Let’s talk local

The power of local media is a tremendous asset when it comes to raising awareness. TMA will launch a national campaign. However, any assistance with local media can help to dramatically increase our impact!

What’s the story?
May is Myositis Awareness Month! While the plight of a small number of people with a rare disease doesn’t appear to be earthshaking news, getting publicity for myositis-related events isn’t that difficult, particularly if you live in a small town, a well-established suburb, or a rural area. You may be surprised to find television, radio and newspaper reporters are very interested in human interest features such as a person with a rare disease. Often, the way you present your story and the relationships you establish with reporters will be the key to success. Designating May as Myositis Awareness Month creates an urgency and importance of timing for the coverage.

Think differently about media
Think locally. Although TMA and its members have tried for years to draw the attention of national talk show hosts, your best bet for coverage is right in your own hometown. Editors and news directors like sources they can reach immediately as deadlines loom. In fact, many editors of even big-city newspapers and regional news shows pride themselves on their good local stories. Most media outlets today have a way to submit a story idea online. And it’s still possible in many towns and small cities to pick up the phone or drop into the newspaper office.

Find the neighborhood or alternative newspapers and television shows that cover stories like yours. Find news shows that target a certain audience. For instance, a farmer with inclusion body myositis was featured in a “Down on the Farm” episode on his local public television station that later was shown nationally. Hospitals today often have their own publications designed to draw support from local officials and patrons. Find out who produces the one published by your hospital and pitch your story. If you have an active support group, make sure the hospital includes it in its online or print listing of patient resources.

But don’t overlook the obvious! Radio and television stations need public service announcements to keep their licenses. They’ll be able to turn your news release into a short announcement. Ask them to interview you or other support group members on the air for a longer story or provide live coverage for your event.

Many bloggers — especially those who have taken on local affairs as their subject — have a wide following. Read the blogs and relevant Facebook pages in your area and approach the authors. If you have a page or a blog dedicated to your journey with myositis, ask for a mention or a link. Post on relevant blogs with your news and encourage all support group members to look for novel ways to use Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), Instagram, and other social media to spread the word.

Facebook pages maintained by businesses have a rough time finding fresh posts. Ask any businesses that support you, especially one that may furnish the place where your support group meets, to post notices of your meeting in their status bar. Click here for more inspiration on how to use social media for myositis awareness.

Make it personal
As much as we’d like to think everyone is interested in facts and figures about myositis and TMA, newspaper, television, and digital reporters need a real-life story with people and pictures and action in order to appeal to their audience. Make sure you have a story, not just information: your story, a care partner’s story, the story of a community that came together to build a ramp, a support group doing interesting things to educate and support its members, a dazzling technological device, a clever low-tech device, a service dog. That said, TMA can and will provide key facts and figures to include in any coverage. Need a quote? Just let us know!

Just write a letter! A “Letter to the Editor” is usually only 150 words. The goal of letter to the editor is to offer insightful, expert, and timely commentary on issues or concerns of their readers. Include your story and why myositis awareness is important to you. Before writing a letter to the editor, check the publication’s website to see if they publish recommended word counts, deadlines, or guidelines. If your letter to the editor gets printed, please share it with TMA and on social media!

Host an event
When you’re sponsoring a specific event, such as a myositis awareness day walk, offer for you or others at the event to be interviewed for a story about your experience with myositis. Editors will want to explain what myositis is and how it affects people along with their coverage of the event.

Media Alerts are used to notify local media outlets that there will be newsworthy (and camera-ready) activities happening. Think about visuals and how you can make a splash for a brief spot in a local news broadcast.

Work with reporters
It’s a good sign if an editor assigns a reporter to your story. It means that you’ve succeeded in catching the interest of a professional print or broadcast journalist. When the photographer or cameramen show up at your event, your best bet for coverage is to have something visually interesting as part of your event. And you should mention it in your news release.

Often your best chance at publicity is through the reporter rather than the editor of the local news show or newspaper. Take a look at who does human interest and health stories. In many small cities, it’s the weatherman on television, or a specially-designated feature writer on the newspaper staff. Approach that person as well as the editor.

Follow up
Following up on your news release is important, but make sure you do it in a professional way. Don’t send your release to more than one journalist at the same publication without letting each know. If there are rival newspapers or television stations in your area, it’s okay to send them the same short news release, but don’t work on the same kind of feature with two different newspapers. If two rivals become interested in your story as a result of your news release, be truthful about it and work with the reporters to find different angles. Don’t flood media outlets with faxes or emails.

If following up by phone, make sure it has not been too long since you sent out your news release. Should the journalist not recall receiving the release, ask if you can send it again. If leaving a phone message, make it short, non-accusatory, and with all the appropriate details.

Above all, try to form lasting relationships with your city media. They’ll respect you if you submit timely calendar items, do your homework on longer features, provide interesting visuals, and tell them well ahead of time if you want live coverage. If you’re disappointed in the response, do not call the publisher and advertisers to complain. Nothing alienates an editor more than questioning his or her news judgment. Continue to suggest newsworthy ideas, and you’ll eventually get good results.