For nearly twenty years the abortion industry artfully has used the media to slander pregnancy centers, accusing them of being "bogus clinics." Ill-equipped to deal effectively with the hostile media, many centers have chosen to disregard the press, hoping that any negative impact will be negligible. In the current highly charged political and legal atmosphere, pregnancy help centers can no longer afford to ignore false reports in the press.
POSITIVE MEDIA RELATIONS
The media (print, television, and radio) connects you to your donors, referral sources in the community, and clientele. Since officials from community resource agencies and your donors rely heavily on the print media, you will want local newspaper articles to portray accurately the vital services you offer. So it is important for you to have a positive relationship with the various local media.
Working to build such relationships begins with the establishment of a public relations team to help your center interface with the media. As a respected and credible agency, you can insist upon accurate coverage when a negative national story about pregnancy centers hits the press. A good PR team will also develop an effective advertising campaign to attract abortion-vulnerable women.
The goal is to handle media relations in a way that enhances the credibility of your center.
THE MEDIA SPOKESMAN
Your PR team should designate one person to handle all press releases and inquiries. Some centers have gotten into trouble when two or more persons have made conflicting statements to the press.
While the director is usually the spokesman, some centers select a media-savvy board chairman or a PR professional. The goal is to handle in a way that enhances the credibility of your center.
THE PR TEAM
Put qualified volunteers and board members on your PR team. Through prayer and encouragement the team should support the spokesman and work with her to develop PR strategies and materials.
This team should also develop radio ads, client brochures, newspaper ads, direct mail pieces, television ads, and media releases and serve as a sounding board.
DEVELOPING LOCAL MEDIA SOURCES
The spokesman and PR team should derive a list of editors and reporters from local papers (including college newspapers), religious and secular radio contacts, local television reporters, and agencies and organizations that publish newsletters. The spokesman should contact each source with a friendly phone call to introduce herself and to invite future communications regarding relevant news issues. A follow-up letter and business card will help cement the relationship.
THE PRESS RELEASE
The purpose of a press release is to garner media attention. A local or national event or story may be the reason for the release. Further, a center may issue a press release to announce an upcoming banquet or walk-a-thon.\
Any press release should be concise, be no longer than one double-spaced page, and include the name and phone number of your spokesman. To announce an upcoming event, send a press release one week in advance. Each local media source will direct the release to the appropriate person for publication.
Some examples of events that could gain attention for your center include:
- A banquet with a nationally known speaker or a popular local speaker
- An event you host featuring a local legislator
- The ribbon-cutting for your medical clinic or your new, improved facilities
- A service milestone, such as having served 10,000 clients
- A walk-a-thon with a large attendance
PREPARATION FOR THE PRESS INTERVIEW
By providing the reporter with printed information about the center, you can help determine the direction and outcome of the interview. The printed material will present your center in a favorable light and will help the reporter meet his deadline.
Your information sheet should include the following information:
- Name(s) of Director(s)
- Phone numbers and addresses of centers
- National Integrity Statement
- Number of clients seen per month, per year, and since opening
- Number of client phone calls per week, per year, and since opening
- Number of women in the region who could benefit from your services (local health departments track the number of pregnancies in each city or county)
- Specific services you offer
- Years in operation
- Name of the person who started the center/ clinic and why
- How many centers your organization operates
- Sources of support (United Way, personal donations, fundraisers)
- Spokesman's business card for future contact as a resource on pregnancy issues
Visuals are also an important part of an interview for print or television and are coveted by reporters. Your walk or banquet will provide wonderful opportunities for visual reproductions. If the interview is at your center, provide the reporter with quality visuals, such as pictures on the walls, a photo of your director, photos of a volunteer meeting with a client (role playing only, genuine clients should not be in photos), an ultrasound demonstration, an organized collage of your client pamphlets, and an attractive picture of your waiting room or the front of your building.
