DC Influencer: Avery Mann, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Avery Mann, VP of PR and comms, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, on telling survivors' stories on their terms.

Talk about this year’s Hope Awards.
We wanted to do something special during the Hope Awards for our 30th anniversary and honor Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus [Cleveland women abducted by Ariel Castro] – nearly impossible as they weren’t making public appearances and had never been on a plane or to Washington.

Through two writers at The Washington Post [who are helping Berry and DeJesus write their book], we made a presentation to the women in Cleveland, agreeing with very strict guidelines.

How did you secure a White House tour?
As a senator, Vice President Joe Biden was a member of the Missing Children’s Caucus and a supporter of the center. Via his office, we set up the visit for Amanda, Gina, and their families. When they left, our staff members told us President Obama had come as well.

How did you handle such a sensitive story?
We are extremely sympathetic to victims; our world is child victims. We had an understanding from the beginning: If they wanted to participate in media coverage, we would gladly accommodate it, but it was no problem if they didn’t. We made a lot of arrangements to make sure they weren’t bombarded by media.

At the same time, as a communications professional, we have this incredible honor that we’re giving to these women who are inspiring to other victims and the people who work at the center because they came home – and that’s ultimately the goal.

We had one of our photographers, a young woman, with them in Washington. With their permission, we submitted images to People. Some were seen online and one ran in the print magazine.

What other coverage did you receive?
At the awards, we had every major TV network – broadcast and cable – as well as local Cleveland affiliates. CNN was there, and ABC had two cameras, even though we told them there wasn’t going to be any one-on-one interview time.

In a six-day period around the awards, there were 530 broadcast television hits and 10 radio hits mentioning our Cleveland honorees, the largest amount of media coverage ever for our awards. Attendance was up 20% to more than 500. Guests said it was the best awards yet. We were able to achieve a communications victory and still honor their need for privacy and respect their boundaries.  

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