January 1, 2013 Columns

Spreading the Word: How to Use National News

ASHA members—150,000 strong—are doing exceptional work every day. The professions are making a real difference in people's lives. Engaging local media about the work, dedication and expertise that go into your achievements is a great way to spread the word about the professions and advocate for people with communication disorders. Leveraging national news is one powerful way to do that.

Have you ever watched a big story on the network news or read about something online that made you think of a similar scenario, issue, story or individual where you live? If so, you're not alone. And it may be time to start "thinking local" to optimize public relations opportunities related to your work in connection with national news.

Here are four ways to engage your local media:

Know whom to pitch

  • Research the media in your city or town. Visit newspaper, television and radio websites to familiarize yourself with journalists covering your areas of expertise (health, education). Also, check the outlets' staff lists (often found under the "About" or "Contact" tabs) to find individuals' beats and e-mail addresses.
  • Follow their blogs and follow them on Twitter for more insight.

Pitch via e-mail and get to the point

  • Use an attention-getting headline in the subject line of your e-mail pitch, and peak to local relevancy (for example, the local incidence rates for autism for a news story about the spike in the national rate).
  • Personalize your pitch ("Mike, I know you cover children's health for the Rockville Courier...").
  • Be direct in the text of your e-mail. Say what you're going to say in the first paragraph and use facts that establish local relevance.
  • Emphasize one compelling point with concrete information about local relevance.
  • Keep your e-mail brief.
  • Do not send attachments. Instead, provide a link to your website (or whatever relevant site/s you're referring to) or describe the information you have available and that you can send it by request.
  • Include contact information and be reachable. Include your mobile phone number-some journalists work outside normal business hours and may need to reach you.
  • Follow up with a phone call within 24 hours, mentioning the e-mail subject to jog the reporter's memory.

Make the story local

Perhaps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases new statistics or study findings showing a dramatic rise in autism spectrum disorders. How can you leverage this national news quickly and effectively?

  • Perhaps you are a professor at a local university and have related research on the topic or an innovative approach or treatment program.
  • Use a real-life example-Perhaps at your clinic, school, or practice, you have a patient or family affected by ASD and can bring a local face and personal touch to the issue (with the family's permission, of course).
  • Provide the journalist with local numbers or data on the topic at hand. You may need to research local county, city or state statistics quickly or track down data for your area.

Become the local expert source 

  • Succinctly list your credentials to show what makes you qualified to comment on or address the topic.
  • Define your place in the community. Name the practice, hospital, university, clinic or other facility you are associated with and the town(s) where you work and live.
  • If you have a blog or Twitter account, contribute to online discussions about the news. Use a hashtag in every Tweet you write! On Twitter, people use a hashtag symbol (#) before a relevant keyword or phrase (no spaces) to categorize Tweets and help them show more easily in Twitter search.
  • Post a comment on your local newspapers' relevant article pages. In your profile, be sure to list your town and credentials.


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