Making Our TV News Debutby Amy Bretherton
Last fall, I attended a GCN "field trip" to WXIA 11Alive, where I gained valuable insight into working with the media. Reporter Jaye Watson, one of the panel members, informed us that they wouldn’t be covering our galas, golf tournaments, walks, runs, or other typical fundraising events. Although they are very important to our organizations, 11Alive viewers, in most cases, simply are not interested in these types of stories. Instead, we were advised to pitch compelling human interest stories with a beginning, middle, and end.
Next up was GCN's annual Nonprofit Media Forum at WSB-TV, where I received more helpful tips, including technical advice like the best times to submit a story (based on station production deadlines) and common-sense advice like “Be nice!” I also attended a Public Relations Society of America media relations seminar, presented by Debbie Fitzgerald and Ed Van Herik, where I learned how to pitch a story and, most importantly, how to select the right reporter to tell it.
Then an exciting thing happened: I found the perfect story to help raise awareness about hemophilia and Hemophilia of Georgia. One of our clients, Jacob, and his UGA rowing teammate, Chris, made a decision to enter The Great Pacific Race 2016, a 2,400-mile unassisted row across the Pacific Ocean, to raise money for our organization. Jacob has hemophilia, while his best friend Chris is studying genetics and bleeding disorders like hemophilia.
I remembered what Jaye Watson said about a compelling, complete human interest story. The Great Pacific Race is in June 2016, but the money to purchase a boat and to enter the race must be raised by December 2015: a complete story that Watson could follow along with her viewers from start to finish.
I knew she was the perfect reporter to tell this story, but I decided to wait several months before contacting her to ensure the story was ready. Since this wasn’t an official Hemophilia of Georgia event, but a fundraiser put on for us by young supporters, I wanted to give them ample time to prepare for media exposure: to get a solid plan in place, a website up, and a FAQ flyer to organize their thoughts. I also knew we were only going to get one chance to attract Watson’s interest and gain her trust.
Using what I had learned about pitching a story, I contacted Watson at the end of January with an email containing just enough information to get her attention, and let her know that no one could tell this story as well as she. Watson replied from Africa, where she was on assignment, to say she loved the idea and would be in touch. After a week, I emailed again to confirm she was still interested, adding a little more about the bond between Jacob and Chris. She called me shortly after that to discuss her interest and some concerns, mainly the reliability of male college students as sources. Giving her their contact information, I suggested she find out for herself what outstanding young men they are; of course, I had prepared them in advance with some tips I had learned for gaining a reporter’s confidence.
Watson was impressed, and a video shoot was scheduled in Winder to get footage of UGA rowing team practice. The entire organization was so proud of Jacob and Chris and how well they handled themselves on camera. As I anticipated, Watson proved wonderful to work with, and entirely sincere in her desire to help showcase local nonprofits.
Two weeks later, the segment aired at 6am and again at 5pm, reaching 83,000 viewers between them. Another 40,000 people clicked on the story on 11Alive’s Facebook page. With all the exposure, the Row for Hemophilia campaign is gaining momentum, with several fundraising events planned soon. View it here
Our main takeaways from this success:
First, take advantage of learning opportunities that GCN and other professional organizations offer.
- Second, build relationships with the media by getting, and staying, in touch—letting them know you enjoyed a story or congratulating them on an award—and thanking them for their help—in my case, for what they taught me, and the work they did to get our message to Atlanta. With a relationship in place, you’ll be ready to leap when the right opportunity to tell your story comes along.