Convinced of the amazing value of free PR for your rescue group or shelter? Ready to see the power that free PR has to increase adoption rates? If you’re a believer and you’re ready to run out and get that free PR, use the following "media cheat sheet" to help get you off on the right foot.

What happens when a reporter contacts you for comment on a national media story involving the animal welfare community? Or regarding a press release you distributed? Are there rules of thumb for dealing with reporters? Here are a few “do’s” and “don’ts” which will help you make the most of your valuable relationships with the local media.

Media Tips “At a Glance:”

• Know what you want to communicate; think about your key points.

• Gather any important facts, figures, information ahead of time.

• Decide who will be interviewed.

• Think about how you want to answer the difficult questions.

• Do your homework. Know the reporter and know what they are writing about
• Be thinking about any visuals you want included. Do you have photos, graphics or your logo handy? Offer these to the reporter if appropriate.

• Know the length of the interview in advance. It is fine to ask how much time the reporter is thinking of so you can be focused and not rushed.

Types of Media Realtions

There are three basic types of media relations: proactive, reactive and crisis. Knowing the difference can mean taking your organization from "media novice" to "media Jedi Knight" and increase adoptions in the process!

• Proactive – This would include doing a press release, or it could be sending the local papers a photo with a cut line that you hope will end up in a future issue.

• Reactive – In this case, a reporter calls upon you as an expert or industry representative for an interview or quote. An example of this might be a reporter looking for quotes for a story on a local puppy mill. Make sure all members of your organization know who to refer a reporter to if they contact your group for a comment. Reporters are busy. You need to be ready to respond FAST when they call, or risk missing out on a great free PR opportunity.

• Crisis – Everyone’s least favorite type of media interaction, crisis media relations is something every group should be prepared to deal with. Everyone involved with your group needs to understand who in your organization will interact with the media in the event of a crisis. You need a plan.
So who is your media representative? Is it the President of the rescue group? The President of the Board of Directors? The Shelter Director? Whoever it is, this person will coordinate communication with the media and with organization members to minimize confusion and get a clear, concise message out to the public.

Proactive Media Tips

There are ways to make reporters love you and ways to make them dread your call. Here are a few tips to ensure that you appear media savvy and win friends in the local press.

• Don't call to see if they got your press release; journalists hate this.

• If they call you…

        o Be prepared. Know what key points you want to get across. Practice
          your pitch so it seems natural and spontaneous.

        o Give them a story, not an advertisement. Why should they care? What
          great story are you providing that their readers would be interested
          in? See "How to write and effective press release"

• Ask how the interview fits with the overall story; tailor your comments to be relevant to the angle the reporter is taking.

• If they call you and reach your voicemail…

        o Follow up immediately; reporters work on very tight deadlines. Treat
          it like a call to Batman’s “bat phone.” This is a red hot top
          priority to get some free PR for your animals.

        o Know that they may be working on a deadline, delaying a return call.

If you reach their voicemail it’s fine to pitch your story, but keep your message short, concise and make sure you include your phone number.

Reactive and Crisis Interview Tips

• If your organization needs to respond to a crisis (a fire or natural disaster, some negative PR) by doing an interview with a reporter, make sure you have the right people present. Your pre-designated media representative (Rescue president, President of the Board of Directors, Shelter Director etc) need to be there so that the topic will be covered accurately and well.

• Reporters are usually willing to share in advance what they know about the story. Ask them what facts they are working with.

• Journalists want to learn from you and report accurately; relax.

• Speak clearly and concisely; use language that will be understood. Avoid acronyms and other “insider” talk that a reporter might not know.

• Keep answers focused. Catch yourself if you start to ramble and get back on point.

• Tell the truth and correct any misinformation. It is not uncommon that a reporter might have inaccurate information. Listen carefully.

• Avoid discussing hypothetical situations.

• Avoid negative phrases; approach answers from a positive point of view. Look for the positive side of any negative situation and be ready to communicate that. This could be volunteer and community response to a natural disaster that impacted your rescue group of shelter.

• If you don’t know the answer, simply say so or offer to find out and follow up.

• Explain how you would like to be identified; title, building/program name etc.

• Let the reporter know who to follow up with if they have more questions. Give them direct dial or cell numbers. Reporters don’t have time to chase peopledown for clarification.

It’s All About The Dogs

While the idea of raising your group’s profile by getting free media attention may have some of you stepping out of your comfort zone remember, it’s all about the dogs. Looked at in this way it certainly seems worth the effort.