Sharing Your Story with the Media

Objectives

  • To understand the importance and power of the media
  • To create a plan to publicize your project

Materials

  • “Project Story Planning Guide” handout (1 per participant)
  • “Sample News Release” handout (1 per participant)
  • Paper
  • Pens or pencils
  • Flip chart paper/butcher paper

Prepare Before

N/A


Warm Up

Ask participants what makes their project interesting to the media. Highlight that their project is of interest to those who will benefit from it. Those people read newspapers, watch television, listen to the radio, and retrieve information from the internet and other electronic sources. Encourage participants to be proud to tell people their story. The local media will be interested in a project of such value.

Experience

PART 1: WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT?

Explain to participants that the impact their project has on the people it was intended to reach and the broader community is important and everyone should know about it! In addition, the success of the project depends on the participants’ ability to keep the people of their community informed about their work and their group.

PART 2: CREATING A NEWS RELEASE

Introduce that the participants will be doing an activity where they will be creating news releases about their project. Before they begin, highlight that these releases are key resources for the staff of your local newspaper, radio, and television stations. They must include the date the release was written and the name and telephone number of the person who can provide additional information. Every news release must then answer six basic questions:

  1. WHO is doing the project?
  2. WHAT are you going to do?
  3. WHERE is the project to be done?
  4. WHEN will you get started, finished?
  5. WHY are you doing this particular project?
  6. HOW are you getting it done (e.g., volunteers, contributions)?

Share with the participants that a news release is just like other stories in the newspaper. The most important information comes first in the story, the less important information follows. Show the participants the sample news release that can be found as a handout in this section. Then divide the participants into groups of three or four. Each group must take ten minutes create a news release that contains the facts reporters need to do stories about the project. As they work, make sure that each group is answering all six questions. Once they have finished, have participants share their releases and compare and contrast between groups.

PART 3: CREATING A PLAN TO TELL YOUR STORY

Discuss that now that the participants have the basic tools to help tell their story, they can develop a plan for the group. Divide the group into seven smaller groups, each assigned one of the following topics. You may omit a topic or combine as you see fit. Have the participants read the information for their topic and then create a plan for how they can use their topic get the word out about their project. After about 10 minutes, have the participants share back to the group their plan.

  1. A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
  2. Public Service Programs
  3. On-site Publicity
  4. Community Relations
  5. Local Government
  6. The County Fair or other Public Events
  7. Social Media

1. A Picture Is Worth a Thousand Words

Include photographs when telling your story. Take photos when the project begins, when progress is under way, and when the project is completed. If you are in an organized group that has a designated reporter, he or she can take the photographs. These photos might be used by the newspaper, school publications, or national reporting. Photographs are also important to provide evidence of the impact the project has made on the community.

You can also ask the local newspaper send out a photographer. Send out a media alert a week or few days in advance of a large event. Provide a description and schedule, and ask the newspaper to send a photographer to document the event.

2. Public Service Programs

Most radio and television stations have a community interest program during which a host interviews individuals about items of interest to the audience. Your community project should be of interest in your hometown because it benefits the community. These steps can help you approach public service program officials:

  • Discuss the idea with your adult leader. As a member of your community, he or she may know the program director or on-air host.
  • Decide if your adult leader or publicity chairperson is going to make the initial contact. Prepare background materials, including news releases, information on your local group, and information on your project sponsor if you have one.
  • Make an appointment to visit the host to discuss the project. Take the prepared packet of materials. If you have photos of the project’s progress, be sure to take them along. Television stations will use on-air visuals during an interview. Be well-informed so that you can talk with ease about:
    • your local group, its purpose and size
    • information about your current project
    • how the community is contributing and can continue to help make this project a success
    • how the community and the people who live there will benefit from the project and how your project will help make the community a better place to live

Don’t be shy about approaching your local stations. Your story is newsworthy. It will be interesting to the public and helpful to your program. Give your sponsors credit because they deserve it, and they will appreciate it. Sponsors could be more cooperative in the future when they get credit for doing something good for the community. Don’t overlook local farm shows– usually aired early in the morning — as promotional possibilities, particularly if you live in a rural area.

3. On-Site Publicity

It is a good idea to do some on-site publicity. For example, find someone who can neatly produce a sign for the project site or contact a local printer. Your local building supplier might donate some plywood and posts for constructing a site billboard. If you’re on a school campus, your school’s shop class might be willing to help. Dark letters on a light background are best. Construct your sign early in the project so you can benefit as long as possible from the recognition it will give.

4. Community Relations

You can publicize your community project in other ways. Use speaking engagements to present your project more personally and involve even more of your peers than you can through the media.

