Monday, August 18, 2008

Tips on crisis communications

The media interview: Getting through the fire

  • It's important to have the right spokesperson. Sometimes it's the CEO. Sometimes it's someone else who has greater knowledge about the specific situation. Whenever possible, determine who the spokesperson will be before the media shows up.

  • Be emotionally appropriate. If someone has died or been seriously injured, look concerned. Avoid nervous laughter. Never appear angry at a reporter or anyone else.

  • Never lie.

  • Don't guess. Stick to the facts. If appropriate, make a commitment to get back to the reporter with answers to the questions that you can't answer right away.

  • Never say "No comment."

  • For sensitive (challenging) stories, anticipate the media contacting you for follow-ups.

  • If you're in a crisis situation, disclose information in a timely manner. Timely disclosure today means immediately. The Firestone/Bridgestone tire scandal broke in late 2001 and early 2002. However, the company knew the tires involved were unreliable in 1997, and perhaps as early as 1991, according to trial lawyers. Withholding the information - even if the company is trying to define the problem as narrowly as possible and find a solution - often gives the public the perception that the problem is serious and far-reaching. In the West Virginia tragedy at Saco Mine, not disclosing information in a timely manner caused families to believe that most of the workers' lives had been saved, when, in fact, all but one of the miners died.

  • Develop key talking points in your head and stick to them. No matter what the question is, always return to your key points.

© 2006-2007 D. C. Sistrunk

Sunday, August 17, 2008

(Sample news release)

St. Louis Public Schools

December 30, 2008

Media Contact: Deborah Sistrunk
Phone: 314-345-2254

Volunteers offer warm welcome
to new immigrants

St. Louis – In December, St. Louis Public Schools welcomed nearly 40 immigrant families who had limited or no English language skills. It soon became apparent that the parents and children needed much more than assistance with English. These families had recently left countries with much warmer climates and were new to St. Louis’ winter temperatures. They had an immediate need for coats, warm clothing, shoes, food, and other items.

Staff members at the district’s ESOL Welcome Center jumped into action, working with volunteer services. Help, as it turned out, was just a few doors away. The Journey, a nearby church in South St. Louis, quickly recruited volunteers for a donation drive. Within a few days, helpers had rounded up:

  • Six boxes of new coats, warm clothes, blankets, and towels
  • 30 pounds of food for each family
  • An assortment of can openers, knives, and other utensils

Schools are closed during the winter break. For students, that means no school meals for two weeks. SLPS staff members wanted assurances that the children would have enough to eat.

Nahed Chapman, executive director of the district’s ESOL program, was elated that The Journey answered the call to action so quickly. Chapman and her staff were organizing an event for immigrant families on December 18.

“The Journey went above and beyond,” said Chapman. “With only three days to prepare, they were ready with 10 volunteers on the day of the event. They helped to organize and distribute clothes.”

The volunteers didn’t stop there. They knew that families would be taking the bus to the Welcome Center, which is located at 3125 S. Kingshighway. Chapman said that volunteers filled their cars with boxes of food and clothing, and then followed the buses. That made it easier to get packages from the bus stop to the families’ homes.

“I pass the church every morning on my way to work,” said Chapman. “Every time I pass their doors, I remember them all. They remind all of us the true meaning of the holidays.”

Chapman also acknowledged the hard work of Donnie Harris, who heads ESOL guidance and counseling, and Maria Childress, who oversees ESOL social workers.


Editor’s note: The Journey is located at 2833 S. Kingshighway. ESOL is an acronym for English for Speakers of Other Languages.


Deborah Caldwell Sistrunk
Public Information Coordinator
St. Louis Public Schools
801 N. 11th St.
St. Louis, MO 63101
314-393-0572 cell
314-345-2661 fax
Visit us online at

SLPS - Where You Belong

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sample external newsletter

Click here to see external newsletter.


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(Sample internal newsletter)

SLPS Spotlight News

December 19, 2008 Special Holiday Edition

SLPS Spotlight News is a publication from the St. Louis Public School District’s Public Information Office. Each issue offers story ideas and provides media with information about what is going on in the district. If you’re interested in submitting stories, email Deborah Sistrunk at


Save money while helping St. Louis Public Schools
Here’s a win-win situation for SLPS employees, family, and friends. Save 10% every time you make purchases at Five percent of every purchase goes directly to the district. The website features shoes, boots, sandals, bags, and a number of accessories. There’s something for the entire family! Visit and place your order.

