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By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State. She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of
Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care. She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials. Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
Keeping Your Facility in the Limelight
by Marge Knoth
Like it or not, one of the duties of an activity professional is to make his or her facility
look good. Oh, sometimes it takes different forms. Some facilities are big on publicity;
others shun it. Still, no matter how you slice it, you represent your facility, and you
probably more than any other employee, reveal the heart of your facility to your
community. So how do you do that?
There are many ways. One of the most pronounced is through your activities. Other
ways are through your various contacts, your volunteer program, your newsletter, any
speaking engagements, and even through your very person. When you learn your
facility’s stand on publicity, you will know how to proceed with it, actively or passively.
People like to read about others doing interesting, fun, and unique things. These
accounts are generally called human-interest stories. And where better to capture such
stories than in an independent living, assisted living, or a skilled care facility. After all,
there is always plenty of fun activity going on. The question is: How do you get this fun
and this good will outside your facility and into the hearts of your community? The
media is one sure way. If your facility desires publicity, let’s look at how you might
obtain a regular supply.
When I first became an activity director in Indiana, my administrator complained, “The
media is down on nursing and retirement homes. They won’t give us any publicity.”
During my first month there, our residents were featured in a front page picture story in
our healthy-size city newspaper. He remarked, “That’s just a lucky break.” I didn’t
question him. The next month we had another front page picture story about one of our
activities. He just scratched his head. The third month, our residents, while playing on
their basketball team we’d recently formed, were featured in a three-page spread in the
newspaper’s Sunday magazine section. Finally my administrator reconsidered. “I
guess the press is not down on nursing and retirement home publicity.”
Very often the lack of coverage is not the media’s fault at all; it is our own lack of
understanding of how the media works and of what they are looking for. Personally, I
learned what worked and what didn’t through much trial and error and by much
persistence. If it has been a struggle for you, maybe these tips will help.
We should not think that the press is doing us a favor when they cover one of our
events; we are doing them a favor. They are in need of stories, warm-hearted, human
interest stories. Daily columnists especially need our help in locating stories. When
you call with a story idea, you are simplifying their work, and they will be grateful to you.
Let’s explore a few pertinent topics. We will look at what is news and what is not, how
to recognize a story, how to find the angle or peg to make it newsworthy, and how to
interject timeliness into our stories. We will also learn the difference between publicity
and advertising, how to write a press release, and what to do if your facility does not
want media coverage.
News is information that is not yet 24 hours old. Sometimes, though, you can take
older news or less interesting news, and by interjecting timeliness into it, entice the
media to cover it at no cost to you. Remember, publicity is free, advertising is paid for. If
your budget is like most activity directors’, you will probably opt for the free version.
Then we must also learn to “recognize” a story. Story ideas are not the problem; they
are everywhere. All you have to do is keep your eyes and ears open. Talk to your
residents. Listen to them as they talk to one another. Consider your activities for their
Another way to get publicity is to tie your story in with something that is currently
happening in the news. Some may remember that in the 1980s, the Pan Am Games
were held in Indianapolis. Days before, a burning torch was carried by numerous one-
mile runners, through several states on its way to the games in Indianapolis. Sure, it
was an honor to be chosen as a runner to carry the torch, but what if one of those
runners was not “running” but riding, riding in a wheelchair pushed by her nursing
home administrator? What if that “runner” was a 69- year old stroke victim with the use
of only one arm and one leg? What if that “runner” was motivated to carry the torch for
one mile because she wanted to help raise money for the Riley’s Children’s Hospital in
Indianapolis? Now that was news! In fact, it was such a good story that Vivian, one of
my residents was interviewed several times by various newspapers and television
stations and was featured in the news for three days. She made our facility shine.
