“We simply didn’t have the capacity, expertise or a system in place to handle media relations,” said Maureen Blaha reflecting on her early days as the executive director of the National Runaway Switchboard (NRS).
Between 1.6 and 2.8 million youth run from home each year. It’s a staggering statistic that continues to drive NRS and its more than 150 volunteers, board members and staff to work tirelessly to keep America’s runaway and at-risk youth safe and off the streets. As the federally-designated national communication system for this young demographic, NRS handles more than 100,000 calls annually through its 1-800-RUNAWAY hotline.
Spreading the Word
A couple of years into the top position, Blaha knew more needed to be done to get the word out about the help youth and parents could receive by calling 1-800-RUNAWAY.
“We were very reactive in our approach to media relations, and even then we weren’t taking full advantage of the media opportunities coming our way,” she said. “And when we attempted to be proactive our strategy was limited to sending out a quarterly press release informing media of our recent activities.”
Today, Blaha acknowledges that she now understands why NRS wasn’t receiving the coverage they desired with that approach.
The Professional Increases Awareness
“Joel (Kessel) came in and gave us clarity, changed the way we viewed media relations, developed a protocol for us to think and act strategically and proactively,” said Blaha. “Moreover, he helped position NRS as an expert resource for the media and others to call upon regarding issues relating to runaway and at-risk youth.”
Kessel Communications created a system to consistently increase awareness about NRS’ hotline and services. The agency continues to develop clearly defined messages that NRS uses in its media relations efforts and overall communications offerings – annual report, brochures, website and newsletters. And Kessel and his team conduct ongoing spokesperson coaching sessions with key NRS personnel to effectively prepare them for media interviews and presentations. They create strategic media campaigns around existing programs, and identify media opportunities appropriate for NRS.
Investment Pays Off
“Joel helped us recognize how critical it is to work with a professional who understands the media landscape, knows what news is, and is experienced in communicating with the media,” notes Blaha.
According to Blaha, NRS now has a systematic approach to proactively and strategically reach out to, and manage, the media – and the proof is in the results. For three consecutive years, NRS has been featured in USA Today’s front page “Snapshot” outlining the hotline’s annual call volume statistics. In early 2008, an Associated Press feature on NRS was picked up by nearly 200 newspapers nationwide including USA Today. Additionally, NRS has been used as a resource and included in numerous articles and broadcasts on youth runaways in such media outlets as Seventeen magazine, Girl’s Life magazine, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Boston Herald, Kansas City Star, The Dallas Morning News, MSNBC, the Nancy Grace Show, CNN, ABC, and USA Radio Networks, and many others.
Coverage Rolls On
Blaha says their coverage continues. “We needed to get a handle on our media efforts and Kessel Communications did just that,” she said. “They have the expertise to continuously get us the results we desire. As a result, we are doing more to help keepAmerica’s runaway and at-risk youth safe and off the streets.”