MASTERING MEDIA RELATIONS
Simply put, reporters and editors at your local television, radio, and print news outlets are the most powerful links to the general public.
News releases are most often used to announce an upcoming event, respond to a current issue or story, or promote a story idea.
When drafting a news release, follow the "inverted pyramid" style of writing by presenting your news in descending order of importance (so editors can cut from bottom to top). Using active voice, try to answer the five Ws in the release's lead, which is the first and/or second paragraph. Additional details should be presented in short, simple sentences throughout the body of the release. The last paragraph should provide a brief description of your organization.
Format the release as you would an advisory, except use double-spacing. The first paragraph should lead with a dateline to indicate where and when the release occurred. If your copy exceeds one page, indicate that it is continued on a second page by typing "-MORE-" at the bottom center of the first page. In the top right corner of the second page, type an identifying phrase with the page number, such as "ENHANCING EMERGENCY MEDICAL CARE for Children, page 2 of 2." At the end of the release, type "-END-," "-30-", or "###."
On any given day, a mid-to-large-sized newspaper, radio, or television station will receive many news releases. Here are several tips to ensure that your release stands out from the crowd:
- KEEP IT CONCISE: Sentences and paragraphs should be short. Try to keep your release to a single page.
- USE QUOTES: In addition to yourself (or your spokesperson), you may want to include a quote from a local authority or community leader. Quotes of this sort are relatively easy to get, they legitimize the story, and they endear you to whomever you are quoting.
- CHECK ACCURACY: Triple-check every fact, figure, and name in the release, and have someone else read your release for accuracy. Your reputation is at stake. Eliminate confusing and misleading acronyms, abbreviations, and industry jargon.
- USE A STYLEBOOK: Most bookstores carry stylebooks to assure consistent punctuation, capitalization, and other journalistic protocol.
When planning an event, advisories often are a first tool used to alert the media. The media advisory addresses the five Ws - who, what, where, when, and the why of an event. Their format is short, almost always less than one page.
Include your name, work and home telephone numbers. If the news is to be publicized right away, specify, "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE," followed by the date, in the top left-hand corner. If you wish to have it disclosed at another date and time, list it as, "EMBARGOED UNTIL (the date and time of release)." At the end of the release, type "-END," "-30-", OR "###".
Pitch letters are written proposals sent to encourage reporters and editors to cover specific news events or story ideas. Because the media receives several story proposals each day, you must craft a well-written, original pitch that will stand out.
- Keep the letter to one page - be brief.
- When possible, address the letter to a specific person, never just a title.
- Develop an opening paragraph that can clearly and concisely draw the reader into news of local interest.
- Ask the reporter in the second or third paragraph to cover your story, and explain why his or her coverage would provide a service to your local community.
- Close by thanking the reporter or editor for considering your idea and telling how you intend to follow up.
- Don't ask favors, express hopes, or overly flatter the editor.
- Double-check for clean copy - nothing frustrates a reporter more than receiving a letter marred by errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation.
Op-eds are in-depth opinion pieces usually published opposite the editorial page in newspapers. Typically 600 to 800 words long, these columns provide public relations professionals an opportunity to increase public awareness of specific issues.
When drafting an op-ed, concentrate on one idea. The first one or two paragraphs should capture the reader's attention by stating the central idea or thesis, and should establish the author's credibility. The rest of the column should support the thesis with pertinent facts and statistics. Be firm with your opinion, but avoid being fanatical, coming on too strong may undermine your credibility.
RADIO AND TELEVISION EDITORIALS
Radio and television editorials are written statements similar to op-eds, yet more concise. Depending on the station, either an editorial director or you will deliver the message. Most broadcast editorials are taped as "talking-head" segments, meaning you or the editorial director stand or sit in front of the camera and read from a teleprompter.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS
A public service announcement (PSA) is another direct-to-the public tool for communicating your message via television or radio. Unlike commercials (i.e., paid advertising), broadcast PSA’s are run free of charge.
To qualify as a PSA, the message must provide helpful information to the public, solicit support or participation for a particular cause, and/or offer an organization's free services. PSAs always include a "call to action" statement, which asks the audience to do something such as call, write, or contribute.
Three formats for broadcast PSAs are: 1)"live-read" (scripted) PSAs that are delivered by a station personality, 2) pre-produced audiotapes for radio and, 3) pre-produced videotapes for television.
