RAISING PUBLIC AWARENESS THROUGH THE USE OF MEDIA
The media can be your biggest ally in the search for a missing child, and the Public Awareness Coordinator should have some media experience. The Public Awareness Coordinator should remember to consult with the police and the searching family before engaging media, as well as make every effort to ensure that only those individuals designated to speak with the media (such as the searching family-appointed spokesperson) do interviews. This will ensure that the Community Response Plan Team is making the best use of the media in order to raise the public’s awareness of the missing child case.
It’s been said many times: make sure you use the media to get your message out and not allow the media to use you. The desired level of engagement with the media will vary drastically depending on the nature of the situation. The following are some suggestions for the Public Awareness Coordinator.
Working with the media:
The Public Awareness Coordinator needs to work closely with the Family Liaison to ensure that the searching family’s wishes are respected.
It is important that the designated spokesperson act as a buffer between the media and the searching family, as the media attention can sometimes be very overwhelming for the searching family.
If possible, prevent the media from having direct access to the searching family, and forward all media requests for interviews with the searching family to the Family Liaison. Allow the searching family to participate when they feel comfortable and help facilitate their involvement with media if they do feel ready.
In order to maintain media interest, be strategic and ensure that media receive regular information updates when possible.
At the beginning of any media strategy, make sure to consult with the police.
Prepare for the media interview (or help the designated spokesperson prepare) by bringing a photo, knowing the phone number to call for tips, writing down key dates and information, and learning what kind of stories the journalist interviewing you tends to write.
Be proactive when communicating with the media.
Ask them what angle they plan to take and attempt to redirect them if necessary.
Ask them to include any relevant photographs.
Ask them to encourage the public to provide tips.
Ask them to publish or air important phone numbers or web links.
Try to get your message out to a wide audience, using a variety of different mediums (e.g. radio, television, newspapers, magazines, blogs, etc.)
Seek out opportunities with media outlets that air longer programs that may be able to highlight your missing child case in more depth (e.g. television shows, talk shows, special interest shows, etc.)
Managing the Media When the Child is Located
Regardless of the outcome of a missing child case, the searching family will need some privacy and protection. The initial closure of a missing child case is not the time for the searching family to face further media exposure. The Community Response Plan’s Public Awareness Coordinator can ease the burden for the searching family by managing the media during this sensitive time.
Things for the Public Awareness Coordinator to consider:
Consult with the police and the searching family to determine what information will be shared with the media and what information will not be shared with media. You do not want to jeopardize any legal process by releasing inappropriate information.
Have the searching family provide a written statement that can be disseminated to the media.
Ask the media to respect the searching family’s need for privacy at this time.
Thank the media for all of their support and involvement in the location of the missing child.
Carefully consider whether or not you will take questions from the media at all, particularly if there is sensitive information that cannot be shared. Remember, you do not have any obligation to answer questions from the media.
Do your best to satisfy the interest of the media, while ensuring that only the necessary information is shared.