Steal This Idea: How To Get The Media’s Attention

Steal This Idea is a new series in which we bring you creative ways that animal shelters and organizations are incorporating the HASS Elements into their work. We’ll tell you about these innovative, interesting, effective programs and practices—that you can try at your organization, too!

Today’s Steal This Idea comes courtesy of Charlotte Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control in Charlotte, North Carolina. This government shelter does such a great job getting stories out through the media, you are probably already familiar with this incredible video of their famous “little brown dog.”

Charlotte, the dog, became an instant social media sensation, when her video went up on the shelter’s social media—landing a story in People magazine, countless TV hits, and even a spot in a National Geographic coffee table book.

How do they do it? Shelter spokesperson Melissa Knicely kindly agreed to share her tips and tools for working with the media—and gave us a wonderful update on Charlotte the dog (which we’ll put at the end of this piece, because we’ve got our tricks, too!).
This interview has been edited for space.

How did you get this story about the shelter reaching a lifesaving milestone into the news?

I reached out to one person at each local station, newspaper, and radio, by writing a similar yet customized personal email to a reporter, anchor, or assignment editor that I have created relationships and some friendships with over the years. 

I consider members of the local media my colleagues. They all know me and know that I don’t reach out unless the need is real and genuine. I’m always 100% transparent and when they call on me for something like a dog bite or dog attack or something that is an investigation I always am 100% honest and give them what I can at the time, tell them when I next expect to be able to update them, and always follow through with the update.  

What do you think are the most important things, when it comes to working with the media? 

One hundred percent transparency, respect to them, respect of their job, respect of their deadlines, and working together to create the best story for all parties involved.

Help each other. Respect each other. No matter the topic, whether it’s a feature story, hard news story, etc.  

Also, familiarize yourself with their programming. Know when their shows air. Know what type of shows they have and what type of news they typically cover. Always take an animal to an interview!

Don’t count out radio and newspapers, they all have online versions now, social media, etc. One of the best shows I do is a half-hour radio talk show about every two months that airs on a Sunday morning on about six local radio stations. 

You would not believe how many people comment that they heard me! It gives you time to really dive into subjects rather than just a quick two-minute interview. Then ask for the recording and share on your social media.  I always follow up with a written thank you note. Sometimes like in this case, I even made custom ones to show what a difference their help made for our adoption numbers.

What are the main ways you communicate with the media? Is it mostly press releases, or short personalized, emails, texts, phone calls, social media, or something else?

When I first came to the shelter in 2007, I sent traditional press releases through email to communicate events, news, needs, or respond to media questions.

Now, there are a plethora of ways I use to communicate. It’s very much like a toolbox. Some of the tools are traditional media releases, social media releases, one-on-one emails, quick phone calls to the assignment desk, and tagging on social media.

What makes for a good press release? 

I like to say that a really good press release has a few MUST-HAVE COMPONENTS. You must have:

1. The gold nugget (of critical information that gives it the WOW factor or A-HA moment) 

2. The hook (where you capture the attention of not only the media but the media’s audience and reel them in)

3. The W’s of course (When, Where, Why)

4. The newsy piece (always try and include something that has news value and is not just a feel good piece)

5. 3 ways to help  (always have 3 ways of how the audience can participate or help)

What do you say in a short personalized message to a reporter?

Below are some emails to reporters, anchors, and assignment editors when we were reaching the point of almost having to euthanize for space for kittens.  

Thankfully we didn’t have to, thanks to the media!

Subject: Kitten Crisis at AC&C

Hi Brooke,

Hope you are doing well and had a nice 4th!  I really try not to reach out too often to ask for help, because I know that you all get tagged so often by so many people. So, only when we have reached a desperate situation do I reach out to our media friends for help!  I know how near and dear kittens are to you and so, I wanted to let you know our current situation.

We have an emergency “state of the union” meeting tomorrow at 11AM to discuss our kitten situation. We have kittens coming out of our ears. I’m reaching out to see if there would be an opportunity in the somewhat near future to come on a show or to have you come out and do a story about the fact that we are at CATpacity, and need help before we have a CATastrophe! 

In all seriousness we are in a critical place and need to find homes! Any extra help with this would be incredibly awesome and appreciated more than you know!  

I’m going to do some stat research to compare our current intakes from May to date of 2017 and 2018 and see if we are higher. We just never got that winter break from kittens. In 2017 we went about 3 months with no kittens.

Sigh. These are the days this job is tough. Feel free to share with Larry, Hannah and producers. I know so many people there are animal lovers and we appreciate everything you all do to help!

Thank you in advance!
Melissa

Subject: Dogs/Firework follow-up / Kitten Crisis at AC&C

I wanted to follow-up with you on firework/dog stuff. We definitely had more stray dogs come in today. 15 stray dogs came in as of the time I’m writing this email. (I’ll run stats again in the morning).

I know of about 4 different families that came to look for their dog, one family was just reclaiming their dog that was scared of fireworks over the weekend. One lady was from Gaston Co, she came to look in our stray kennels.  No luck.  I also heard there was a family coming this afternoon for two of their dogs and just now a family was here reclaiming their dog and they told me the dog was afraid of the fireworks and ran off.

On probably a more serious matter, I wanted to let you know about our kitten crisis. I really try not to reach out too often to ask for help, because I know that you all get tagged so often by so many people wanting help and pitching stories.

Today I’m reaching out because we are desperate! We have an emergency “state of the union” meeting tomorrow (Friday) at 11AM to discuss our kitten situation.  We have kittens coming out of our ears. 

I’m reaching out to see if there would be an opportunity in the somewhat near future to do a story about the fact that we are at CATpacity, and need help before we have a CATastrophe!    It could even be a vo and wouldn’t need to be a package.

In all seriousness we are in a critical place and need to find homes! Any extra help with this would be incredibly awesome and appreciated more than you know!    

I’m going to do some stat research to compare our current intakes from May to date of 2017 and 2018 and see if we are higher.  We just never got that winter break from kittens.

In 2017 we went about 3 months with no kittens. I also want to take a look at our kitten (neonate) intake from 2017 and compare to 2018.

Sigh.  These are the days this job is tough. I will probably craft a media release tomorrow with action items for way people can help if they can’t adopt, but I was just reaching out to a few folks I’ve worked with over the years in advance of the release.

Thank you for your time,
Melissa

The support was tremendous and the kittens flew out of the shelter and into homes. The plea did so well, we ran out of cat carriers and the supplier we use could not get us more for a few weeks.  

So I found a business to come to the rescue!

We never put out a press release for Bojangles because it happened too quickly, but we took videos and photos and once we posted on social, and many of the stations shared this story as well. 

So not only did we gain help on the need, but then when the media coverage worked so well that we ran out of boxes, we got a second media hit with the Bojangles boxes and once more getting our adoption program and need for adopters and fosters highlighted.

And now the update on Charlotte! Melissa tells us her famous little brown dog “is doing great!”

After a seven-month stint helping out with the shelter’s humane education program, Charlotte was adopted into “an awesome family.”
“Luckily, I keep in touch with the adopter and get to see her,” Melissa says. “She is doing great, a fabulous home!”

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