Just having a good activity does not necessarily warrant the press covering it. You
generally need to find and angle or peg to hang the story on. To do that, you want to
look for the unusual in the situation, activity, or event. It also works to tie a story in with a
In my early days as an activity director, I had this wonderful, alert, and likeable couple in
my facility who were about to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. I wanted to get
them some well-deserved public recognition. A 70th wedding anniversary might well
have been worthy of coverage in a small town newspaper, but not our larger city. The
best I could hope for was a caption under their picture. I had to find an angle or peg to
get the press to bite on it. So I looked back over Bertha and Opel’s lives. Then I
remembered the story that Opel once told me about his days as a cowboy in the Old
West. I had my angle. The press eagerly came over and interviewed them and printed a
great story about their part in helping to settle the old West. They also mentioned their
Once I had an alert resident who took part in a college writing program. She took her
lessons via television and went to the university once or twice. Now someone going to
college would not have been a story worth covering, but when that someone was a
nursing home resident starting college, that was a story!
The newspaper and television station learned of these and other stories and
happenings through a “press release”, sometimes called a “news release.” As you
know, a press release is simply a miniature news article by which you not only notify the
media of your activity, but hopefully sell them on covering it, whether in print of on
television. In your press release, you want to answer for the media these questions
about your event: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Who is involved in this
activity? What are they doing? Where is it happening. When will it take place? Why are
they doing it? How are they achieving it? Start with the most important information and
work down to the least interesting.
When writing the release, quickly do a rough draft without correcting spelling or
punctuation. Just let the words flow to get on paper the overall feelings you hope to
achieve. Then do corrections and proof thoroughly. Write a good lead to hook your
newspaperman or TV person. The first few sentences should summarize what the
whole event is about. Consider using one of these lead types: a statement, startling
fact, quotation, or something humorous. Keep the tone of your release objective, not
Write a catchy headline in larger, bold print, up to three lines long: Nursing Home
Resident Begins College. The press release should be one-page long, double-
spaced, with wide margins. Use pertinent quotes by real people to make your story
come alive. In the top left-hand corner write “contact person” (your name).” Below this,
write your facility’s name, address, and phone number.
If there is no time for a press release, by all means call the press or media. Of ten, at
the end of the nightly news, there is a short spot to be filled with a human-interest story.
Take a chance. Always follow up your written press release with a phone call a day or
two before your event. I’ve also found it wise to write them on colored paper so they will
stand out on a cluttered desk.
Let’s look at the press release that brought us the 70th anniversary/cowboy story that I
Dear Jack (newspaper daily columnist),
How would you like an interview with a real live cowboy and his wife who helped settle
the old West back in 1907? (question lead)
“Going out west then via train and riding it around the dangerous edges of mountain
ranges was an adventure in itself” (quote) says Bertha Linson, the cowboy’s wife who,
along with her husband, Opel, is now a resident of XYZ Retirement and Nursing Home.
Cowboys in those days did not have a shiny horse, as in the movies. They just picked
up a wild range horse to do their work of rounding up and herding cattle.
“Sometimes you got a good one,” says Opel, the cowboy, “and sometimes you got a
dud. I bought a rope horse once. I didn’t know he hadn’t been ridden. I put a saddle on
him and got on. In two or three jumps, I was on the ground. Someone later said, “Why
didn’t you hit the saddle horn?” I said, “I couldn’t find it!” (second quote)
Opel carried a side arm, just like the movie cowboys, a Colt 45, but not to protect
himself from “black hat” cowboys. Since cowboys slept on the ground, it was to defend
himself against rattlesnakes, mountain lions and other wild animals. There was no
minimum wage, Opel recalls. “You got your clothes and your board. He remembers
that one generous rancher paid his cowboys $30 a month plus a house, beef, and
access to fruit trees and garden space. Cowboys’ work days began at daybreak and
ended when darkness came.”
In 1917, Opel married Bertha. He was 18 and she was 15. For a time they lived out of a
covered wagon. They laugh as they recall that telephone wires back then were merely
barbed wire strung across the top of fence posts.
Bertha tells that there really were “white hat” gentlemen cowboys. Once she and Opel
were out in a touring car that had no top. It began to rain. The car stalled. She and
Opel were stranded in the middle of nowhere. Then a cowboy came to their rescue. He
tied a rope to the radiator cap and pulled them into town.
On Christmas Eve, this delightful couple will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.
Might you be interesting in interviewing them?
Look at this press release again. Notice the “angle” we selected to get the story--a first-
hand account of the settling of the Old West. And to interject timeliness, we tied it in
with a current news happening–the approaching anniversary of Opel and Bertha, and
we mentioned Christmas.