Warm hands, warm hearts
Thanks to the generosity of the central office staff, SLPS students will have warm hands this winter. The Giving Tree at 801 was decorated from top to bottom with colorful hats, mittens, scarves and gloves for girls and boys. The 159 cozy gifts, which included 11 teddy bears, will be shared with our students at the Gateway Homeless Shelter, Hope House, and Women’s Safe House. We are grateful for the support of this project.

Baden Elementary marks holiday festivities with Secret Santa program and concert
Baden Elementary hosted its 7th annual Secret Santa event on December 16. Once again, Janel and Maurice Jordan demonstrated their generosity by presenting Pre-K and 1st grade students with items from their wish lists. Ms. Jordan is a computer teacher at Walbridge Elementary. Her husband is the founder of the Secret Santa program. The Jordans, along with
other district employees, presented beautifully wrapped gifts and bicycles to eager students and their parents. During the last seven years, the Jordans and SLPS employees have granted over 1,100 wishes! Baden students took the opportunity to demonstrate the holiday spirit in their own way. The school’s student choir braved freezing temperatures to perform a concert at the Baden Branch of the St. Louis Public Library.

Fanning Middle sponsors community service projects and greets inspirational speaker
To demonstrate the spirit of giving, Fanning Middle participated in two community service projects. A canned food drive benefited the New Life Evangelistic Center, which serves the homeless. In addition, faculty members did their own good deed. The faculty contributed funds to provide three families with a memorable holiday meal. Meanwhile, two AVID classes and other selected students received a big-time treat this week. Build-A-Bear’s Maxine Clark made an appearance at the school. She told the youngsters her exciting story about how her company was created. Clark took questions from the group and from individual students, some of whom expressed an interest in starting their own businesses. Before she left, Clark presented all 80 students with a gift – a limited edition Cardinal Fredbird!

Adams preschoolers show you’re never too young to give from the heart
Early childhood students at Adams recently spread some holiday cheer when they visited Beauvais Manor, a retirement home. The youngsters sang, “jingled” bells, and tapped rhythm sticks as the senior citizens smiled from ear to ear. The young ones also spent time chatting with the residents and shaking hands, while looking their adorable best!

Clyde C. Miller varsity football team to be honored
Centennial Christian Church will honor the varsity football team and coaches from Clyde C. Miller Academy. The team gave their time to the church’s Feed the Children campaign. The team and coaches will receive a plaque of appreciation during a morning worship service on December 21.

Employees in Career and Technical Education come to the rescue
The Division of Career and Technical Education has adopted an SLPS family in need. The family, which includes six children, lost everything in a fire. The employees, who chose not to exchange gifts this year, pitched in to buy a much needed gift certificate for the family.

Cole eMINTS students shop for holiday groceries
Representatives of University of Missouri Extension recently paid a visit to Cole eMINTS. Through a collaborative effort with Save-a-Lot, the school and the grocery chain gave groceries to all Cole students, parents, and staff. It was all in the spirit of goodwill and thanksgiving. Meanwhile, Jody Squires and Kellie Lowe of the Extension program gave students a lesson in nutrition and budgeting to prepare the youngsters for grocery shopping. Students wrote their own grocery list and “shopped” for food in a designated area arranged by Save-a-Lot employees and school volunteers. Students paid for their purchases with Cole Eagle Money.

Soldan choir wows audience
Soldan’s choir continued its reputation for excellence when it performed at a concert at the US Bank Plaza last week. The group sang at a Missouri Regional Business Council meeting. Jasmine Turner, who sang a lovely rendition of “God Bless America” for the December 9 gathering, received a $500 check for her outstanding work. A broad smile could be seen on the face of the instructor, Kevin Mansco. He was clearly very proud of his students.

Vote for our AVID students!
Two Vashon students are finalists in the Inauguration Essay Contest sponsored by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Lindenwood University. The two finalists are Robin French (AVID teacher, Samantha Smith) and Darrell Stewart (AVID teacher, Anna Gardner-Andrews). Students were asked to respond to the following prompt, “If you were president, what would you change?” Students were inspired to consider this question after learning about the November presidential election and the January inauguration.

