Colistra_McDowell PR Workshop_Group Exercise

WVU P.I. Reed School of Journalism Assistant Professor Rita Colistra talks with workshop participants during a group exercise at The Public Relations and Marketing Workshop hosted by Travel Beautiful Appalachia Inc. in McDowell County, W.Va.

Just because an organization or individual has a good story to tell doesn’t mean they know how to tell it or who to tell it to. That can be especially true of nonprofits.

That’s where Dr. Rita Colistra at the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism comes in.

“Often times, these nonprofits are all that people have to turn to when they’re in need—especially in smaller, more isolated areas,” says Colistra, an assistant professor in the School of Journalism. “Therefore, educating these organizations about how to effectively reach their key publics, whether through the media or other means, is essential in helping them generate awareness and getting their messages across in order to help their fellow community members.”

That’s one of the reasons Colistra recently led a public relations workshop hosted by Travel Beautiful Appalachia Inc. in McDowell County, W.Va., covering such topics as how to promote organizations, reaching key publics and how to effectively work with the media.

Executive Director of TBAI Sharon Walden coordinated the free workshop, which took place at the historic Ashland Company Store, based on surveys collected from the local community that indicated an interest in public relations training.

“One of Travel Beautiful Appalachia’s missions is to bring expertise to the people,” said Walden.

Colistra provided a booklet for participants that contained information about public relations resources. The tool book included templates and examples for several formats of public relations in the media. The topics included new releases, broadcast writing tips, PSA guidelines, media advisories and a letter-to-the-editor format.

“We had not seen some of the proper formats before, so the book and templates will help us better promote our organizations,” Walden said.

Workshop attendees also engaged in a group exercise designed to develop story pitches to the media. Nonprofit employees from SAFE (Stop Abusive Family Environments), SHED (Safe Housing Economic Development), TBAI, AmeriCorps Vista and private citizens received positive critiques and tips from Colistra about how to create newsworthy pitches for their organizations and business ventures.

Mary-Ann Caskey-Drake attended the workshop to learn PR tactics on how to market and promote her book of poetry, “Timeless Reflections.”

“Finding the right target of readers is one of my problems,” said Drake, “but everything in the workshop was very useful.”

A native West Virginian, Colistra feels interactive workshops are an effective way to reach out to local communities across the state.

Colistra has provided her expertise and services to other state departments and organizations through similar workshops since beginning her career at WVU, including the WV Division of Forestry and nonprofit Flex-e-Grant recipients.

Colistra earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the P.I. Reed School of Journalism before heading to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to complete her doctoral studies as a Roy H. Park Fellow.

Founded in 2005, TBAI’s mission is to focus on the unemployed and underemployed in the McDowell, Wyoming and Mercer county areas and to work with local businesses and entrepreneurs. The Public Relations and Marketing Workshop was funded by the WV HUB, the Benedum Foundation and the WV Development Office. For more information about TBAI, visit


CONTACT: Kimberly Brown, School of Journalism
304-293-3505 ext. 5403