I often find that dealing with media seems to fall into two distinct categories– either a slam dunk experience that requires little effort or a scourge to be avoided at all cost. Sometimes, it can be a little of both. The key to media success is to better understand the rules of engagement.
Why contact the media?
To promote your story/event to the broader community. Print and electronic media are the most efficient and effective ways to do this, despite recent cutbacks. And it’s free publicity. But, you need to have a clear and realistic objective about what you want to do and how you want to do it.
Questions To Ask Yourself Before Contact
Do you want media to pre-publicize your event as a public service announcement (PSA)? If so, you’ll likely know that they are becoming more scarce these days. Or, are you seeking story/event coverage? Before starting, you need to ask yourself the following questions. You also need to develop some answers.
Is there a ‘community of interest’ beyond you and a few colleagues? Is your story sufficiently ‘newsworthy’ to have some local impact and relevance? What about urgency? Is it a ‘hard’ news piece or a ‘soft’ human interest story? The answers to these questions will help you with your planning.
Your media contact list may include the city or book editor at the local paper, news or assignment editors, in radio or television. Maybe it’s a radio morning show host if your story/event is zany and creative. Try to align your story with the right media demographics. A classical music radio station as a sponsor for your rock concert may not be the best choice. In television, visuals are essential for good storytelling, providing heightened appeal. You’ll need supportive visuals to reinforce your content.
Your designated spokesperson should be both knowledgeable and articulate, no exceptions. All outgoing media copy whether news releases, advisories, or backgrounders need to be business-like and well-written. Pay attention to syntax, grammatical and spelling errors. Avoid acronyms. You may not get a second chance!
Getting buy-in and support is based on many factors: the professional impression you give; lead time; competing story assignments and limited media resources.
Which Media Tools and Why
The best tool is a media kit, which contains a media release or advisory (event only), an itinerary, a story/event backgrounder and some interesting bios on key officials that relate to the story.
Always send out media releases for announcements and media advisories for events. They should be no longer than two pages maximum (include a contact person and phone number), along with an itinerary and one-page backgrounder. Press conferences are usually reserved for high impact announcements and events. Although lead time may vary, be sure to allow sufficient time. For a major event, 4-6 weeks is recommended, otherwise 2 weeks’ notice.
Proposed Media Action Plan:
Phase 1 – Contact media outlets/reporters well in advance, initially by phone to gauge interest. Follow-up by email or twitter handle at reporter discretion.
Phase 2 – Once your media release or advisory (event) is ready, send it out to local media, preferably by twitter or e-mail, 10 days in advance.
Phase 3 – Follow-up next day by phone to confirm receipt of release and to re-engage reporter. Check for commitment.
Phase 4- Announcement/Event: Start proceedings on time! This is key to credibility. Assign someone to welcome the media with a standard press kit. Introduce the media to the host/spokesperson, who may be interviewed during or post event.
Phase 5 – Thank the media and check the likely time and air date for the interview.
Create a current media list, which you can be updated regularly. Excel spreadsheets work well. Include the name of the media outlet, reporter, twitter handle, email, phone number, and possible mailing address. You may want to include past coverage, story length and interview tone for future use. Remember to include new online media, contacts, and popular social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, for sharing stories.
Secondly, grow your media contact network by establishing an ongoing relationship with each outlet/reporter. Touch base with them briefly every few months, not just when you need them. It’ll work to your advantage.
Joe Troxler is a media relations consultant and a former broadcaster, who has worked across Canada for over twenty-five years. He is located in Ottawa.