What a 3rd grade teacher can teach you about getting free media coverage
In many ways, Stephen Flemming is your quintessential elementary school teacher. He knew since he was a child himself that he wanted to educate children. But educating the youth of Philadelphia isn’t the only thing this teacher excels in.
Perhaps it was a reporter at Billy Penn who described him best in the Who’s Next: 16 young teachers and leaders shaping education in Philly feature. The writer describes Flemming as “an outspoken defender of public education.” Then adds: “who you might know from his vibrant Twitter feed.”
You see, Flemming is not only a teacher, but he’s also a media magnet (my words, not his). As a teacher working for the School District of Philadelphia, he has first-hand knowledge about the district’s daily drama that us Philly folks see in the news each day. What’s more, this third grade teacher has strong opinions about the condition of the district and what it means for Philly’s children. So he takes to Twitter, his blog, and public forums to sound off.
A quick scroll through his social media pages and there’s no doubt about it: Flemming’s #1 priority is ensuring Philadelphia’s children get a quality education; whether it’s a tweet condemning the city’s lack of resources or a picture of him speaking before CIty Council.
The result is that news media flock to him. Totally not his intention, but at least once a month reporters contact him, wanting to know what he has to say, needing his insights and opinions to add to their news stories. In other words, Mr. Flemming is a publicist’s dream.
So I asked him to draw up a lesson plan for getting the press to notice you. Pay close attention, class is now in session.
Lesson #1: Have something worthwhile to say
Around 2011 I began submitting my opinions to the Philadelphia Daily News’s daily views and opinions section. I wanted to express how I felt in response to a political figure speaking negatively about public school teachers. The person’s comments bothered me so badly, it came through loud and clear in my submission and the paper published it.
Lesson #2: Closed mouths don’t get press
I think the news media continues to come to me for a couple reasons. As a teacher for the Philadelphia School District, I’m on the “inside.” But on top of that, I’m not afraid to talk and give my name. This is a big deal with reporters. People are reluctant to give their names for fear of losing their jobs or the potential scrutiny that may come as a result. But journalists won’t pursue stories with sources who don’t want to talk. I’ve experienced some backlash for my outspokenness in print and on broadcast, but I don’t let it worry me.
Lesson #3: Use social media to show your thought leadership
I use Twitter and my blog to unleash my thoughts on what’s happening inside the Philadelphia public school system. A key piece of advice is to use trending hashtags that are associated with your topic. In my case, it’s #phled. Hashtags have faithful followers (many of which are reporters) who will read, react, and retweet. As far as my personal account goes, there are quite a few reporters who follow me on Twitter and most of my interview requests come through DMs. I don’t know of any journalists who subscribe to my blog, but some will Tweet my posts so I do know they’re reading and following.
Lesson #4: Keep it 100
When I post something on social media, I don’t think about it. I just speak the truth. Reporters are looking for “real” and I think the public wants it just like that as well. I speak from experience and I never talk on behalf of other teachers if I don’t have the first-hand knowledge or experience myself. Also, I have no shame in calling Philadelphia’s public school district out on Twitter. Keep it 100% real, tack on a hashtag at the end, and you’re sure to get somebody’s attention.
Flemming’s four tips work. See for yourself. Here are just some of his media mentions from 2015.
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