a few years ago, local reporters were scrambling each day to find new angles on the obligatory weather stories. A couple of golf courses called to report the first-ever rounds played in December. The tips drew both television and still cameras to the links and provided free publicity for the courses.

All news, like politics, is local. Journalists love to localize national stories. If your organization has a tie-in to a national event, be sure to inform local reporters. The Illinois Parks and Recreation Association, for example, gleaned positive press last year by holding a seminar on how local park districts should be preparing themselves in the event of a terrorist attack. The topic tied into a pressing national issue and made the organization look both responsible and responsive to community fears.

Publicize your patrons. Often the best ways to get your facility in the paper are to promote the people inside it. If a patron has accomplished an important goal such as winning a national competition or overcoming a severe health crisis, let the local media know. In most cases, the heart-warming story will mention the role your facility plays in the subject's success.