May 11, 2023

How to Become a Media Darling

by Amber Parker
Executive Director, Ijams Nature Center

We love what the media can do FOR our organizations and hate what it can do TO them. For the benefit of your organization, it’s important to know how mainstream media works and how to cultivate relationships with them in order to get the happy news out and handle when things go off the rails. 

Of course, it’s all about relationships. The media is your marketing partner, which means you both have to be willing to give something to the partnership.  Mainstream media, like TV news, newspapers, and online news outlets operate on deadlines. They have a set amount of time or space to fill and need to do it quickly. Often they need fast stories. So, if you are willing to give your time/be available at the drop of a hat to provide good content for that filler, you will quickly become someone upon whom the media will count and will return over and over again. That’s because they know you’re reliably good on camera and provide smart, concise points that benefit their viewers. 

An example: a reporter calls you at 9:45am for a story on fall color that they want to use on the noon and 5pm news. They need to film this content by no later than 10:30am in order to get it into editing. They have a general idea or theme for the story; where to see the best fall color, for instance, but it usually isn’t much more. So, you have to immediately decide if you agree to do this story and prepare for an interview in 30 minutes. 

You want to say no, because you don’t have time. However, because you are media savvy, you know that this is relationship building and it also gives you the chance to get your organization’s message out. Also, because you are media savvy, you have a nice, dark shirt hanging on the back of your office door just for times like this. So, you say yes. Then the strategizing begins, because it’s your job to plan your talking points prior to the reporter’s arrival. If you prep correctly, the news folks get their fall content and you get points in about fall on your trails, fall programs you’re offering, and how to become a member or donate to your organization. 

If you are really good at it, you’ll have your talking points honed down to as few words as possible. The more you talk during an interview, the more content they get, which means they may edit out the most important parts and keep the fluff (this happens more times than not). However, if you stick to a very spare (but upbeat!) message, they don’t have much latitude to edit. So, you get most of your points in. The more you do this, the easier it gets. The better your messaging gets, the more the media wants to work with you. They know you are consistent. They know the interview will always be fast, factual and good. Which means they can be out of there and in the editing room in a heartbeat. Congratulations! You are now a media darling, which means you will be driven nuts with calls for stories, which is awesome for your organization (get some more dark shirts). 

The above goes for any type of media. Be there for them and they may be there for you when things go south — for the time when there’s a story you really don’t want to become a bad story. The media is bound by their conscience to report. They will come calling. This is when you can use your rapport with your media partners to provide a positive direction for the story. If you have a good relationship with a reporter, you can ask to give context off the record so that they understand your perspective.

Having a working relationship with all the professional media outlets in your area allows your organization to share your story. They will follow up on press releases, show up at your ribbon cuttings, promote your programs, and work with you to make sure the community is kept in the loop. They may also help you as you navigate tricky issues. Building those relationships is as important as building relationships with Board members, because reporters are also representing your organization to the community. Consistency regarding availability, messaging, and brand are key to having the media working with you. 

AMBER PARKER is Executive Director of Ijams Nature Center, a 318-acre nonprofit nature center in Knoxville, Tenn. 


Hennebery Eddy

Creative Fundraising Advisors