FIVE TIPS FOR THE PRESS INTERVIEW
- Dress to project credibility. A dark color against a light color, such as a dark jacket and a light shirt, conveys credibility.
- Smile, smile, and smile. Wear a happy face on and off camera. Show the reporter that you are relaxed, that you enjoy your work, and that you are happy to talk about your wonderful organization.
- Practice answering interview questions. Prior to the interview get as much information as possible from the reporter as to why he wants to do the interview and how it will be used. With the PR team, create a list of potential questions. Role-play with various members of the PR team acting as aggressive reporters. Have the team critique the spokesman's responses and make suggestions.
- Keep answers to hostile questions brief. Avoid long responses that could be misinterpreted and later appear as misquotes.
- If you believe that the interview is going to be hostile, tape it. In a courteous manner inform the reporter that you will tape the interview to insure accuracy. This is a common practice. Accuracy is the key for good reporting. Never raise the concern that a reporter might be unfair.
The use of sound bites helps ensure that your main points will be covered in the story.
THE USE OF SOUND BITES
Repeating succinct phrases helps ensure that your main points will be covered in the story. Some effective sound bites are:
"Our center exists to empower women to choose life."
"We are pro-life in the full sense of the term—we care about both the mother and the baby, and we will abandon neither."
"When it comes to a mother and her unborn baby our role is simple: we love them both!"
"We exist so a woman can make an informed choice that both she and her unborn baby can live with."
"Any woman can use our services, regardless of age, religion, or race."
"Our center is life affirming for both the mother and her unborn baby."
"Thousands of women choose our center each year."
"Quality medical help is available and free at our center."
"Our center is a safe haven for women in crisis."
This list is not exhaustive. Each time it meets, have your PR team devise some additional sound bites.
HANDLING THE AGGRESSIVE REPORTER
An anticipated interview with an adversely biased or aggressive reporter requires prayer and preparation with your PR team, usually on short notice. You might even reconsider whether it is wise to do the interview. Large corporations sometimes refuse interviews on such programs as "60 Minutes," but a limited interview with a biased reporter could prove beneficial if you prepare. Here are some tips.
Be assertive and attempt to guide the interview. Videotape the interview. When a reporter repeats hostile questions, remind him calmly: "We have already covered that; let's move on." The hostile interview is similar to the cross-examination procedure in court. If you have an attorney on your board, he may be your most helpful sparring partner.
Consider the interviewer's deadline. For example, if the story is going to be run on television or radio at 5:00 p.m. on the day of your interview, do not schedule the interview for a time prior to noon. Why? This allows the reporter to attempt to badger you all morning. Negotiate the time of the interview around 1:00 or 2:00 p.m. Limit the interview by scheduling your next appointment a half hour later.
DAMAGE CONTROL AFTER A NEGATIVE STORY
A biased or negative story can be converted into a positive benefit. No pregnancy center has folded or closed down because of negative publicity. In fact, some centers have flourished following negative coverage by communicating to their supporters just what occurred in the interview process. Supporters have responded with increased giving.
USE YOUR FRIENDLY MEDIA SOURCES
You will find some sympathetic reporters. They stand out as jewels against the host of pro-abortion reporters. If you find a local Christian media expert, ask him to assist you and your PR team prepare for dealing with the press.
BECOME A MEDIA WATCHER
Have your PR team collect articles relating to pregnancy and pro-life issues. Identify local reporters who seem unbiased and accurate. Build relationships with these reporters. They may not agree with your pro-life views, but if they are accurate in their reporting, you have nothing to fear from talking with them. When you want to comment on a story or be interviewed, you will know whom to contact.
God has not given us a spirit of fear. He has called us to proclaim confidently truth to a dying world. Through attention to public relations details, pregnancy help centers can overcome media bias and hostility and utilize news and promotion media to reach more souls.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Laura Glessner is a former pregnancy help center director and served as the primary media consultant and spokesman for the Christian Action Council (now Care Net) from 1987 to 1993. She serves on the board of directors of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA).