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Working With Media

Using the media effectively is an excellent way to promote your project and educate the public about your organization's mission. By putting effort into media outreach, you can reach thousands of people in an instant. That publicity can help you find new recruits, reach new sources of funds, recognize hard-working volunteers, and develop media relationships that will help you in the future. The following tips will get you started:

Develop a Time Line

The timing of your outreach effort depends in large part on the results you want to achieve. If you're depending on the media to recruit volunteers, you should start your media campaign as much as four to six weeks before your event. For inclusion in a community calendar, two to four weeks is necessary. TV and radio stations usually need several weeks' lead-time to schedule an appearance on a talk show. One week's advance notice typically is sufficient if you're asking a reporter to cover the event itself. But remember: these are only guidelines. Be sure to check with the media outlets themselves to find out their deadlines.  Below is a suggested media timeline for the final two weeks before the day of service.

Determine Your Messages

Give serious thought to what you want reporters, and their audiences, to know about your service project and your commitment to the MLK Day of Service. Tie in your project to the overall national MLK Day of Service effort. Talk about how your volunteers are meeting important local needs on MLK Day of Service and throughout the year.  Below are some national messages to give you a start.

Compile a Media Contact List

One of the first steps to getting media coverage is to put together a list of the media organizations that may cover your event. If you're in a large community or city, you may want to check your library for media directories like the Gale Directory of Publications and Broadcast Media or Bacon's Publicity Checker. Your state commission, state office, other national service organizations, or local nonprofits may be able to help you develop a media list.

Your list may include:

  • Wire services (Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters)
  • Local and regional newspapers (both daily and weekly)
  • Local television news and talk shows
  • Local radio news and talk shows
  • Local cable TV stations
  • Special interest media, such as ethnic publications, college newspapers and radio stations, community newspapers, church bulletins, and corporate newsletters (especially if local businesses are participating in your event).

Come up with a Pitch

Think about a succinct message or "pitch" - a few words that will convince the media that your story is interesting, timely, and newsworthy. This message can be reinforced in your media advisory, press release, and any interviews you give.

Several characteristics make information newsworthy. Reporters and editors respond best to timely news stories and ideas that incorporate:

  • Local Interest - You have a better chance of making the news if you can show that your project will be of interest to local readers and viewers. For example, will your project improve a playground that's been an eyesore? Will it provide a safer place for children to learn? Will you meet some other need that people in your neighborhood are concerned about?
  • Widespread Appeal - People of all ages know about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s life and teachings, and that's a good start to getting the word out about the service aspect of the day. When you discuss your project with reporters or editors, emphasize how it ties in with Dr. King—and themes like justice, equality, and service.
  • Well-known People - You might get more media attention if you involve well-known people in your kick-off event and your service project. Possibilities include athletes, news anchors or weather reporters, local officials, and business people.
  • Interesting Visuals - For a TV reporter or newspaper photographer, what your project looks like is very important. While it doesn't make sense to plan your event simply around how it will look on TV or in a photo, you probably want to keep it in mind as you plan.

Write a Public Service Announcement

Radio PSAs, which run at no cost to you, are a great way to recruit volunteers and to get the word out about your event. The message should be short but complete, and include a phone number to call for more information. Send the announcement to the radio station's public service director and allow plenty of lead-time.

Write a Press Release

A press release gives a reporter a base for writing a story on your event. It's like a news article - except that you write it. Press releases can be written before the event, to attract advance notice or attention, or they can be written after the event, to inform the media about the day's accomplishments. Include quotes from organizers and participants, details of the project's goals and activities, background about your organization and your contact information.

  • Click here for a Sample Press Release

Send a Media Advisory

Five to seven days before the event, you should fax a media advisory to everyone on the press list. Keep it short and specific, including key information about the event-who, what, where, when, and why-and contact information. Be sure to fax the advisory to wire service "daybooks," which are the daily calendars of events that reporters use to plan their day.

  • Click here for a Sample Media Advisory

Work the Phones

Follow up public service announcements, media advisories, and press releases with telephone calls to remind reporters and editors of your event. When you call newspapers, ask for the city desk; when calling radio and TV stations, ask for an assignment editor in the newsroom. Point out "photo opportunities"-times when photographers would be able to find lively scenes to shoot-and suggest interesting volunteers whom reporters could interview. Do a final round of calls the morning of the event.

Write an Op-Ed or Letter to the Editor

The editorial page is looking for material and is one of the most widely read parts of a newspaper. An opinion column or letter to the editor should explain how your project ties in with Dr. King's teachings and how the public can get involved.

Assemble a Press Kit

At your event, you should ask reporters to sign in, so you can answer any questions they have and follow up with them after the event. You should give each reporter a press kit with all the information they need to write an accurate article, or to put together an accurate TV story. You may want to send a press kit before the event (with the media advisory), but make sure you have plenty on the day of your event. Among the materials you may want to include in your press kit are:

  • A press release
  • An agenda for the day
  • Fact sheets about your project
  • Fact sheets about your organization and the organization in which volunteers are serving (if they differ)
  • Fact sheet about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service (PDF)
  • Background on Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Background on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service
  • A copy of your latest newsletter or other information about your organization
  • Your business card

Make plenty of copies, and post the information on your website.

Select a Spokesperson

Identify one or two individuals to articulate your message to the press. Condense your message and get it down cold.

Practice Doing Interviews

Think sound bites: you probably will be on the air for a matter of seconds, so make the most of it.

Greet the Press

Have a separate sign-in table for reporters and other members of the media. Also, make sure that a representative of your group is on hand to greet the press and to introduce reporters to the project's spokesperson or director.

Clip Stories

Make copies of all newspaper stories about your event and be sure to turn on the VCR to record any TV pieces that run. Collecting these materials will help you recruit for next year's project.

Say Thanks

Be sure to thank reporters for good coverage. Like all of us, news people appreciate kudos for a job well done.

You can also download a copy of "A Guide to Working With the Media" (PDF) from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

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