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Hospital Boosts Breastfeeding Efforts After BEZ Story

Holy Cross Hospital on Chicago’s Southwest Side decided to step up its breastfeeding efforts after hearing a story on WBEZ about the hospital’s newborn breastfeeding rate being the lowest in the Chicago area. That story and subsequent policy change resulted from a pitch made by HealthConnect One’s RoiAnn Phillips to WBEZ Reporter Chip Mitchell at the Workshop’s Professional Media Relations workshop in early 2011.

“The WBEZ stories wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t taken Professional Media Relations,” said Phillips. “Without the class, I wouldn’t have understood how to frame a pitch and I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be in the room with reporters.”

Phillips had an “ah-ha moment” during the five-part workshop when instructors told the class how to tailor a pitch to pique reporters’ interest, but her big breakthrough came a couple of weeks later when she was able to pitch her nonprofit’s upcoming report analyzing Illinois breastfeeding rates to Mitchell. That opportunity resulted in three stories in the coming months about the report and her organization, including the story that led to Holy Cross’s new commitment to promote breastfeeding with new moms.

During the class, RoiAnn said the intimidation she felt about approaching the media melted away. Breaking down the process of creating a media plan, thinking through the story, and contacting reporters gave RoiAnn the confidence to tell her organization’s story to reporters.

“I would absolutely recommend the Workshop to others because there are so many of us that get ‘media relations’ added to our job descriptions,” said RoiAnn. “We have to learn as we go, and this class gave me the skills I needed for my new role at HealthConnect One.”

Phillips decided to attend Professional Media Relations because she wanted a better grasp of media strategy and walked away with media attention for her organization and the foundation for a long-term relationship with an excellent reporter. Phillips and Mitchell are currently in conversations about a fourth story on breastfeeding rates and challenges in Illinois.


Check out the WBEZ stories that resulted from RoiAnn’s time at Professional Media Relations and follow-up work with reporter Chip Mitchell.

Report: Breastfeeding in Illinois hinges partly on race, income – April 26, 2011

Hospital regulators let formula vie with breast milk – May 5, 2011

After WBEZ report, hospital steps up breastfeeding efforts – August 2, 2011



The Human Impact

If you want to know how vital a solid communications campaign can be, just ask UIC student Rigo Padilla. If not for a successful mobilization last year, he would have been deported to Mexico.

Padilla had come to the U.S. at age six with his family, and by 2009 he was an honors student at University of Illinois at Chicago and a leader in his community. But in January of that year, he was picked up for driving under the influence—and immediately slated for deportation.

Rigo’s friends, community, and teachers rallied to his side, and the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights decided to step in.

Rigo’s story offered an opportunity to impact the larger public debate about immigration reform, says Catherine Salgado, ICIRR’s director of communications. “We knew that it was a difficult case,” she says. “But it was also a perfect example of why we need to change the immigration laws: He’s a good student and a good person. Why would we want to get rid of good people?”

Having a solid media strategy—and airtight execution—was essential, says Salgado. “Being able to respond quickly, being sure there were statements out, and at all times have people available to speak to the media about why he shouldn’t be deported. We wanted to have everything out there before someone could come and say, ‘Why, he should be deported!’”

When Salgado had begun working as ICIRR’s sole communications staff person in early 2006, she had no experience in the field. “My first training in media relations was through the Community Media Workshop, a day or two after I started working here,” she recalls. She has continued working with the Workshop ever since—including work as a partner in running trainings in recent years. “I think my involvement with the Workshop has been critical,” she says, “in terms of practicing not only how to be responsive, but to be pro-active in promoting our message.”

Rigo Padilla’s story got prominent coverage locally, and even made The New York Times. And on December 9, 2009, federal officials decided to stay Rigo’s deportation order for a year.

That, says Salgado, was the real measure of success. “If we’d gotten all the coverage and he was still deported, it would still be a failure,” she says.

From Program Administrator to Communications Director

The path that Ingrid Gonçalves followed to her position as director of communications at the Center for Labor and Community Research will sound familiar to many nonprofit communicators: “I was hired out of college as an administrator for a program, and I was then promoted to director of communications almost by accident, because we needed someone to do that kind of work,” she recalls. “They liked a newsletter I had done.”

On her boss’s recommendation, she looked up the Community Media Workshop and signed up for a five-week course called Professional Media Relations in January. “It was a really great sort of general course,” she says. “It was good to have someone walk me through the technical aspects of working with media, and to provide strategies for making those interactions effective—even something as basic as asking them if this is a good time for them to talk. It’s not something I would have thought to do, but they’re often on deadline, and they’re not going to be paying attention if they’re trying to finish an article.”

They also got to practice on real, live reporters, who came to the workshop to hear pitches-in-progress. Chicago Sun-Times Reporter Dave Hoekstra liked what he heard when Gonçalves told him about a student-run coffee business—and called for an interview the following week.

“We got a really nice story on the front of the food section, and our students were photographed by a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer,” says Gonçalves. “I never would have thought to pitch a food reporter about a student-run business. I was more focused on education reporters.”

Gonçalves has since gone on to mount major media campaigns on her own, and the Sun-Times story continues to pay dividends. “We use reprints of articles in our fundraising materials,” she says, “and it does grant us legitimacy.”

“Before I took the course at the Workshop, it would be daunting when someone would ask me to write a press release or send something to the media,” she says. “I wouldn’t know what to do. Now I can think strategically: What do I want to say, based on who I’m sending this to? It makes you much more effective.”

Knowing the Right Reporter

If you’ve got a medical emergency on Kome Island, in Tanzania, you’d better hope you haven’t missed the boat. Literally. There is no medical care available on the island and just one ferry per day.

But in September, volunteers from Aid Africa’s Children, a small Arlington Heights-based nonprofit, traveled to Tanzania to talk with the government about staffing and other support for a medical dispensary that the group hopes to build there.

One of the spark plugs behind the effort, a physician from AAC’s hometown of Arlington Heights, only became aware of the organization’s existence in July—when he heard volunteers Charles and Diane Malege interviewed on WBEZ’s show “Worldview,” talking about the school AAC helped them build on Kome.

Toward the end of the interview, Charles mentioned that his next dream was to get a medical dispensary going, and the role AAC had played. And as soon as the doctor heard the broadcast, he called AAC. “He said, ‘We’ve got to dream big, and we’ve got to go for it,’” says AAC Board Member LuAnn Wing, the vice president of marketing and communications for the all-volunteer organization.

The WBEZ interview was the result of a pitch Wing made at a Community Media Workshop training several months earlier. Participants got to talk directly to journalists like WBEZ’s Lynnette Kalsnes, who said that the story would be perfect for Worldview’s “Global Activism” series, which focuses on Chicago-area residents trying to make a difference around the world through grassroots work.

Wing was no newcomer to communications work—she has worked as a TV producer for years, and had already successfully pitched stories about AAC to other news outlets—but she found the Workshop training invaluable. “The WBEZ story wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t gone to the training,” she says.

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