1 COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT FOREST LAKE AREA SCHOOLS COVERING IMPORTANT STORIES IN THE DISTRICT A major role of the communications department is helping publicize the great news and events happening in our district. But to do that effectively, much cooperation is needed from the people directly involved in the activity. The communications coordinator can t possibly be at every event or cover every news item firsthand. Most stories that the department generates are the result of information provided to the communications coordinator by those who are directly involved. Do not underestimate the value of good communications, particularly to the news media. Effective public relations is about engaging the community and garnering their support, which plays a huge role in everything we do, including fundraising, our overall budget and the district s overall priorities. Effectively promoting your program benefits you, your students, your program, your school and the district as a whole. That fact is, when our kids or staff do great work, they deserve the credit for their hard work. When stories run about the great things our kids and staff are doing, it encourages other kids and other staff to also excel. When stories run about the great thing our kids and staff are doing, our parents and the public become more engaged. And when stories run about the great things our kids and staff are doing, it creates a sense of pride in our schools and in the community. It s a win-win-win for everybody involved. An important part of the being in a leadership role in the district whether as an administrator, coach or advisor of an activity is to be the point person responsible for providing information to the communications department. Sometimes it seems like a lot of work, but it is important. Remember, nothing we do in our schools is self-evident. If we re not promoting the great things we do, people simply won t be aware of them. Not all communications involve the distribution of a news release, though many do. The communications department distributes information via media advisories, s directly to stakeholders, stories in newsletters, items in brochures, advertisements and many other ways as well. Don t automatically assume that a news release is needed or warranted for every situation, or that it is even necessarily the best way to get the word out.
2 Promoting events If you have an event that you re planning and you want to promote it, the best way is to or call the communications department and ask for assistance. News releases are usually not the best way to announce an upcoming event, unless it is a major district-wide event. Normally, events are best promoted via media advisories, fliers, district and school websites, paid advertising and through direct s. If you have an upcoming event that you are planning and you want the assistance of the communications department, the best way is to or call the communications coordinator and he/she can help you work out the best ways to communicate and promote your event. Feature Stories Feature stories are usually human interest type stories. They can be run by a newspaper or broadcast news stations, or appear in a district newsletter or other type of publication. Timeliness is less of a factor in feature stories than in news stories (and news releases), but it can still be a factor. They can be about any person or any topic of particular interest to the reader. If the nature of a story is more of a feature story, it will most likely not be run as a news release. Instead, it s a story that would most likely be pitched to a local newspaper or television reporter or editor. Also, it could be distributed as an article in the district newsletter, or a story that could run somewhere on a school website. News Releases News releases, or a similar types of news stories, are best suited for district-wide or major events, awards, achievements, noteworthy news, etc. Whether a news release is distributed for a given subject depends largely on a numbers of factors, including its newsworthiness, district-wide significance, timeliness and what other things are going on at the time. News releases are usually issued: When one of our students, teachers, coaches, schools, athletic teams or activity organizations receive some type of state or national award or recognition; When the district has a major announcement to make, or when something particularly newsworthy is occurring; When an athletic team or activity organization makes an appearance at the state tournament, or places very highly in a sectional competition; When a student, teacher or coach reaches a particular career milestone or is part of a particularly interesting activity. Examples of news releases are available on the district website. It may be a good idea to read one or two of them to get an idea of how they are written and the information contained because the information provided in a news release is basically the same type of information needed for any type of communication or promotion. Information needed for all types of communications to the media and the public You can use the following as a checklist for information included in any type communication about a person, organization or event. 1) Just submit the necessary information, and the communications department will determine the best avenue to distribute the information and format it accordingly; or 2) if you want, go ahead and actually take a shot at writing a story about the person, people or event. But either way, it s important to send it to the communications office before anybody contacts media. And please make sure you include the information requested below. The last page is a checklist for your convenience.
