Mastering the Art of Media Success for Your School: Establishing Press Connections to Boost School Coverage

A radio or podcast interview conducted between a young man and woman

In Part 2 of this three-part-series on media success for independent schools, I dive deeper into how you can build effective relationships with reporters and producers so you can get the media coverage your school deserves.

Do Your Research and Build Relationships

Relationships are at the heart of your independent school’s program and often drive positive press coverage. It takes time and effort, but getting to know your local print and broadcast reporters does make a difference in getting your stories placed.

This post is a primer on strategies for getting better press for your school. The previous post delved into understanding which stories resonate with the media. In this installment, we’ll explore effective approaches to building relationships with reporters and producers.

This is an investment of your time and effort, but the payoff is well worth it. Adding this task to your marketing strategy is key. Stay organized in your efforts. Create a spreadsheet with the information. Include columns to keep track of what stories you pitch and what responses you get.

Find the staff listing for your local paper(s) and search for the education, sports, and lifestyle editors and reporters. For broadcast media, visit each news station’s website to find a staff listing or search for recent stories about education and human interest and see who the reporter was.

Once you have your list, send a short email introducing yourself and the school and ask how they want to be contacted (phone, text or email), and what kinds of stories they are most interested in writing. You don’t need to send a press release with your first communication. 

I know a reporter who loves to write education stories about students, faculty and staff who solve problems and address issues. She calls herself a “solutions-oriented reporter.” Now that I know that, I can better craft my pitch to her.

How to Communicate with the Press

Each reporter will have a different answer to how they want to be contacted. I don’t usually call reporters because most don’t like to get blind calls. I use email, but different reporters will have different preferences. It makes it challenging to figure out what journalists want, but experience—and trial and error—will hone your list. 

Don’t overlook radio stations and podcasts. If radio programs and podcasts, especially local ones, have guests, do your research and pitch a few of your faculty or school leaders as guests. Perhaps one of your most accomplished alumni would make a great guest. 

Radio can be a great place for school performances, too. Many radio stations have school groups come and sing on air during the holidays. It’s a wonderful way to get your school’s name out there—usually during the morning drive time. 

In your email, connect your school’s thought leaders and faculty experts to the reporter or producer. The media is always looking for experts on various topics. For example, if an education reporter just wrote an article on “the science of reading” and the buzz around research-backed reading instruction, send an email offering your lower school’s reading specialists for future interviews.  

Before sharing the names and contact info with any faculty experts, talk with your school’s division heads to review a list of possibilities and check in with the faculty member. Some people are more adept at interviews than others, so it’s important to know who among your faculty will be good interviewees. 

A few tips on getting school leader buy-in:

  • Explain why press coverage is important for the school and how it helps to highlight the impressiveness of your faculty and leaders.
  • Get their interest and permission to share their contact information with the press.  
  • Share the draft of the email with them before sending anything to the media.
  • Conduct media training and practice some interview questions.

Check out the University of Houston’s good Media Tips for Faculty.

Matching Your School to the Media’s Interests

Your school has hundreds of stories. The art and science of getting press coverage is connecting what is happening at your school with what is happening now in the press.

Pay attention to the news cycle and what local, national and international issues are being covered. Where can your school thought leaders (administrators, faculty/staff, alumni and board members) connect with those issues? 

In your email, reference the issue, and better yet, connect your email to a recent news story that the reporter, publication or station covered. Explain how your school’s leader connects with the issue and provide a brief bio and link to any video you might have of that person talking on camera. (TV likes to see that someone is comfortable on camera and is good with sound bites.)

Be sure to provide your contact information, including your cell number, for any follow-up. And be sure to follow up in a week or two if you don’t hear back. Reporters field hundreds of pitches and emails daily. Keep paying attention to what news is shared and make a monthly habit of connecting your school’s experts and unique stories with reporters. Remember to track it all on your spreadsheet.

Once you land the interview, prep your interviewee with a “cheat sheet” (brief talking points) of the issue to be discussed and some quick info about your school: elevator pitch and how your school is addressing the issue/topic.  

When you get coverage, thank the reporter or producer with an email. Share the link widely and tag the media outlet and the reporter. This is all part of the relationship building and is important for your next pitch.

In my next post, I will cover the art and science of press releases and media alerts. 

Missed Part 1 of our three-part series on “Mastering the Art of Media Success for Your School?” Find it here.

Keep it going. Find Part 3 of our series here.

Kalix Marketing Group can help your school get the buzz it deserves. Let’s start the conversation here.

President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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