Promoting special events takes special care

special events panel

From large international events to small fundraisers, the session leaders at NFPW's "Putting the 'special' into special events" workshop had a common message to get news coverage: customize your story pitches for each reporter at each outlet; go the extra mile, and do as much of the work for them ahead of the event as possible.

Cindy Matthews, director of community outreach for the West Metro Fire Protection District, Denver, had special challenges for World Youth Day. The Pope chose the United States for this church event because he wanted live coverage, but was turned down by several networks. Matthews went to the local affiliates, arranged for a pool that could feed into the networks and made the Denver TV consortium a model for future events.

For the Family Fire Muster, an outdoor learning situation with activity stations attended by 7,000, Matthews hands news hooks to writers in a variety of beats and ties into other news stories, such as a recent tragic fire to make the point for fire safety in the home. TV sponsors send the weather people out to do live reports, and she also set up a mini-event the day before for the media to participate in.

Approaching the media with personal stories of children with severe food allergies helped gain coverage for a first-time Food Allergy Walk. "My daughter is not just lactose intolerant; she'll die if she drinks milk," Matthews said, explaining the importance of providing an up-close story to get across a compelling message. To promote the walk, she invited reporters to go to the doctor with her when her children had tests.

Also, don't forget the online version of local newspapers, which often have different content than the print. Look to see if your community has the website, which is spreading to markets all over the country.

Dana Brandorff, independent PR consultant, manages "Race for the Cure" in Denver, a fundraiser for breast cancer, with 63,000 participants. Her media sponsors sign a contract spelling out benefits and responsibilities. Every woman broadcaster at the sponsoring TV station does a news story related to breast cancer. Brandorff feeds them ideas for political, education and other story angles. She has a producer assigned to her at each TV and radio station to make sure she gets the coverage she gets attention.

The Denver Post produces a 40-page supplement, for which she writes all the copy. Clear Channel won the radio contract because of their many stations, for which Brandorff tailors news content for each audience.

She also arranges a photo shoot with survivors and makes customized posters with their photos to post in stores in specific neighborhoods for walk-in registration and on the Web.

Cindy MatthewsDana Brandorff

Two final tips: If you use college interns, be sure they can write. Second, report back to the sponsors after the event on their return on investment, listing every media exposure and its value. Include a CD with images and a story for their websites and annual reports.

— Cecilia Green, Illinois Press Women