Organizing your contest to get into the local news

One great side benefit of holding a Student Design Competition is the chance to see it on the evening TV news and reported in the newspapers. It is exciting to participants and organizers alike. It also helps publicize ASME International in the best of ways. If you want to have a chance to see YOUR competition covered well in the news there are some things to think about.

First, the media need to know about the contest. TV in particular needs to understand the visual aspects of it. Newspapers and television stations are interested in stories about the technical ingenuity of young people, and will be inclined to cover the event if presented properly. If you don't know who (or how) to contact the media, help is available through ASME's office of public information. Call (212) 591-8158 for assistance and advice.

Second, when choosing and setting up the contest venue, think about how you are going to arrange it so that both spectators and media can see what is happening. Photographers and video crews need full-action views and space to maneuver camera angles. Make sure they cannot be crowded out or blocked out by other spectators. Make sure that spectators have viewing areas defined by seats, stations, etc., where they have a clear view of the contest and where they will not be tempted to intrude into the area needed for contest participants, judges, and the media. Finally, when setting up the area arrange it so that the ASME logo will be in the background of as many video or photographic shots as possible!

Third, understand that the Student Design Contest is IMPORTANT. Don't let the contest get pushed into a back corner somewhere, or scheduled at an inconvenient time.

Fourth, you need to have at least one person specifically designated as a "Contest Information Director" (CID) to work with the media. He or she should be involved in contacting the media ahead of time. That person should wear an ID tag and be on the lookout for media people while the event is in progress. The CID's job is to meet and help them. The CID should be equipped with handout material on the contest and on ASME in general. That material should include competition rules, a list of competing teams and their schools, announcements of future events including the national competition at the IMECE in November, and, if possible, biographical data on contestants or teams. General information on ASME International should also be handed out as a matter of routine. The CID should be prepared to arrange interviews with teams, contest organizers, or ASME officers as requested.

Fifth, you need to be concerned about the contest schedule. Reporters, particularly in the TV industry, work under heavy deadline pressure. You need to give them very definite times for when the "interesting stuff" will be going on. Then you NEED TO STICK TO THE SCHEDULE. In most TV markets you could expect a two-person TV crew to be on site for 15 to 30 minutes on this kind of story. They would be most interested in seeing the performance of one or more of the teams in their broadcast area. Rarely will they be willing to stay for the whole competition. They will be interested in knowing the winners and placement of "local" teams, however. That information will generally be included in the narrative part of the report, which will be added after the video has been edited into a story. Thus they may ask the CID to phone them with the information right after the contest is completed. Don't delay getting this information to them if you want the story covered.

Finally, make it hard for reporters and spectators alike to tear themselves away from the contest by keeping it moving and interesting at all times. Make sure the next team to run is always present in the "on-deck" area with all tools and equipment in hand. Introduce each team clearly. Make sure audio amplification equipment is present so each team can be heard making its pre-run presentation. Keep trial run preparation out of the main competition. Keep posting information as possible on a big scoreboard so everyone can follow the competition.

Above all, have fun--and make it obvious that you are all having fun.