This month's column is a bit of a departure from our typical "Spreading the Word." Instead of providing tips from ASHA's public relations group on how to generate news coverage, we showcase two ASHA members who have mastered the art of media engagement. Not coincidentally, these two are also ASHA's 2013 Media Outreach Champions.
Like most ASHA members, speech-language pathologists Julie Masterson and Kenn Apel are passionate about their work. This trait makes them ideal media spokespeople. Both had a crash course on media in 2001, when the first edition of their book, "Beyond Baby Talk," was published. The ASHA-sponsored guide to language and literacy development was intended for parents and caregivers, so generating publicity through consumer media was a must for the book to become successful.
To support the book's release, ASHA organized a large-scale media campaign that included booking the authors for news interviews around the country. Many of these were live spots, mostly through radio. Both Masterson and Apel rose to the occasion. Their natural enthusiasm for and confidence in speaking about early speech and language development were critical to the success of these interviews. Their comfort level was bolstered by adequate preparation—knowing what they wanted to say ("key messages") and anticipating questions.
But a lot can change over the course of a decade. Despite their past experience, when the updated 2012 version of the book was published, Masterson and Apel faced many of the same unknowns as those who have never worked with media. In the intervening years, a digital media revolution produced a vastly different media landscape. So-called mommy (and daddy) bloggers, Facebook, and other social media had become just as important as the "traditional" media Masterson and Apel were accustomed to. There was a lot more to navigate.
Though it was new territory, both authors thoroughly enjoyed speaking with this new crop of media. Many of the same principles hold true whether you are talking to a newspaper reporter or a blogger ("Know who your audience is and keep your answers short and to the point," Apel advises), but "new" media offer a different dynamic. A blogger's questions may come from a more personal place—Masterson recalls an interview with a mommy blogger who brought much of her own parenting stress to their conversation. Online chats that connect an expert with readers provide the opportunity for more direct feedback without the filter of a reporter. And the ground rules can be different—one's personal opinion is fully appropriate in a blog, but taboo in a news article. All of this makes the mix of working with both new and traditional media exciting, but potentially daunting.
Apel knows that many of his peers may have mixed feelings about becoming involved in media work. "To be honest, it can be nerve-wracking to do a live interview," he says. "For me, radio is especially tough because I can't see the person I'm talking to and I don't get the feedback I'd like to receive. Still, I like doing it because I like talking about language. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks."
These benefits include individual ones (in this case, improving sales of "Beyond Baby Talk") as well as larger benefits to the profession and the public.
"To me, if someone reads an article or hears a story and learns something, then it is worth it," Apel says of media work. Given this, he would "absolutely" recommend his fellow ASHA members jump on the opportunity to get involved in media efforts.
Masterson pointed to improved awareness about the fields as another key benefit.
"Think about it," she says. "Here you have this awesome platform [the media] that will allow people to learn about our profession. People inevitably say, ‘I'm so surprised, I didn't realize speech-language pathologists did this.' Here is an opportunity to change that."
For more information on how to get involved in media opportunities through ASHA, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.