Fifteen finalists remain from all the entries received (approximately 300) and now the public gets to vote for their favorite essay. Mrs. Gardner-Andrews and Ms. Smith would like to encourage all St. Louis Public School students and staff to support Darrell and Robin by going to and voting. Although these students will automatically receive a $100 savings bond for being selected as finalists, one of them has the chance to win a $500 savings bond if their essay receives the most online votes.

You can read the essays of the 15 finalists, as well as all other compositions, on the website above. Robin and Darrell submitted the only winning essays from St. Louis Public Schools.

Holiday cheer greets Jefferson Elementary students
Employees from Plaza Motors made a visit to Jefferson Elementary School to deliver toys and gifts to all students and staff. Plaza arrived with a staff of 20 employees to personally deliver gifts to each classroom. Jefferson also received a collection of books for the library and a supply of classroom necessities for each teacher. Plaza connected with Jefferson students during the visit by actor Will Smith in November. The toys and gifts in excess of those delivered to students were delivered to children at the Gateway Homeless Shelter.

Hundreds of SLPS students attend holiday party at Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls Club
One thousand students crowded into the Mathews-Dickey Boys and Girls club for a recent holiday party. The youngsters had loads of fun. Each student received a bit of cash in their holiday bag. Several students were the “big winners.” They were selected to receive bicycles! These students hailed from ten schools: Ames, Ashland, Buder, Cote Brilliante, Froebel, Gateway, Lexington, Shepard, Washington Montessori, and Scruggs.

Happy Holidays to our entire SLPS family!

Sample feature

Click here to see feature story.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Samples of news stories

Click here and here to see news stories.

In pursuit of creative writing

Thoughtful book marketing presents opportunities to shine

Promoting books, fiction and nonfiction, is a labor-intensive task. Just ask any serious writer who has had an active role in the marketing process. Writing an effective news release to market the book means doing your homework and articulating how your book differs from the thousands of others looking for publicity.

Nikki Woods (pictured right), a popular radio personality in Chicago, has penned a novel that's now hitting book stores. Take a look at a news release I crafted for her. Nikki did a great job of providing me with plenty of background material to work with, including her manuscript.

This particular version of the release is regionalized to Nikki's home town. However, with a little creativity, we could target this same release to virtually any market.

St. Louis native debuts gripping novel

Lies, betrayal and greed threaten essence of friendship and sisterhood

(Chicago – September 14, 2005) Kingston just closed the deal of the century. Her colleagues and friends are buzzing about her success. But in the blink of an eye, tragedy turns Kingston’s world upside down. Forget the spotlight. The queen, now knocked from her throne, must come face to face with family drama, a past love and jealousy - one heartache after another.

Novelist Nikki Woods debuts Easier Said Than Done with a cast of characters so full of life that they breathe, dream and shout right off the page. This compelling story starts in Chicago but quickly transitions to sexy Jamaica. It tells the story of a got-it-goin’-on entertainment executive – how she is suddenly forced to navigate through the murky waters of corporate success, demands of family and romance.

But that’s not all. This fiction puts a fresh spin on the story of sisterhood – deep relationships between women – messy relationships between women. Many readers will find someone they know in Kingston’s best friends – Keela and Essence. Romance smashes through this sassy page turner, brimming with vivid imagery and emotion.

The novel already is garnering great reviews. It has even captured the attention of New York Times bestselling author Kimberla Lawson Roby, who penned The Best- Kept Secret.

Roby writes, “Easier Said Than Done is a story of overwhelming tragedy, slow realization, injury, and recovery - and the way love conquers all.”

Using emotion-packed prose like the following, Woods transfixes even a reader like Roby:

“This was not the end, and it certainly wasn’t a love story.
I was trapped in a horror movie that was careening out of control.”

Woods weaves a compelling story about the power of love, even as events surface that threaten to shatter her dreams. The novelist fashions the plot with precision and intrigue. The characters quickly come alive.

“Kingston, Keela and Essence are totally different people,” the author states, “but there is some sort of bond that keeps them together as friends.” The reader joins Kingston on a journey where she soon discovers that life may be Easier Said Than Done.

Nikki Woods was born in the St. Louis suburb of Rock Hill. She graduated from Webster Groves High School, and then studied education at Howard University. She earned her B. A. in journalism from the University of St. Francis. Woods currently co-hosts a popular radio show in Chicago. She is working on two other novels. Easier Said Than Done is published by Ebony Energy Publishing, Inc.