Try to find parents who are involved in civic and church groups. Ask them to speak to their organizations about your community project. Or, if you are allowed to make a presentation to one of the groups, as the parents if they are willing to work with you. They are familiar with the audience and can give you tips on what to say.

Provide any speaker who agrees to talk about your project with important facts and figures. These facts should include the same items we have discussed: who, what, where, when, why and how. Type a fact sheet in all capital letters with plenty of space between the lines. It will be easier for the speaker to refer to during the presentation. A PowerPoint presentation may help the speaker bring the community project to life through pictures.

Or, ask several members to make the presentation. One speaker can explain how the project was chosen and how it benefits the community. Another speaker can discuss what the project is and how it will be done. And a final speaker can explain who is involved, who in the community is contributing, and who the sponsoring organization is.

5. Local Government

It may be possible for you to speak at your local town or county meetings. Council members are interested in local improvement projects and may be able to help you. Ask your adult leader how you should contact the local board. In some areas, you may be able to get on the agenda by simply contacting the board in advance of the meeting. In others, it might be best to send the board an email in advance.

By participating in the local government process, you might make your project a part of the municipal record. This participation would expose you and your group members to the processes by which your community is governed and the leadership roles all of you might play in the future. It could also lead to additional funding.

6. The County Fair or Other Public Events

Your group may already be exhibiting at the county fair or other public events, with literature available on your various programs as well as your community project. If not, you should consider including such an exhibit in your plans. County fairs operate differently all over the country. Yours may be sponsored by a local civic organization. It may be operated by your local agricultural extension office or your state department of agriculture.

Check the organization’s website or contact a member of the board to find out how to apply for exhibit space. If you choose to have a fair exhibit, a committee should be formed to organize the details. You have to file the correct forms by a deadline in some areas. Then you are ready to design the exhibit and have it constructed. It can be as elaborate or simple as your group decides. Be sure to have printed information about your community project available for people who visit your exhibit.

7. Using Social Media to Tell Your Story

Social media can be extraordinarily powerful. Social media, as a tool, allows your group to build relationships, share information, and move your project forward. It is a two-way street for communicating. Your group is able to share information about forthcoming occasions and useful resources with the public. Perhaps you and your group will choose to use social media as a platform to raise questions and initiate conversations. With no upfront cost to your group, social media can help you start building relationships with potential community partners. Sharing ideas via social media is a great way to publicize your group’s activities. Below is a list of social media outlets and brief summaries of how they can be used.

  • Twitter: Twitter is a website that can be used to promote your group online and drive traffic to your website. Twitter uses “tweets,” 140-character (maximum) messages posted to your Twitter profile, to share what you are doing at any moment. Twitter’s system of shortened links and hashtags makes it easy to find people or businesses posting tweets. Hashtags are hyperlinked keywords that have been embedded into tweets. Any word can be turned into a hashtag by adding the “#” sign before the word in the body of your tweet. Twitter’s “@Mention” system allows you to contact any other Twitter user, regardless of whether or not they follow you, by placing an “@” symbol in front of the Twitter username in the body of your tweet.
    • Example: “We fight hunger! #livingtoserve”
  • Facebook: Facebook is a widely used, global online social networking platform. Individuals can share photographs, written posts, event invitations, and locations. Similar to Twitter, users can use hashtags and can also link their posts to other individuals or entities in their network.
    • Example: “We are putting our leadership into action to help fight hunger in our community!”
  • Foursquare: Foursquare is a location-based social networking website for mobile devices such as smartphones. Individuals share where they are and tell others about the places they have been. The process is called a “check-in.” Users check-in using a mobile website, text messaging, or device-specific application by selecting from a list of venues the application locates nearby. Users are also able to offer feedback or general comments about places and events they have attended. Create a check-in for your community project site!
    • Example: “This is where we serve.”
  • Instagram: Instagram is a popular photo-sharing service app for smart-phones and Facebook. It is simple and accessible to everyone. Use it to share important moments in your group’s community project.
    • Example: (A picture of our project’s progress)

Reflect

After participants share their plans, create a timeline as a group for getting the information out to the public about the project. Use the “Project Story Planning Guide” handout to plan out the year. If you think it would help, have the participants elect a publicity committee or a single participant to be in charge of communication with media and deadlines.

Summarize

Discuss with participants that publicity is vital to community projects. It helps build community support from parents, school officials, business leaders, and local government officials. Publicity also encourages other young people in your town to get involved in worthwhile projects, including the work you and your team members are doing. And publicity gives your group the credit you deserve for improving the community. Encourage them to work closely with the adult leaders and use their own creativity to spread the word about the incredible work they have been doing.

Demonstrate

Have each participant share a specific task that they will do in the next week to share their project with the community.