3 Timeliness One very important factor in a any type of communication or promotion is timing. It s important that you get information to the communications department as quickly as possible. Even if the event is a month away, don t wait until the day before, day of, or day after. At the very least, give the communications department a heads-up that something will be coming up. Waiting until after the event is over is usually bad. It takes time to create and edit a full story or news release, and sometimes the communications department needs to make follow-up phone calls if the information provided is incomplete. Also, the media has deadlines. They d rather not run a story that s a week or two old, because by then it s no longer news. So the quicker the information gets to the media, the better chance it has of actually running. Finally, make sure when you submit the information that you list a contact person that the communications department can call if they need follow-up information. Give the name of the person and a phone number (preferably cell phone, since sometimes information needs to be gathered very quickly). One way to get an idea of what we re looking for is to take a look at news releases that have been issued by the district office. Format For news releases or feature stories should be written as much like an actual newspaper article as possible. For these types of stories, or for any type of formal communication going out to the media or the pubic, it should contain the six main elements of any newspaper story. They are called, in journalism, the Five Ws and an H: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and sometimes How? Who: The who is who the story is about? That could be a single person or group of people. The who should include, obviously, the full name of the person (first and last), where are they from (hometown or school) and age. For students, always find out what year in school they are. For staff and teachers, always include their official job title. Make sure that when referring to groups, always list the complete, official name of the group. And, in the case of an award, the who is not only the person or persons receiving the award, but who is giving it out. Make sure that that is included. If there is a national association, that complete, official name needs to be listed. If it s a sporting event, the who isn t only the local team that (hopefully) won, but the team or teams they competed against. What school, what s their team nickname, what s their win-loss record, what conference/region/district are they from. What: The what is what is the news release about. Make sure you include the complete, official name of the event or award. If it s a sporting event, for example, make sure you include region, district or conference. Also, give some background on the event. If it s the 10 th annual something-or-other, say that. Where: The where is where the event, award presentation or other activity is taking place, or has taken place. Be specific. If it s held at a hotel, name the hotel and the city, and even the name of the room if possible. When: The when can be when the event is taking place, or when an announcement was made,, etc. Just saying last week or last month, or recently or, worse yet not saying at all, isn t really good enough. A specific date is needed. This is an area many people tend to forget. If Jim Johnson was named Minnesota Teacher of the Year by Education Minnesota, you need to include when EM announced this. If there is an awards ceremony, you need to include when, and of course where, that ceremony will take place. If the FLAS
4 girls tennis team won the regional championship, you need to include when the last match took place, what the score was, etc. Also, in the case of an event that can lead to a higher-level event, make sure you find out when the next event is. So if the tennis team wins regions, and is now advancing to state, find out when the state tournament starts and who they play there. If an FFA winner wins a state Voice of Democracy competition, and they re going to go on to compete at nationals, find out when nationals is (and of course, where). Why: The why is, why did this happen, or why should I, as a reader, care about this? This is important. If somebody won an award, you should include the criteria that the organization uses to pick recipients. If a tennis player wins a state title, include information as to who they beat in some of the latter rounds. How: The how gets into the more descriptive elements of things that happened at the event. This part isn t always necessary, but it helps. If 2,000 were people gathered at an awards ceremony on a sunny May afternoon, maybe include that information. It tends to make the release more interesting, but isn t always an absolute requirement. Other Add-Ons Quote: It s always nice to include a quote from the person receiving an award, or from their teacher, principal, coach or someone in authority who can speak to the importance or significance of the award. Photo: Newspapers frequently ask for photos of the people involved. It s much easier just to send them a photo instead of waiting for them to ask for it. Also, a photo from the actual event or ceremony is even better. One good reason, among many, to let the communications department know far enough in advance about an upcoming event or news item is so they can try to make sure that someone is available. But anyone attending the event can take a photo and send it to communications. Also, while pose-and-smile photos are okay, candid shots are ALWAYS better. A photo of someone on stage accepting an award or of an athlete actually in action is much preferred, ALWAYS. Finally, always send a photo that is in its original format (such as a jpg, gif, tiff, or other photo format). Do not send photos that were copied and pasted onto a Word document, or photos that are included in other types of documents such as pdfs. They re just not functional this way.
5 EVENT PROMOTION, FEATURE STORY OR NEWS RELEASE CHECKLIST Timeliness Give heads up to communications office immediately when finding out about something coming up. Start gathering information ahead of time about the people and event, if possible. If it s a news release, will it be ready to send to the media immediately after the event takes place? Format: Who: Did I include full names of the people involved? Did I include what school or building they are from? Did I include ages, job titles, hometown, year in school? Did I include the full, official names of organizations? Did I make sure there are no acronyms without at least one spelled-out reference? Did I provide the name and cell phone number of the main contact person for this? What: Did I include complete, official name of the event, award, etc.? Did I include background information on the event, award, etc.? When did it first start? What s it purpose? Did I include background information on the people involved? Did this person win this award before, or were they nominated before? Did anyone from your school, or from Forest Lake, ever win this award before? What s the GPA of the student winning this scholarship? What college does he/she plan to attend? What activities are they involved in? What other information do I have that presents these people as real people, and not just as names on a list? Where: Did I include information on exactly where the event took place, or will take place? Again, be specific.
6 When: Did I include information on exactly when the event took place, or will take place? If it already happened, the specific date. If it s an upcoming event, specific date and time. If a team or person won a local or state event, and will be advancing to the next level (state or nationals, did I include when that next event will be (and where, and who they will be competing against)? Why: How: Did I include information on exactly why the event took place, or will take place? Is there something in the release indicating why an editor, reporter or their readers, should care about what I m announcing or writing about? Did I describe at all how the event took place, any interesting details about it? Other Items: Quote: Did I include a quote from one of the principal people involved? Photo: Did I include a headshot photo of the person or group involved? Do I have an action photo from the actual event itself? Can I, or someone involved in the event, take a few shots at an upcoming event? Is the photo in the right format (jpg, gif, tiff, etc.)