Posts

How to Write a Successful Media Release

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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

  1. Use your organisation’s letterhead, and type the words Media Release (centred in bold) immediately below the letterhead details.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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).
  12. 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.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.

Media Release – Operation Sunshine (PDF)

 


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.

How To Write A Simple Communication Plan

So you’ve just developed a new initiative, service or product that’s going to make a real change to the way your organisation goes about its business or deals with its customers.  But how do you tell all the people involved with your business – those that would be affected and those that could have an effect – about the change that’s about to happen?

What you need is a communication plan.  A communication plan need not be onerous.  It’s simply a matter of identifying what you need to say, who you need to say it to, and the most effective way to say it.  A lot of people are going to be interested in what you’re doing and you need to identify:

  1. Who they are
  2. What to tell them
  3. How to tell them
  4. Who is going to tell them
  5. When they are going to be told

The communication plan

Start with a brief, one sentence statement of what the change is, how it will help and who will benefit.  Literally 25 words or less.  Put it at the top of page one in italics, quotes, bolded, boxed or some other way to make it stand out.  This one sentence is your initiative’s raison d’être, and it will help you keep focused while you develop your plan.

Situation analysis

Next comes a brief story on what has brought about the change.  It might be the changing needs of a key target market, a new form of technology that can be applied to your business, or some other initiative that will fill a market niche you have identified.

Keep it brief and punchy, using active speech and plain English.  Try to keep it no longer than three paragraphs with no more than three sentences per paragraph – if it goes longer give it a hard editing and pare it back – and then put it under a heading like Situation analysis or Current situation.

Stakeholder analysis

Next step is to identify the people that need to know.  You already know who they are; it’s simply a matter of mapping all of your business’s stakeholders that will be affected or potentially have an effect.  Obviously customers, also employees, volunteers and contractors, perhaps suppliers, and maybe other businesses and service providers that refer people to you.  If your new product or service might have political implications, what about the local MP or even the state or federal cabinet minister with responsibility for the field in which you work?

Is there potential media interest in what you’re doing?  If so, the media should also be on your stakeholder list.  Bear in mind though, that the news media does not provide free advertising and once you’ve given the media the information you’ve no longer got control of the message.

If what you need to communicate has a potential bad news angle it might be best to communicate directly with the people that need to know first, and at the same time get ready for media enquiries rather than give the media the story and expect it to run your way.  The media is not necessarily your friend.

So what you’re looking for is all the people or groups that have a real or potential interest in – or an effect on – your service or product.  List your stakeholders in order of importance along with a short sentence of how they would potentially be affected by the changes, or how they could affect what you’re trying to achieve.  Remember there is no such thing as a ‘general public’.  Each of your ‘publics’, or stakeholders, are different so each will probably perceive your product or service differently.  Put your list into your communication plan under the heading of Stakeholder analysis.

Key messages

Now make a list of short, concise sentences that say the what, where, when, why, how and for whom of your product or service.  Refer back to your one sentence at the top of page one to keep you focused.  While you’re building your list keep referring back to your list of stakeholders and put yourself in their shoes.  This will help to ensure you have the answers to all of their potential questions.

Communication channels

Your next step is to identify the best way to tell each of your stakeholders what’s happening.  There’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution to communication.  Each stakeholder or group of stakeholders will have one or more preferred ways of receiving information and your challenge is to find the best and most effective method or methods.

The right channel could be anything from a simple letter to a mass media advertising campaign and might include newsletters (printed or email), your website, brochures, flyers and point-of-sale information, banners and posters, even press, journal, internet, radio or TV advertising, journal articles, maybe a media release to all media or just a call to the editor or a journalist at the local paper, or even setting up a Facebook page or Twitter account.

New media and ways of getting your message out are emerging all the time and each channel is worth investigating to see if it’s where your stakeholders will be seeking information.  Does your organisation have a call centre?  If so customers are likely to call with questions so consider a briefing for call centre staff and developing a Q&A so they can provide a simple answer to the most common questions.  You can use your key messages as a starting point for your Q&A.  If you have the names and addresses of your customers and other stakeholders then a personal letter is often a cheap and effective channel.  If necessary you can tailor individual letters to different stakeholder groups.

Communication matrix

Now you’ve come to the part where you can really start to simplify things, and one really useful way to do this is with a matrix.  Just list all of the channels available to you on one axis and all of your stakeholder groups on the other.  Then for each stakeholder tick the box for the channel or channels you have selected as the best option.  Here’s a simple example:

Personal Letter Newsletter Website Media Release Briefings Social Media
Customers  √  √      √
Employees    √
Volunteers  √  √
Contractors  √
Suppliers  √
Service Providers  √  √
MP’s  √      
Ministers  √      
Media        √  √

That’s it, you’re pretty much done.  All you’ve got to do now is assign tasks to the people who are going to help you, set deadlines and tick off each part of the plan as it’s completed.  One way to do that is to tabulate your plan, print it out and keep it on your desk or pinned to the wall.

Be sure to include the following:

Message:  What do we need to tell them?

Channel: How are we going to tell them?

People:  Who’s responsible for doing it?

Deadline:  By when does it need to happen?

And that’s your communication plan.  It’s simple, effective and should only take a few hours to complete.  It’s also there as a reminder in case anyone gets lost along the way.

And finally, remember that quite often plans don’t go according to plan and even the world’s best communication plan will still need tweaking and updating along the way.