Our Laguna: The art of pitching to the media

Representatives of Laguna Beach nonprofits learned Jan. 18 how to get ink for their organizations.

About 80 representatives from nonprofits showed up for a workshop on what organizations should and should not do to get their stories in newspapers. The workshop was sponsored by the Laguna Beach Community Foundation and the Susi Q, where it was held.

"I thought the nonprofits came away with valuable information on how they can improve their public relations activities," said Mary Fegraus, a founding trustee of the foundation. "All the comments I have received have been very positive."

The workshop was the first of the foundation's hat trick on how to make their press releases newsworthy and how to approach the media. The next workshop will be held March 1 at the Susi Q and will zero in on social media and online news. A date has not been set for the third workshop.

Last Friday's workshop focused on planning effective media campaigns and how to excite the interest of those who receive press releases.

Freelance writer Randy Kraft moderated the workshop. Laguna Beach Independent Editor Andrea Edelson, publicist Barbara McMurray and this reporter sat on the panel.

An earlier version of this column had Barbara McMurray's last name misspelled.

"This was a great beginning for all us nonprofits," e-mailed Charlotte Masarik, who attended the workshop on behalf of the Laguna Bluebelt. "It is always good to be reminded of how media works and is rapidly changing and to get the latest up-to-date info."

Participants left with a lot of information to assimilate and a valuable tip sheet from McMurray, available from the foundation.

Among the tips: Get to know the media you plan to use — what it likes — and the right person to talk to, McMurray recommended.

Don't get discouraged if the pitch is rejected — someone else on the staff might be interested, McMurray said. Ask.

My view: Remember that local press is a captive audience for your news; we live to publish it.

But the press release has to be newsworthy — and what does that mean?

Basically, is it the kind of news that will cause someone to call or text a friend and ask, "Did you know this?"

Announcement of an organization's monthly meeting is not news. It is an item for newspapers' calendars. The fact that former City Manager Ken Frank will be the guest speaker could be news. Why? That is an unusual occurrence.

But different stokes, etc. A story might pique my editor's interest or mine, but not Andrea's, and not the guy sitting at the next table at the Coffee Pub.

A good press release tells the reader who, what, why, when, where and how. McMurray advised against using adjectives. I'm not so picky; we are going to rewrite it anyway.

Among the don'ts: No acronyms — what we call Alphabet soup — unless you are writing about the FBI or the CIA.

The city went to a lot of trouble to name a committee the Tree Review Equity Evaluation Board so the acronym TREE would be used. It wasn't, at least by papers. The full name was used on first reference, "the board" thereafter. As a general rule, newspapers use Dr. in front of a person's name only if the person is a physician or a dentist. Ph.Ds are identified by their degree or specialty.

Most papers adhere to the Associated Press Stylebook, which you can review online or buy at the Laguna Beach Books if you are feeling flush. However, every newspaper has its own "bible." Our paper, which is guided by Los Angeles Times style, puts time, date and location in that order in its stories. Most months are abbreviated.

One valuable contributions PR chairs can make is to keep copies of press releases they sent, versions of it that were published by different media, copies of press releases that never made it into print and speculation on why it didn't. Pass it on to the next chair. She — and it is mostly a she — will be forever grateful.

And it doesn't hurt to call or e-mail a thank you when your release is used.

As for photographs, if possible do not send the same one to all media contacts. If one paper publishes it first, the others are less likely to use it.

Always identify the subjects and try to limit them to less than five. Any more and it is a group shot, which is not as interesting to the public as it is to the organization.

A final word of advice: Do not, I repeat, do not, ever pitch a story based on the fact that you have advertised in the paper. It won't buy free space.

In the audience at the workshop: Carol Reynolds, Laguna Concert Band; Arts Commissioner Pat Kollenda, Sister Cities Assn.; Connie Burlin, Soroptimists and No Square Theatre; Chris Quilter, No Square Theatre; Sandi Werthe, Patriots Day Parade Committee; Cindy Prewitt, Laguna Beach Live!; Edie Tonkon, Laguna Dance Festival; Anne Hyde, Assistance League; Michelle Ray, Boys & Girls Club; Elaine Davis, Garden Club; Marion Jacobs, American Association of University Women; Louise Thornton, Laguna Ocean Foundation; Maria Crockett, Miracles for Families; and Becky Barber, Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Laguna Beach Community Foundation CEO and President Darrcy Loveland and Trustee Rick Balzer also attended.

Fegraus chaired the event, assisted by committee members Marge Earl, Lnyneé Kniss, and McMurray.


Kudos for Ilsa

Ilsa Lenschow recently retired from the city's Design Review Board, on which she served for 16 years. She was honored Monday night by local architects, city officials and admirers, who gathered at the Marine Room.

Mayor Kelly Boyd read a city proclamation, which was applauded by council members Toni Iseman and Steve Dicterow; DRB members Robin Zur Schmiede, Caren Liuzzi, Monica Simpson and Roger McErlane; Planning Commissioners Rob Zur Schmiede, Anne Johnson and Ken Sadler; architects Gregg Abel, Morris Skenderian, Kirk Saunders and Marshall Ininns; developer Ken Fischbeck and Matt Lawson, who chaired the Design Review Task Force on which Lenschow served.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call (714) 966-4618 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.


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