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Reports from the European Mastery Symposium
November 15-16, 2002

From: LEAVEN, Vol. 39 No. 2,April-May 2003, pp. 41, 42, 47.

Flore Ollivier
Oberhausbergen France
Rachel O’Leary
Cambridge Great Britain

The setting for the European Mastery Symposium was the beautiful and ancient abbey of Rolduc in the Netherlands, now converted into a conference center. The chilly stone corridors echoed with children’s happy noises, Leaders took a breath of fresh air in the formal gardens, and we worked hard all day and into the evening. Fifty Leaders attended, from Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, Hungary, Ireland and Northern Ireland, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, and the USA. This session took place in a modern meeting room. Chairs were arranged in a large circle and each participant shared her experiences and thoughts about working with the media.
Is it always desirable to respond to controversial topics taken up by the media? Ibolya Rozsa from Hungary suggested that this might draw attention unnecessarily to unfounded alarmist headlines. Jane Farren from Ireland found that speed is of the essence if a response is actually needed. Denise Both from Germany finds that much of her work as Area Professional Liaison involves briefing Leaders in a timely way so that they can respond to media inquiries. Phoebe Tait, Public Relations Director from Great Britain, agrees and finds that she often encourages Leaders to say to journalists, "I don’t know but I will find out and get back to you."
There had been some bad experiences with journalists misquoting Leaders or writing inaccurately. Leaders supported each other to continue to focus on the most important aspect or our work—mothers and babies.
A more proactive approach can work well. In the Netherlands, the Dutch LLL organization helped to produce a full-color magazine that is given free to every new mother by the nurses who visit once a day for eight days after the birth. The free magazine has the LLL number printed in it. However, sometimes a proactive approach works too well: the Leader who gave her telephone number for the magazine article was overwhelmed with calls!
Martina Carabetta, Area Coordinator of Leaders of Italy, described her technique with journalists. She is very assertive, making it a condition that if she gives an interview she must see the article before it is printed. Other Leaders found that journalists are insulted if they ask to see an article before printing. It seems less likely that a journalist who is reporting in her own words will allow the article to be reviewed before printing, but the Leader being interviewed has a right to ask to check any direct quotes for accuracy.
Agreements beforehand are useful when negotiating photographs—including who has the copyright and whether the LLL entity may use any in their own LLL publications. All participants agreed that our first responsibility is to mothers and our Groups, and working with the media is secondary.

Bettina Gerbeau
Madrid Spain

Things often happen by chance. You must be attentive to catch your opportunity. My opportunity came when a radio station in Madrid, Spain called to interview me about the International Week of Breastfeeding. I explained what LLL does as an organization and provided details about the International Week of Breastfeeding. Afterwards, I mentioned that I thought a question and answer segment on breastfeeding would not only be interesting for the audience, but that they would be the only local radio channel to have something like this. The manager of the station was not very keen on the idea, but I explained that each Leader in Madrid answers about 100 calls a month and mothers also come to our meetings. I also pointed out that when a mother is breastfeeding, she listens to the radio, too. He agreed to make a trial show and added, "If there are no calls, don’t come again."

On the first Tuesday that the breastfeeding segment was on the air, there were four calls from mothers—naturally they were all friends of mine. The following Tuesday, there were three calls, only two of the three being friends of mine. As time went on, less of my friends were calling and more mothers I had never met began to ask questions.

Now, in between answering a few letters and calls, I speak about a pre-chosen breastfeeding topic during the show. I also encourage the mothers in our LLL Group to call or write to the radio station.

In addition to my work with the radio station, I also work on a parenting magazine. I became involved with this publication when a journalist approached me, asking if I had any photos of mothers to accompany their articles. I was even given the chance to direct an entire photo session for an article on positioning. When I went to the publishing house to choose the rest of the photos for the project, I met several female journalists. We talked about breastfeeding and I provided them with information. Since this chance meeting, I am often called to direct photo shoots and the local journalists interview me when they have to write an article about breastfeeding.

Because La Leche League is not very well known in Spain, the public and media tend to think of a particular person instead of an organzation when they think of LLL. It’s my responsibility to provide a good image of LLL because, to these people, "I" am LLL. I think that a Leader who is in contact with any media has to be prudent, talk only as much as is necessary, be pleasant, and be professional. If they see you are reliable, they will use your knowledge and when they do so, you can use them to provide free publicity for LLL.

Jane Farren
Cork Ireland

One of the fathers involved in our Group is a sound engineer with his own studio. It was his wife’s idea that we record a series of ads for LLL Ireland. The focus of the ads would be the advantages of breastfeeding to the mother. The messages included, "Breastfeeding burns 500 calories a day," "Breastfeeding reduces the risk of some maternal cancers," and "Breastfeeding delays the return of fertility," among others.

The ads were 10 seconds long, which reduced the transmission costs. Four of the ads began with the line "Did you know..." to promote LLL name recognition. We hoped that mothers would begin to recognize that line and listen for our message. The voices used were both male and female, partially because male voices are perceived as "professional," but mainly because the dad in question was happy to help and did not charge for his services.

By far the biggest expense was transmission costs. We ran it on a very popular morning show on a national station in Ireland twice a day for two weeks. We got some unexpected positive feedback from the show’s presenter—publicity we could never have paid for.

Christine Koehler
Paris France

We seldom have journalists at meetings, and we never have movie stars, but recently it happened on the same day! A newspaper journalist found our Group meeting on the Internet. The location was not far from her home and the timing was convenient. After calling and making arrangements with us, she came to a meeting and brought a photographer with her.

I was really surprised that morning to see that the first pregnant woman to enter the room was a movie star. Just a moment later, the journalist and the photographer arrived. We saw the face of the movie-star-mother become pale, while the journalist had a big smile on her face when she recognized her. We had to explain quickly to the movie-star-mother that the journalist had arranged to attend in advance. Luckily, there are several Leaders and we had planned to hold two meetings that morning in order to let each mother decide whether or not she wanted to be in the group with the journalist. Of course, the movie star didn’t want to be photographed and all the mothers wanted to be in the same group as her.

In the next half-hour, all the mothers who arrived chose to be in the non-journalist room and I was alone with the journalist and the photographer. Fortunately, as more mothers began to arrive and our two meetings worked well. This meeting was very successful for memberships because when the celebrity purchased a membership, all the mothers around her wanted to do the same!

Recently, I have been approached to be on another television program. The journalist requested that we discuss matters related to breastfeeding—such as IQ, obesity, and breast cancer—during one of our Group meetings. I explained that an LLL Group does not lecture, but told him that he would be welcomed to observe during the meeting, as long as the mothers in the Group have no objections to being filmed.

Laure Simon
Bettendorf Luxembourg

My colleague, Ute Rock, was contacted by a radio presenter at a small, but popular, station. We were offered regular segments on the air to talk about breastfeeding. Ute agreed, so we were both on the radio every other Monday morning for three minutes, talking about breastfeeding!

We did this for about two years until the station changed their lineup. Since the new schedule didn’t include our breastfeeding spot, Ute contacted another radio presenter who worked at a different station.

The new radio station is more intellectual and our audience is about the same size. The spots are longer, but only every three weeks. Ute and I take turns for these segments. We prepare for the program by writing down mothers’ questions with our answers and mailing them to the presenter, just to make sure that we are all on the same track and address all the important information.

The radio station broadcasts in our language throughout the whole country (400,000 inhabitants), so we have the opportunity to reach many mothers.

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