Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Dig deeper when you know the story is close #schoolPR #mediarelations

Where did May go?! Another school year is coming to a close. I've been in school PR for 13 years now (lucky 13!) and as does most Mays in education, the month just goes. Quickly. We had some challenges and some great bright spots. One such bright spot came in the middle of the month and brought with it an important media relations lesson: If you know a story worth telling is buried in obscure information, dig deeper and find your pitch.

The Inquiry

The email was simple. I received a quick message from one of our American Sign Language (ASL) teachers that read as follows:
"Our ASL classes are having Deaf visitors on campus to speak with the students. I was wanting to contact the new stations and see if they would be interested in doing a story about our involvement with the Deaf community. I understand I’m to run this by you first. Is there anything specific for me to do on my end? I was planning to send out an email today."
First off, I was happy the teacher contacted me before attempting to email media outlets. That tells me the media relations procedures are being followed. That aside, this sounded like the beginning of human interest story. Maybe.

Wanted: Context and Details

There wasn't yet enough to make it newsworthy. The teacher had not shared the basics like when, where, and why to go along with a brief who and what. Without relevant details, a story stalls. The bit of info that stood out to me was the teacher's use of the phrase "speak with the students" along with sign language students. I completely admitted my ignorance to the teacher about ASL and the deaf community. So the teacher and I spent a few back-and-forth emails to get to the all important why to go along with the what. We also established the best times for photos/video as well as possible student and staff interviews. By digging deeper, our pitch was definitely starting to take shape.

The Pitch

After working with the teacher, we came up with what turned out to be a pretty solid media pitch:
Mansfield ISD American Sign Language students listen with their eyes and speak with their handsDeaf community visitors join ASL students in showcase of sign language learning and experiences Friday, May 23 
WHAT: Several members of the deaf community will visit the Ben Barber Career and Technology Academy in order to interact with American Sign Language students of various levels. This will give new and seasoned signers an opportunity to use their signing skills in a deaf-friendly environment. The students will showcase art work that contains aspects familiar to the deaf experience as well as give literary performances. 
WHY: The Mansfield ISD ASL program provides sign language learning opportunities for over 160 students. Members of the deaf community were invited to participate and share in a learning opportunity for students. 
VISUALS: All ASL teachers and students will be available for media interviews along with the visitors at any time during or between classes.
(We also included the visitors names and titles, location of the campus, and best time for interviews.)

The Coverage

Thankfully, the event took place on a Friday and thus helped since this was going to be a softer news pitch. Here's the story: Mansfield Students Learn What It's Like to be Deaf

Photo credit: holy via Flickr Creative Commons