Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Helping in the long run

My first job out of college was as a public relations guy for the Make-A-Wish Foundation - the Greater Washington (now the Mid Atlantic) chapter. What a great group of people, granting wishes for kids with life-threatening illnesses.

While it was awesome work, it also took a ton of hard work to raise the funds to make that happen. When I was there back in 1991 and 1992, one of the big fund raising events they held was a benefit triathlon. This event was huge, with hundreds of racers and thousands of volunteers to make everything go off without a hitch.

Racers remaining refreshed
While the race was going on, I spent some time working a rehydration station. As the racers stormed past, they grabbed cups of sports drink and water and downed them before moving on to continue the race. By providing them what they needed, they could be more effective, cutting a few seconds off their time and improving their finish.

Assignment editors chasing down stories
In newsrooms across the country, there are people working marathon hours, running from story to story trying to beat their deadlines. Yes, our friends working for the media can often feel as if they are running at full speed all day, chasing down stories. My wife graduated college with a broadcast journalism degree, and I used to watch her run the race every day, coming home exhausted.

Many times, we wonder why they won't cover our events and stories.

Could it be that we're not helping them along the way, serving as that 'refreshment station' where they can stock up on story ideas?

As this year's hurricane season started, we struck on an idea in our office. Each week during the six month season, reporters are asked to do hurricane stories by their assignment editors. They also have to do the regular news that happens every day, so, it becomes a challenge for them to come up with good ideas for hurricane stories.

Enlisting the help of our media partners during a hurricane presentation
We did a little back of the envelope math and figured out that there are 24 weeks in hurricane season. To help our reporters out, we took 48 of the most commonly heard questions, misconceptions and myths we hear at our office and built a document of story starters to share with the media outlets in our market. You can check it out by clicking here.

It's all in there. From what to do with exotic pets to how to prepare a car for a potential evacuation. From which openings on your home to harden to how to soften the blow of a disaster to children.

At our annual media day event, we passed out copies of this information sheet to the reporters in the room and told them where to find it on our website. Now, with two hurricane articles per week for the entire season, there should be no reason for the reporters to be caught without a story idea.

While we use this information for hurricanes, it could easily be applied to other events.

And, when you help the media help to get your information out, and the reporters don't have to chase you down for the ideas, everybody wins!

Tom Iovino, Public Information Specialist
Pinellas County, Florida

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