At CLAPA we work hard to raise awareness of cleft lip and palate and the work we do amongst the general public, but as a small charity we rely heavily on the hard work of our fundraisers and volunteers to spread the word. While we can give media outlets solid facts and figures to help build up a story, the real life experiences of our supporters will always be more interesting and inspiring to readers, listeners and viewers who are unfamiliar with cleft lip and palate.
Many of our supporters have been featured in ‘real life’ sections of national and local magazines and newspapers telling the story of how they grew up with a cleft or what happened when they found out their child would be born with one. These are fantastic for CLAPA and cleft awareness, as they allow people to connect with our cause on a human level and give people with a cleft some visibility.
Remember – whatever your experience with cleft, you are an expert on your own story!
So, you have a story to tell – how do you go about getting the media interested? Here are our six steps to getting your story published.
1. Think about your unique message
People are busier than ever, and will quickly lose interest in a piece of writing if it doesn’t grab their attention. You have to think about what unique perspective you have that will hook other people and get them to read your whole story. To do this, you have to know exactly what it is you’re trying to get across.
Think about why sharing this story is important to you. Is it because you want to raise awareness of cleft lip and palate? If so, why is that important to you? It could be any number of reasons, and these can help you to refine your message.
- Maybe you were shocked and scared when you received a diagnosis because you didn’t know about the condition, so you could be raising awareness to make sure other mums don’t have to go through the same thing.
- Maybe you or your child has encountered prejudice or ignorance from other people about the way they look or sound, so you’d like to raise awareness of cleft to help dispel myths and fight the stigma.
- If you have a cleft yourself and have a child with a cleft, maybe you’d like to look at how things have changed and offer a positive spin on the improvement of the support and care that children born with a cleft can expect these days.
- As one of our fundraisers said, seeing his infant son go through so many surgeries and other procedures inspired him to do something just as difficult, so he completed the Tough Guy Challenge to win a medal for his own little tough guy. If you’re writing about a fundraising event, give it a human angle that isn’t just about the money you’d like to raise.
Whatever your story, make sure it has a hook, as this will help journalists to craft an article around it.
2. Get it on the page
Write a press release or media advisory about the story you’d like to tell. There are many different templates online depending on the kind of story you’re writing, or you can use the one found in our press pack linked at the bottom of the page.
Keep it short and simple (no more than two A4 pages or around 500 words), and make sure your opening paragraph is strong. Remember, journalists can get hundreds of these every week so it’s important that yours grabs their attention. To make it easier to read, try double-spacing the lines and make sure it’s in a simple font.
Always include dates (including the date you’re sending the press release) and contact information in the press release itself.
If you’re including facts and figures, make sure they’re interesting by explaining how this relates to your personal story. Be imaginative!
Be sure to include photos if possible, but only if you have permission to use them. If they are group photos, note the names of everyone in the photo from left to right and their roles/relationships. You should also include quotes from a named person in your press release, even if this quote is from you.
Get someone else to proof-read your press release and, with their help, make sure it answers the five Ws: Who, What, When, Where and Why?
When writing fundraising stories, there’s also another key question you need to answer – how? How can people help you or get involved themselves? Make it as easy as possible for them to support you. Text codes (which can be set up with Just Giving) are a great way to do this.
3. Send it out
The websites of local and national newspapers/magazines and other media such as radio or television will have information about how to send them a story or press release. These aren’t the only way to get your message out there, though, there’s also online media like blogs and magazines which may want to cover your story.
When researching who to send it to, try approaching journalists who have covered similar stories or events, even if they’re not cleft-related. You can usually find their email address in the byline of any stories they’ve written. Pay special attention to local newspapers, as they are usually very receptive to stories about local issues or events, and it’ll be easier to get through to them than with larger national papers.
If your event is happening soon (i.e. less than two weeks), check you aren’t too late for their deadlines. Journalists may be able to work fast, but advance warning is still important!
When sending your press release, email it to the news desk or directly to the journalist, and copy/paste the release into the body of your message. If you just send it as an attachment, journalists are less likely to read it and it may also be caught by their junk mail filter.
Keep a record of who you’ve sent it to and who they work for so you can chase these up later.
4. Follow up
If you haven’t received the kind of response you were hoping for, don’t be put off. Follow up your press release with a phone call or email, as yours may have just got lost or slipped their mind. Phone calls are best, as this will often get you better results than talking by email. Before you begin your conversation, ask them if it’s a good time to talk. They may be trying to get something else finished first and will appreciate you offering to call at a better time.
Ask them if they received your press release and if they would be interested in doing anything further. Be prepared to give more information straight away if they ask for it. They may reject your idea, in which case thank them anyway and don’t push the reporter to change their mind. You want a reporter to be enthusiastic about your story, so don’t settle for less!
5. Help craft the story
Be on-call to help the reporter out with photos, quotes or any more information they may need to finish the story. Feel free to direct them to CLAPA for more information, or send them the ‘Notes for Editors’ document linked below.
Always be prompt and thorough in your responses so they can write the best possible piece.
6. Tell the World!
So you’re going to have your story published or told on the radio – give yourself a pat on the back! Make sure to spread this around your social networks, send it to other relevant blogs and publications in case they’d like to do something similar, and of course make sure to tell us about it. We love to collect articles and broadcasts about our supporters, and we’d be happy to share it around our networks too.