Successful media relations is worth at least $160. Let me explain.
Last weekend my old roommate spent the night at my apartment. He now lives in the suburbs with his fiancé. On Sunday morning he discovered that his legally parked car had been towed--despite the absence of no parking signs. However, a check of the Internet showed the City of Chicago had towed his car.
Turns out a 5K race ran down my early street that morning, even though the race’s Web site showed my street was not part of the route.
I drove him to the impound lot where dozens of angry residents, confused about the towing, readied the $160 necessary to spring their cars from the lot. There was blood in the air at this place. I felt sorry for the employees, behind bullet proof glass, processing the money.
Later, back in my neighborhood, we discovered homemade signs taped to trees that encouraged people to call the alderman and tell him their cars were unfairly towed. We figured it was a lost cause; it’s Chicago after all.
Fearing this incident might prevent my friend from ever returning to the city I did the only thing I could: called the media. I contacted a former colleague, who now works at The Chicago Sun-Times (he was working at the time), and told him the story. I made sure I described the number of angry residents at the impound lot and framed it as city vs. resident.
He expressed interest. After the phone call, I e-mailed him all the relevant information in plainly written bullet points: facts, timeline, names, phone numbers and a Web site for the 5k race. I also included a picture. He wrote back an hour later indicating a reporter was making calls, one of them was to my friend.
And there it was Monday morning, page seven, “137 cars towed for 5K race.” The story basically pitted my friend against the city; a spokesperson for the city denied any wrongdoing and made claims that anyone who lived in the neighborhood knew were false.
Immediately Monday morning I e-mailed as many local Chicago blogs as possible (like this one). By mid-morning the Associated Press had picked it up. Once it went across the AP wire, news sites from Iowa to New York ran the story. Later Google News featured it. That evening a news crew was taking b-roll footage on my street.
The negative press, online comments, and e-mails and phone calls to his office caused the local alderman to take action. In an e-mail that was picked up by blogs, the alderman not only informed residents exactly how they could appeal the tow but also attached a letter he wrote on behalf of the car owners encouraging the city to reimburse them.
All this so my friend, the suburban-ite, would continue hanging out in the city.
What are the lessons? The story benefitted from a slow(-ish) news day locally. Plus, the pre-existing relationship with a reporter helped. But the pitch, I think, was targeted and the follow up e-mail useful. It’s hard to say if bloggers would have seen and picked up the story without my e-mail, but it certainly didn’t hurt.
I’ll let you know if my friend wins his appeal.