Guest Post–From the Trenches: Jen Stoll on Media Lessons Learned

For five years I have worked for the Postpartum Resource Center of Kansas, a nonprofit that serves women and families who experience Perinatal Mood Disorders, like Postpartum Depression. Until May, I have been more than happy to turn interviews with media over to someone else. In the past several months, I had begun to recognize that this actually impacted my own credibility when talking with clients and professionals. They did not identify me as a face of the organization. So, when the opportunity to appear on KSHB-41’s (Kansas City’s NBC affiliate) midday news show came about, I took it. My primary job was to promote a fundraiser, which was two days after the interview (ML note: another benefit of fundraising events=extra exposure; this was their ‘hook’!).

Thankfully, Melinda (who has a LOT of experience with media) did a dry run with me, focusing my attention on the critical points I needed to make (ML–Thank you. It was a ton of fun, really.):
1. PPD affects at least 1 in 7 women and 1 in 10 men (about 8,700 in PRC’s catchment area);
2. Calling PRC means getting the best help available; and
3. We need everyone’s help to combat PPD. Come to the walk!

It was imperative to have someone experienced with media run me through best-case and worst-case scenarios. She was able to give me helpful hints—like mention that the station will post a link to our website, if they fail to mention it. Additionally, I was put at ease because, as she said, during a live interview, the journalist does not want to look like a jerk. If it were pre-recorded, they could edit out anything that made him/her look bad.

This interview was successful, in that at least 2 families came to the walk as a result. Also, we did a good job of letting people know how prevalent PPD is and that PRC is here to help (we also gained clients, as a result).

Upon my arrival to the station, I learned that Brett Anthony (the weather guy) was filling in for Christa Dubill, who was sick that day. Christa & I had communicated through the producer about what the interview would entail. So, I was a bit unsure of this change. Nonetheless, Brett was very kind and seemed to know a lot about PRC and my experience, as we talked before the interview (ML note: sometimes these ‘fill-ins’ will do even more background research than the regulars, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing to get a substitute!). He asked what I wanted to highlight during the interview, and I reiterated the three points. I now wish I had come with a list of questions prepared for him. This would have allowed me to better prepare answers that highlighted PRC rather than my own experience (ML note: good point–works the same way with legislators for committee hearings!).

Also, next time, I will ask the producer what to expect when I arrive at the station. Truly, she was very busy and rushed through our conversations. But I was thrown by the disorganization that I—and other guests—experienced when we arrived. I wished I had pressed her to tell me step-by-step what would occur.

Finally, the follow-up piece on their website was pathetic. It was completely plagiarized from our website, and referred to “symptoms at the top of the page” that weren’t there. Also, it was written in first person—a tactic we use on our website to identify with clients—definitely not meeting the standards of journalism. It did, however, link to the walk registration and, for that, I am grateful.

These are the things I learned from my first interview experience:
1. Anticipate chaos. They are focused on making the show a success, not on hosting guests (ML note: yes, and so much for these shows has to happen at the last minute).
2. Take note cards. Despite the fact that I remembered my three points, having something to do, in the midst of all the chaos, would have put me more at ease.
3. Prepare a list of questions and bring them with you, even if you have emailed them to the producer. You will be more in control of the order of the interview, which may be helpful. They will probably use your questions, because they want as little work to do as possible.
4. Write the follow-up piece for the website, yourself. Email it to the producer and bring a copy to the station. At the very least, you will be able to send the message you want to their audience, at this particular time. (Controlling the messages about your agency and issue is always a good thing.)
5. Send a “thank you.” I learned this in a class, I know. But a few weeks ago, PRC’s public relations volunteer said she had mailed cookies to the station, along with a thank you note. Hello! I hadn’t even sent a note, at that time. Despite the fact I didn’t feel great about the interview, it was exposure for PRC. And that is ALWAYS (well, almost) welcome.

Thanks so much, Jen, for being willing to share this reflection. Watch the piece for yourself–I’m sure that Jen would appreciate your feedback.

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Soon, it will also be on PRC’s website, (to make their coverage echo, and echo, and echo…). Given PRC’s mission, it is not an exaggeration to say that a life may have been saved by sharing this message. Awesome.

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