By Walter Boomsma,
It’s time for another “potpourri” of communications tips and information! I’m tempted to begin by saying, “The people of Maine are interested in us! Are we available?”
One of the calls I received this month was from a reporter frantically trying to reach a local Grange so he could take photographs for a story he was working on. We actually ended up on the phone for some time as he had many general questions about the Grange and clearly was interested in making some additional contacts.
Another call was from a radio show host. He wanted to record an interview for his show and when I asked “When?” his reply was “Right now!” Fortunately, my schedule permitted it and we had a nice visit. He asked some hard questions—he’d done his research on the Maine State Grange website and conducted a well-prepared interview.
Both of these incidents demonstrate several important truths. The first is that media opportunities are often spontaneous and fleeting. Very often we only get one chance to respond. A local reporter I work with emailed me asking for a “sound bite” regarding some local Grange news. Since I was traveling on vacation, I didn’t answer until late the next day. He thanked me for the reply but said he’d already finished and submitted the story in order to make a deadline. The good news is he’s planning a follow-up story so there will be another chance. The news business is fast-paced. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up!
A second truth is that information must be readily available for media representatives. Most often we are not the victims of “investigative reporting” that includes hard-driving questions. We usually get “softball questions”—questions that are intentionally easy to answer. In the Media Relations Workshop I teach, we brainstorm what sort of questions we might anticipate from a reporter covering a story. When a newsworthy event is planned, it can make sense to have a “press kit” available. (You can find examples in the Communications Handbook—available for downloading from the MSG website.)
But having information available can be even more basic than that. One reason I nag people to include a name and phone number when submitting events is the website often gets scanned by the media. If an event catches a reporter’s eye, he or she will want a straight-forward way to get more information. Make it easy!
If you do receive a media inquiry, please consider referring the reporter to me for additional information, particularly if he or she is interested in general background information or the story is not specific to a local Grange. It is discouraging to get a call from a reporter who is having difficulty getting someone to return his call or she has spent a lot of time trying to figure out who to contact. While I am obviously a volunteer and not working full-time for the Grange, I do try to answer email and return phone calls promptly. More importantly, I can “speak the language of the press” and often make the reporter’s job easier—I believe that’s an important aspect of my role as communications director. Rest assured, if the reporter is interested in your Grange or your Grange event, you will get the referral.
Turning to internal communication, I recently received a question regarding the proper communication to use at “open” meetings. This was actually addressed by National Grange in the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. It’s called an “Alternative Guide to Opening and Closing.” Since most Granges are using the older hardcover manuals and do not have access to it, I’ve developed a short guide to what we’ve come to call “open meetings.” It is available for download from the website on the Program Books and Information Page in the Communications section. Those without computer access may certainly request a copy be snail-mailed. The primary difference is the omission of “taking up the word.”
And, at the risk of blatant self-promotion, it was particularly rewarding to learn recently that at least one lecturer has created a series of programs based on the “Exploring Traditions” column! I enjoy hearing that the information and resources I provide are useful. Keep those cards and letters coming in!
“Let’s make some news, take some photos of it, and share it!”