Getting traction in the news is a great way to influence public policy, but it’s challenging when everyone is talking about something else. The speed of the news cycle, the media’s short attention span, particularly on complex issues, can make it hard to start a conversation with a reporter — especially now. Health care is an especially tricky topic. Thanks to newsroom cutbacks in state and local papers, there are fewer reporters with designated beats for health care. Reporters typically parachute into topics and learn the basics enough to write for a general audience. Even though pitching media about funding for Community Health Centers can be daunting, we do have a few tips to make it easier. At NACHC, we often like to remind people that “communicating without a plan is like running through the forest without a compass.” A good pitch not only requires a little planning but also thinking outside the box, a targeted approach, and a compelling message.
Think Outside the Box
There are news stories about health care that typically reflect local and national concerns — hospital closures, growing numbers of uninsured, Medicaid to name a few. Each of these topics presents an opportunity to talk about health centers and their important role in our health care system. Remember that polls show voters are concerned about health care this election season. Be relatable. Meaning, consider how to leverage what everyone is already talking about and relate it back to health centers and the importance of sustained funding. It may be useful to note that health centers are now largely operating under a Continuing Resolution from Congress that will soon expire. Most people can agree that delivering health care services to 29 million people on a temporary funding basis is unsustainable. You can draft a letter to the editor or, better yet, submit an opinion editorial. Editorial responses are also an effective way to get out an “unfiltered message” in your own words and not a reporter’s interpretation of them. NACHC has sample templates here.
Editorial boards are also another tactic. Newspaper editorials usually recommend a plan of action or evaluate the actions of public officials or governments. Most editorial boards of newspapers are available and willing to meet with organizations if you have something compelling to say. To approach an editorial board, write a letter requesting a meeting; the letter should briefly describe why the editorial board should know about the issue or your point of view on it. You can follow up with a phone call or email, to see if the board, or an individual, is interested in meeting with you. Keep in mind that these meetings can also be valuable listening sessions for editors and may not always produce an immediate story, if at all.
A Targeted Approach
Remember who you want to reach. In considering your target audience, remember that the general public may be too broad to effectively reach (despite the powers of social media). There is a specific group of people who have the power to change things for better or for worse for health centers in your area. How do you reach them? Decision-makers always read their local newspapers and newsletters, in addition to press releases, and monitoring social media. Design a venue and message to reach this specific audience. If social media is your platform always be sure to tag your representatives in Congress.
A Compelling Message
We write a lot about sharing your story at NACHC and this is important. It’s also important to consider tailoring your message to reach your key audience’s values, not what appeals to people within your organization. Why? Because it’s easier to motivate people around something they already believe in than to convince them of something new. Capture hearts first, then minds.
Some extra reading: To Expand Reach, Nonprofits Must Tell Stories That Touch Hearts from the Chronicle of Philanthropy