Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Hungry for MEDIA Attention

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Hungry for MEDIA Attention

Article excerpt

Making your agency's message public takes creativity and control.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources (MoDNR) never thought that sending out a routine press release on a simple community program would get them featured on the local news. But their promotion of gun safety by giving away gun locks landed them a prime spot with the nightly news on Springfield, Mo.'s KY-3 TV.

At first glance, this press release was on the low to average end of newsworthiness. However, in the previous year the viewing area had seen three separate incidents involving a child accidentally killed by another child who discharged a firearm. Because the child deaths occurred due to improperly stored firearms, the newsworthiness of the press release increased dramatically.

In this case, the MoDNR program had a significant connection to the viewing area. Coverage of the program was not just a video clip of park rangers handing out gun locks but an illustration of the critical role park and recreation agencies play in communities.

This is just one example of how a news release turned into valuable coverage of a park program. Being able to pitch a story to news media takes only a little patience and appropriate execution.

The Media

Although the park and recreation profession recognizes the benefits of public park and recreation services, recreation professionals must realize that sometimes the media doesn't understand. Unfortunately, park and recreation professionals often do not effectively interact with local media to successfully gain positive publicity for their agencies' image, programs and special events.

The first step in securing positive media coverage for an agency is to establish relationships with media personnel. Taking time to invest in these relationships is critical to the success of any publicity plan. This can provide free coverage for programs and events, opportunities to communicate and document the benefits of parks and recreation to the public and to other stakeholders, fair and unbiased coverage during crises (such as recreationrelated injuries and deaths), and access to residents who do not currently use your agency's services.

It is important not to hound employees for free coverage when establishing and maintaining relationships with media personnel. It is even more important to visibly show your appreciation for any coverage that you do receive. When requesting free media coverage, be selective. Don't call or send releases on every event. In addition, park and recreation professionals should follow up the submission of a high-quality press release with a phone call to the assignment editor to confirm that the press release was received, and to demonstrate a willingness to provide whatever other information or details that the assignment editor may need.

Clatsop County Parks in Oregon recently had its revised master plan featured as the top story on the front page of The Daily Astorian in Astoria, Ore. Park representative Steve Meshke says getting media coverage just takes persistence. "In addition to our master plan, we recently were given a number of grants. As projects like that progress, we tend to keep the media informed and often they'll follow the story," he says.

Being media savvy means remaining confident, conversational and welcoming when approached by media organizations, regardless of the circumstances. Park and recreation representatives should take advantage of opportunities to introduce themselves at public events. If a park and recreation agency puts a staff member who speaks well on camera, a news station will be more likely to run that clip. When addressing the media, it is important to avoid using generic answers, which could result in a lost chance to receive media coverage.

Remember that first impressions are critical and mending fences is very difficult in the fast-moving world of media. When you call to establish a relationship with a news organization, you are requesting coverage. …

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