Lights On Afterschool provides a wonderful opportunity to generate positive news coverage of your afterschool program and to remind the public of the need to provide sufficient funding for afterschool.
Reporters seek out stories that affect the community—they will want to tell readers, viewers and listeners about threats to afterschool programs.
So plan your Lights On Afterschool activities with the media in mind.
If you don't already have a list of reporters, editors, columnists, photo editors and producers who cover education, children and families, parenting, workplace, and feature stories in your media market, this is a good time to create one. United Ways sometimes have media guides that are available to community agencies for a nominal fee, and the public relations offices at community colleges are often willing to share their media lists with other education agencies.
To build your own media list, make a list of:
Call and ask for the name and contact information (phone number, fax and email) of the editor, reporter, columnist or producer who covers education, children and families, parenting, workplace, and features. Media lists should be updated twice per year, as journalists tend to shift beats and jobs fairly often.
Some things to remember:
A few days before your event, write a news release. A news release is written like a news story, but has the advantage of being written from your point of view. It contains quotes from important people, background on your afterschool program and Lights On Afterschool, and features your key messages. It should not exceed two pages. It is essential that it list a contact person with daytime and evening (or cell) phone numbers. Because the news release will be distributed in the press kits at your event, it should be written in the past tense. You should also fax it to journalists who don't come to your event.
At your event, set up a media sign-in table. It should be easily recognizable to reporters and be placed at the entrance to the room or area where your Lights On Afterschool event will take place. Assign a staff person or volunteer to the table throughout the event to assist journalists. Have a sign-in sheet with columns for: “name of reporter,” “media outlet,” “phone number” and “email.” Each reporter who signs in should be given a press kit and verbal information about your rally. If something special is happening in half an hour, make sure to tell him/her that. Give each reporter a badge or nametag to wear so everyone at the event can easily identify press people. Do not be surprised if journalists (photographers and camera crews in particular) “take over the room” briefly by setting up special lights for cameras, clipping their microphones to the podium or putting tape recorders on the podium. Be prepared to help them, as long as their needs do not disrupt your event.
Be sure to collect clips from local newspapers in the days after your event. Then, relax. You mastered the fine art of media relations, and your afterschool program and the children you serve will benefit from your work. Congratulate yourself and your team on a job well done!
Once you’ve designed your event, use the media to encourage people to come. Send an announcement to everyone on your media list in the middle of September. Be sure to include your name and daytime phone number in case there are any questions.
Develop key messages for your Lights On Afterschool rally. These messages should be integrated into all your media materials and be the focus of remarks by your spokespeople. If possible, narrow your key messages to three and keep them simple, clear and concise. The following is an example of messages; be sure to tailor yours to reflect what afterschool programs mean to your community and the unique challenges facing afterschool programs in your state.
A few days before your event email, mail or fax a media alert to everyone on your media list. It serves as an invitation to reporters to cover the event. An alert is very basic and gives journalists information on who, what, where, when and why the event is important to the community. It is not a news release and need not include quotes or give great detail. A media alert should never exceed one page. If you have a wire service in your community (Associated Press, United Press International, Reuters or a local City News Service), fax a copy of the alert to the Daybook Editor there. She or he publishes a calendar of newsworthy events for other reporters to check each day.
The week of your event, update the media alert you sent the previous week by adding new speakers or more information about student activities, and email or fax it again first thing in the morning. Over the next few days call everyone on your media list to make sure they received your media alert and to ask if they (or someone from their media outlet) will be covering the event. If they are unable to make it, plan to email or fax them a news release immediately following or during the event. Many news outlets may be willing to write a story from a press release if they are unable to send a reporter. If you call a talk show producer, ask about booking your afterschool program director as a guest on a future show to discuss the benefits of afterschool and the harm that would come from budget cutbacks.
Assemble press kits to distribute at your event—enough for all the journalists you expect will come, and then a few extra. The kits can be assembled in plain folders with a label from your afterschool program on the cover or, if you want to be creative, have students decorate the covers and write “press kit” prominently under the drawing. The kits should contain:
They may also contain:
Don’t let the story end on the day of your event. Make copies of any articles or broadcast stories about your Lights On Afterschool event that appear and circulate them to your board of directors, funders, parents, volunteers and policy makers at all levels. Assign people to monitor local TV news shows and tape any stories about your event. Keep those tapes to show at future fundraisers, orientations or meetings.
Stay in contact with reporters who attend your event or produce stories. Contact them in May or June to see if they'd be interested in doing an end-of-the-school-year follow-up on your afterschool program. Or have the students in your program create a thank you card to send the week after Lights On Afterschool in appreciation for a good story. You might even contact the reporter to see if he or she would host a group of kids from your program, so they can see what it's like to work in a newsroom. Maintaining that relationship after the event will help you the next time you are looking for publicity.
The Dallas AfterSchool Network hosted a bus tour of afterschool programs in north and south Dallas for local dignitaries and community leaders, affording them a realistic look at “a day in the afterschool life of a Dallas child.” As a direct result of the bus tour, the local ABC television affiliate committed to doing a weekly segment on afterschool, and Dallas AfterSchool Network, Executive Director Tanya McDonald was able to establish relationships with federal and state representatives and schedule follow-up meetings.