PUBLIC SERVICE ADVERTISEMENTS
Like broadcast PSAs, public service advertisements (also referred to as PSAs) are published free of charge in newspapers, magazines, and newsletters. Printed PSAs also aim to heighten community awareness of an event, cause, or organization, and must include a "call to action."
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Letters to the editor usually respond to a recent story or op-ed that ran earlier. The letter can support or oppose the article or offer additional commentary. If responding to a previously published piece, you must provide the name of the article you are referring to, the section in which it appeared, and the date that it ran.
Letters can also introduce an issue that has not been recently reported, but that its author feels should be discussed. If submitting a letter that falls into this category, clearly describe the issue you are addressing so that readers unfamiliar with it will understand your opinion.
Letters should be short and concise (no more than 400 words). Remember to provide your name, address, and telephone number at the end of the response.
NEWS BRIEFINGS, MEDIA EVENTS, AND NEWS CONFERENCES
News briefings, media events, and news conferences create an interactive setting for communicating your message to the media and the public. When you have important news to announce, reporters and editors sometimes respond more readily to an event than to a release alone. By providing an interesting "portrayal," plenty of visuals, and an opportunity for interviews, you bring each element of a substantive story to the reporter.
Each of these events is similar in that they provide direct contact with the media and, in some cases, the public. Where they differ is in their application.
News briefings are utilized most often for official periodic (hourly, daily, weekly, etc.) updates during critical or emergency situations, such as airplane crashes or natural disasters.
Media events are designed to attract the attention of many reporters and the general public, and are best issued benign in nature. They can range in scale from a life vest giveaway at the local elementary school to a mock crash event at a shopping center to the Academy Awards. The key is plenty of visuals.
News conferences give you the opportunity to address issues, respond to situations, argue a point, and/or promote a finding or initiative one-on-one with the media. However, experience has taught public relations professionals this vehicle of communication can be grossly overused. Too often, reporters show up at news conferences and decide a few minutes later there isn't any real news to cover. There is nothing worse than calling a news conference, getting all of your contacts to show up, and then telling them something they could have just as easily understood with a news release.
As a general rule, and to save yourself unwanted embarrassment and loss of credibility, only call a news conference for important issues that have a large impact on the community and/or need further explanation or visual support. Do not call a news conference if the information can be disseminated just as easily in a news release.
MEDIA RELATIONS WRITING TIPS
News releases provide broadcast and print reporters, editors, directors, and producers with the relevant information about an upcoming activity or story idea. A news release is the single most important document in attracting media coverage.
- Follow the inverted pyramid style of writing by presenting your news in descending order of importance.
- Use active voice, try to answer who, what, where, when, why, and how in the release's lead, which is the first and/or second paragraph.
- The first paragraph should consist of one or two sentences, no longer than 30 words, that give the reader a clear understanding of your story.
- Include a quote from a local official or organization representative. Identify the people mentioned in your release by their titles and organizations.
- The last paragraph should provide a brief description of your organization.
- Type your release with the name and work and home telephone numbers of your media liaison in the top right-hand corner of the first page. If the news is to be publicized right away, specify, "FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE," followed by the date, in the top left-hand corner.
- If your release exceeds one page, type "-more-".
- To signify the end of your release, type a "###" or "-30-" below the closing paragraph.
PRESS RELEASE WRITING MADE EASY
- KEEP IT NEAT
Typed press releases are much easier to read.
- DATE YOURSELF
Your release should have two dates: the date you wrote it and the date you would like it made public. If there is no specific date for going public; just write FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.
- WHO ARE YOU? WHERE ARE YOU?
Give the name, address, home phone, and work phone of the person to call for more information. If you do not want one of those numbers to appear in the paper please state this.
- JUST THE FACTS Ma'am, JUST THE FACTS
Give all the important information-who, what, where, when, why, and how up front. Make sure you check, double check, and triple check the dates, times, phone numbers, and name spelling.
- TIMING IS EVERYTHING
Allow two or three weeks between the day the media outlet receives the release and the day of the event. The more lead-time given the more likely it can be used as news.
WHEN THE MEDIA CONTACTS YOU
Once you have established yourself (and your organization) as a credible, convenient news source, expect to be contacted for information from time to time. Any interview with a television, radio, or print reporter should be treated as a special opportunity to communicate key messages and to offer valuable industry perspectives.