Can’t you see a media person’s excitement as they see a warm, human interest
The quotes by Bertha and Opel shows that this couple is alert, have good memories,
and even better, a sense of humor. Through their quotes, they come alive on the paper.
Did the newspaperman cover the story? You bet he did! The usual practice for this
prolific daily columnist was to do a phone interview with me and write his column from
that information. But not on this one! He left his busy desk at the paper and came over
and personally interviewed the couple. They not only got their picture in the paper, but a
good story about their past lives as well. They received the honor due them, and I
rejoiced with them when the story came out.
On some stories, you might want to provide a surprising twist. Gordon Norrell, an
activity director I once knew who lived in Arkansas, sent me a copy of his newsletter. In
it I read about a zealous little lady who outranked all her fellow residents in winning
medals and ribbons in various games and competitive events. She sounded
delightful. But then I read Gordon’s last line and found out she was blind. That was a
surprising twist. Would the press love that story? You bet they would.
Or how about this one? Some residents liked to care for plants. Since we had a nice
sunroom that we wanted to fill with plants, we hit upon the idea of a “plant-sitting
service”. But where was the story? We invented one. We enticed the press with two
sentences: “Ever heard of a plant hospital? We haven’t either, but it seems we have
one here at XYZ Retirement and Nursing Home.” We told how residents began by
nursing sick plants back to health and were so successful that they volunteered to care
for the community’s sick plants, as well plant-sit for those going on vacation, or going
South for the winter. We stressed that we needed a way to get the word out about this
project. The paper did a nice story. The angle was, “confined nursing home residents
give of themselves to their community”.
Generally the media offer press kits which will explain what they are looking for, and list
the information that editors and producers need to know about you or your organization.
Try to make regular media “contacts” to send your press releases to, or call with a story
idea. But don’t limit your contacts to that person alone. Keep broadening your
outreach. The easiest time to get publicity, I have found, is at Christmas and other
holidays. The press are especially seeking human-interest stories at that time. Always
send a thank-you note to the person who covers your story.
Occasionally you may be asked to do an interview on a radio or televison station. Think
beforehand what you would like to discuss. Anticipate the questions you might be
asked and decide in advance on the answers you will give. Don’t hesitate to give your
interviewer some questions you would like him or her to ask you. Be creative with your
words. Rather than say “Residents had a great time.” say, “For our residents, it was
better than cotton candy, apple pie, and Christmas all rolled into one.” Be excited about
your program. Don’t be shy about stressing your main points more than once.
If your facility is not favorable toward publicity, you can still represent it in more passive
ways. You can dress in a professional manner which makes a statement in itself. If
the opportunity arises, you can speak to various groups: women’s clubs, sororities,
church groups, and men’s organizations like Rotary or Kiwana ’s. You can also speak
to classes or associations in your local high schools, trade schools and colleges.
These talks might be to raise money for a particular project, to give information about
your facility or your activities, or to locate volunteers. By looking and speaking
professionally, your facility will shine brightly in your listeners’s ears.
If your facility likes to use paid advertising, consider writing and recording its radio
commercials. They are usually 30-second to one minute spots in which you can talk
first-hand about life in your facility. I wrote and recorded a series of nostalgic radio
commercials for my facility which gave listeners a fun look back at life 75 to 100 years
earlier. Besides the facts, I brought the residents’ memories into them. The
commercials, which came on with the 7 a.m., 12 noon, and 5:30 p.m. news, were quite
popular in our area and ran for several years. Sometimes I would go to write a check or
purchase something, and the clerk would say, “Oh, you are the lady that does those “old
days “commercials. I love them! I recognize your voice.”
Once you recognize a story and learn to write a decent press release, you will, no doubt,
have unlimited press coverage. Feature stories about your residents in various
projects or activities are generally better than any paid advertisement. Hopefully, with
good press coverage, comes increased census. And when beds are full, you are in a
better position to ask for a raise. After all, you have been largely responsible for the
growth of your facility so you have some real bargaining power to use at evaluation
time. So if you have struggled getting coverage, try some of these tips, and see if they
don’t make your PR work a little easier. God bless you all. Marge