There’s no guarantee a chief of staff, editor or producer will respond well to your request for coverage in their newspaper or on radio or TV. However, having the right information in a media release will maximise your chances of success.
At a time when we are all inundated with information from countless sources every day, one of the greatest challenges facing organisations is how to tell as many people as possible what they do and how they do it.
Many organisations are experiencing great success in connecting with clients or customers via social media and other digital marketing channels. But an equally large number find tapping into traditional print and broadcast media much more difficult.
Believe it or not, many major organisations fail to deliver the most basic information when they submit a media release.
As a result the risk missing out on opportunities for invaluable promotion, engagement and connection.
It only takes a few seconds for a chief of staff, editor or producer to decide whether your story may interest their readers, listeners or viewers, and there are some easy ways to ensure your request for a story ends up allocated to a reporter for follow up, rather than dumped in the waste paper bin for recycling.
It may seem obvious that a professional looking Media Release will be more likely to be taken seriously, but you’d be surprised how often organisations get it wrong.
Making the initial contact
Getting in touch with the decision makers in traditional media involves doing your homework, making smart choices and being prepared at a moment’s notice to pitch your potential story in a couple of short sentences.
If you’ve never had any dealings with the media and the idea of contacting an editor or producer is intimidating, following these tips may eliminate any sense of anxiety and improve your chances of a positive response:
- Target the right media for your message. Read newspapers and magazines, listen to radio programs and watch TV news and current affairs programs to determine which would have the most appropriate readership, listeners or viewers for your story. There’s no point pitching a story about a fundraising drive for a local charity to a specialist financial newspaper.
- Call the news organisation up front. If you can’t be put straight through to the right person to contact, find out their name and email address, if possible, and address your covering email to them.
- Some organisations will give you a generic or shared email address, in which case you should address your email to the chief of staff, editor or executive producer, as appropriate.
- If you get put through to the news desk, make sure you know exactly what you want to say. Consider rehearsing a brief spiel with a colleague or friend, ensuring you focus on what makes your story unusual or compelling.
- When sending a pitch via email, include a brief synopsis in the body of the email, and attach the media release (see tips below) plus a clear, high-resolution photo or photos.
- Make sure your phone number is included in your email signature. The easier it is for an editor or producer to contact you, the better.
Writing a standout media release
- Use your organisation’s letterhead, and type the words Media Release (centred in bold) immediately below the letterhead details.
- Include the current date on the next line, along with an indication of whether the information is for immediate release or embargoed until a specific date.
- Use a pithy but powerful headline to grab their attention. Many people make the mistake of trying to say too much in the headline. Keep it as simple as possible, and make sure it sums up exactly what the release is about without giving too much away. You want to intrigue the editor, and encourage them to read further. Consider the types of newspaper headlines that grab your attention, and practice emulating them.
- Put the most important information in your first paragraph, but keep it relatively short and use active, positive language. The first couple of paragraphs should explain the ‘who, what, where, when and why’ of the product, service or story you want to share, but if they’re too long or too complex your message will be lost.
- Use the ‘inverted triangle’ technique to structure the remaining body content, with information progressing from most important (near the top) to least important (near the bottom). Writing this way is the most basic form of journalism, ensuring that the key details are not lost if a reader is short of time.
- Keep your language simple and straightforward. Avoid technical jargon and don’t use trendy terms or buzzwords. Editors often recommend writing to ensure a 12-year-old can understand what you are trying to convey.
- Use facts and figures to substantiate your claims where possible. Ensure that if you are stating that your product is the only one of its kind, you can back this up with conviction.
- Incorporate quotes from a spokesperson for your organisation to give your message a personal touch. Use the first name and surname of the person you are quoting, as well as their role within your organisation. Check the style of the publication or program you are targeting, to determine whether they attribute quotes with full name, first name or surname only, or if they use demonyms such as Miss, Ms, Mrs or Mr, and present your Media Release to suit their needs. It’s frustrating for a reporter to have to check this information if you haven’t provided it.
- Keep your Media Release short – a maximum of one to one-and-a-half double-spaced A4 pages – but make sure all the most important details are covered. Ask yourself what you would want to know if you knew nothing about your product, service or event, and incorporate this information in your release.
- Your final paragraph should include the name and number or email address of a contact person within your organisation, intended for publication or broadcasting, so that readers or listeners can contact them for further information, if needed.
- If you are sending a photograph with the media release, you should also include a caption describing what’s happening in the photo and providing the names and titles of all people from left to right (and make sure you indicate that the names are listed from left to right).
- Insert a solid line at the end of your release – or type the word ENDS – and on a new line write the name, number and email address of your organisation’s ‘media contact’, so a reporter or editor can contact them directly for further details, to arrange a photo shoot or to record an interview. By separating this information from the body of the Media Release, the editor or producer will know it’s not for publication.
- Consider also providing a ‘boilerplate’ paragraph about your organisation after the media contact details. This is a few sentences to describe your group or organisation, as background information and to reinforce your legitimacy.
- The most important step in preparing a Media Release is to have a friend with strong writing skills proof read it before you send it. You don’t want to send a release riddled with typos or grammatical errors.
The accompanying image
Finally, if you’re including a photo, or photos, with your media release – and I recommend you do – keep the number of people to a minimum and get up nice and close to them, while ensuring there are no shadows on their faces.
If it’s absolutely necessary to have a shot of a large group, focus on two or three people up close with the others in the background.
Study photographs in local, state or national newspapers for inspiration, and to gain an understanding of what editors want.
If you do include a photo, or photos, make sure you also highlight in your covering letter that representatives of your group can be available for a photo shoot, if needed.
Download a media release I wrote for children’s charity Operation Sunshine
Children’s charity Operation Sunshine approached me to write a Media Release, to help them source volunteers to put together “Sunshine Packs” — backpacks with practical and comforting goods for children and youth entering care or escaping domestic violence.
After chatting with Founder Leah Atkinson, I put together a release seeking volunteers for the “Sunshine Session”, and this release was sent to local newspapers and broadcast media outlets.
As a result, one local paper published a front page story and half-page photo and a local radio station will be interviewing Leah about Operation Sunshine’s ongoing efforts on behalf of children in need. The organisation has more than enough volunteers for the Sunshine Session, and is now gearing up for another media campaign ahead of its annual Christmas Present Appeal.
Feel free to use the media release I wrote to help guide your own efforts.
Maureen’s first picture book for children, Every Family is Different was published by Serenity Press early this year. It celebrates diversity among families and encourages tolerance and acceptance. Copies are available via the Serenity Press website.