Public Relations in the 21st Century: Think Small to Make a Big Impact

Overit Blog - Public Relations

Do you watch the news? Do you read it online? Does your definition of “online” actually mean social media? If you answered yes to any of these, you earn points.

Before the dawn of the digital age, people only found out about amazing things, or important things, either on television at 6 o’clock at night or 6 o’clock in the morning when they heard that thud of the newspaper landing on their front stoop. It took a lot longer for a local story to become a national story. Imagine having a drought or a massive forest fire in one part of the country; all the locals know about it, but it wouldn’t hit the other side of the state or country until weeks, maybe months later. But it’s still news. It’s still important.

Now imagine how long it takes a story to make it to national news, today. Twenty-four hours? Maybe twelve if you’re lucky? We often see this when it’s a “viral” story–– some really touchy-feely story about a family reuniting with its family pet or an old lady turning 100 years old. But sometimes, just sometimes, it actually helps affect change.

Let me back up. I do Public Relations here at Overit. Public Relations is commonly confused with or lumped in with marketing. In fact, many people don’t really understand what public relations is… or does. However, it is vastly different from marketing but can sometimes dovetail within it to amplify those efforts. Essentially, PR professionals have the daunting task of telling the stories of their clients through the media. We reap the most awesome and amazing facts about our clients and then pitch them to reporters to get them in the news. This helps raise awareness for a client’s cause or shares a new and interesting service, or simply helps inform the public about stuff they should know–like what to do when you have an insect infestation, or how to winter-proof your home. You get the idea.

Every once in a great while, though, a story comes along, and you have an opportunity to change someone’s life. This happened a couple of months ago when my coworker connected me with a lawyer working at U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI) in Albany, N.Y. This lawyer, Sara, had been working with an Afghan mother, Suneeta, who came to this country legally, to try and get her children here in America with her. This is that mother’s story.

At the time I entered the picture, the Taliban were about to take over Kabul, and time became of the essence to get the children out. Sara came to me asking for help. How can we share this woman’s story tastefully and work to get her kids on U.S. soil? We share it in the news.

I reached out to all of my news contacts who I have solid rapport with and gave them all the heads up about Suneeta. I worked with Sara to make sure we have all of the people necessary to help tell the story. And within 24 hours, every major news outlet in our Capital Region covered the story.

And then we wait.

I emailed the outlets very late on a Saturday night. They all reached out and coordinated to meet Sara and Suneeta the next morning around 9:00 a.m., or so. Within six hours, the Wall Street Journal had reached out to also tell the story. SIX HOURS to get a national audience to help change the lives of four children, all under 17, alone in Kabul.

Within 24 hours, the Washington Post was speaking with Sara.

Within 36 hours, CNN was calling.

I’ll share links to all the coverage at the end, but the point I’m hoping to make here is that big stories start local. Local journalism is close, personal, compassionate, and honest. With a big enough impact, the national attention becomes natural.

I’m sure you’re asking yourselves if we got the children home. Yes, we did. After CNN picked it up, an anchor from CNN connected with an Iraq Veteran living in Connecticut, Alex Plitsas, who used his connections and a network of people working to get people out of Kabul, called Digital Dunkirk. Then a philanthropic Rabbi entered the scene to help get a flight for Suneeta’s children from DC to Albany, NY to reunite with her. There wasn’t a dry eye at Albany International Airport that day. It was really something to witness.

I realize that most companies and clients don’t have a story like this to share every month to keep momentum in the news cycles. But sometimes, you just have to think small to make a big impact. What are your people doing every day that changes the lives of someone else? Let’s highlight the employee who works on the custodial staff that’s never missed a day of work in 10 years. Where does all that extra food from a restaurant go at the end of the shift?

People do amazing things EVERYday–– we just need to help tell their stories.

To read more about Suneeta’s children’s homecoming, read more in these reports:

Interested in learning more about how Public Relations strategies can help raise awareness for your organization? Register for The Association for Community Living Agencies in Mental Health (ACLAIMH) Annual Conference, where Leanne will be giving a talk on her work with the Association for Community Living.