Building Media Relations: Making it Newsworthy is designed to help you to:
define the newsworthiness of your programs and event to attract news coverage
cultivate relationships with reporters, editors, and publishers
pitch your story to various media outlets
Extra! Extra! Read All About It!
The last time your organization tried to get media/press coverage...
The story you wanted told was about?
The headline you wanted was?
Did you get the type and extent of coverage you desired?
If so, why? If not, why not?
Use the following Newsworthy Checklist to assess your story.
Newsworthy Checklist Use this checklist to determine if your story is newsworthy.
Your story is newsworthy when it...
Impacts the community and the local economy.
Is new ... it has never been done before (in the area, in this manner).
Ties in with what is going on (the season, current news).
Distributes new data.
Appeals to a mass audience.
Working with the Media
The “Media” are just individual people doing their job – getting news and information out to the public. They are not experts in every field on which they report…however, they are experts at determining if the public will be interested in a story. And they are good at locating those who are experts in their fields. You can help them make it easier to locate you!
There is a standard hierarchy in most newsrooms, whether they are radio, television or print. It is important to know how it works, who makes the ultimate decisions and what criteria they use at any given time in the news cycle.
You will be a more effective communicator if you:
Know the deadlines for press releases and advisories
Know in which form the reporter prefers getting information
Know the reporters deadline for filing the story
Know how the news is decided
Know the best person to contact
Know how to pitch a story
Know what individual reporters are interested in – read their stories
Always get back to them in a timely manner with the answer to a question
Always get back to them
The News Media The news media is an intricate system that is used to inform the public of news: new information, timely and current events, unexpected happenings, and random information. Television, radio, and newspapers, the Web, and magazines comprise this network of information distribution. This is a general guide. Find out how your market works, and use this as an opportunity to develop relationships with the key stakeholders and decision makers within each of these media outlets.
Who Reports the News? There are several types of reporters/players working in the media, including:
Editors: prepare, superintend, and revise a newspaper, magazine, news-related web site, or other periodical, for publication.
News director: directs the flow of a television news department. Reporting to this person are the directors, cameramen, editors, producers, assignment desk personnel, and technicians.
News producer: responsible for the flow of an entire television or radio newscast, or a segment of the news program.
Reporters: investigate, write and/or present the news. Many outlets will have a reporter who works on specific topics (e.g. consumer information, financial news) while also having some reporters who are general assignment reporters (all topics).
Television anchors: lead reporters on news broadcasts. If they do story reports, the stories are usually of a larger appeal or may be part of a series.
Radio show hosts, music driven format: host shows, usually during the “drive time” as people go to and come from work. News is often reported during these times and interviews are often conducted.
Radio show hosts, talk driven format: host shows that feature a particular topic. Most radio shows of this type have a call-in component.
The Story: How a Reporter Gets a Story By researching everything. In order to be a successful reporter, one must do his/her homework and research. They get information from a variety of sources:
News wire services provide up-to-date information as it happens around the world. The most common: United Press International and Associated Press.
Other media outlets, including the competition. Reporters read newspapers and publications and watch television to receive as much information as possible from as many as possible.
The public. Through calls, letters, press/news releases, media advisories, events, meetings, wire services and more, reporters get much information and many ideas from the general public.
How Newsrooms Operate A newsroom is the hub for any media outlet. It is a constant buzz of energy, activity and information dissemination. It gets even busier as deadlines, newscasts and show times approach. Most newsrooms operate in similar ways:
Assignment desk: This is the pulse of the newsroom. Most calls are directed here: as people call in with information and as people call in to find out information. Reporters, photographers, and others get their assignments here. The assignment desk editor shapes what news gets covered that day and in the future.
Morning (afternoon) meetings: These meetings schedule the newscasts and determine the layout of the newspaper. A group of people - including, reporters, editors, news directors, producers and assignment desk editors, depending on the medium – meet daily to set the course of what will be news. During these meetings, everything from story placement of front page cover stories to the lead-in story (the first story of a newscast) is decided. These decisions are made based on the news – what is hot at the moment – as it is currently known at the time.
Find a Hook
To Get Your Story Covered
Take a look through the newspaper, note topic stories, trends and ads.
Identify a story which you could use as a “hook” – a link between what you read and a story about your project/initiative that presents another angle. It should:
Localize a national/state story.
Show how the original story impacts/relates to your community and what your project is doing to solve/address this situation.
Provide local human interest.
Write your story idea and headline below, as well as the hook and how you might pitch it to the media in your area.
Communicating with the News Media
You have a story … you know [think] it is newsworthy … and you have a hook and strategy for pitching it. What do you do now?
There are a variety of ways to communicate with members of the news media:
Pitch a story, via letter or phone.
Send a media advisory.
Send a news release.
Host a news conference or briefing.
Organize a media event.
Conduct a media tour.
You can do all of those things without knowing a single reporter or editor. However, you will be more successful when you cultivate a relationship with news staffers and decision makers.
Cultivating a Relationship with Editors, Reporters, Producers Begin by being a news-watcher Watch. Listen. Read. Take note of how issues are being dealt with, by whom, and in what media. Identify the reporters and media outlets most likely to respond to your news. Become familiar with their approach and style.
This background information is vital to successful contact with members of the media. It provides the basis for building your media list.
Create a Media List A media list is essential. Putting it together takes some attention, but you need it to make your work with media successful.
It is very important for your organization to have an up-to-date media list. This is a list that contains the contact information of the media outlets in your area. Your lists should be updated constantly as people often change jobs.
Start by gathering names from by-lines and mastheads in the newspaper (news editors, reporters, photo editors, calendar editors) and credits during newscasts (news directors, producers, and assignment editors). Call local stations and publications and ask who would be most interested in the news you have to offer; include regional publications, stations, and wire services.
Organize the list by categories of news outlet (and if you cover a large geographic area, by media market). Suggested categories: daily newspapers; weekly newspapers or magazines; monthly or quarterly newspapers or magazines; television news; television public affairs (talk shows and news magazines); news and talk radio; music radio; news services (AP & UPI); and freelance journalists.
Your media list should include:
Name and type of media outlet (TV station, newspaper, radio station, etc.).
General contact information: address, telephone, fax number.
Specific contact information: contact names, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail addresses) of various people such as,
assignment desk directors,
public affairs directors at radio and television stations,
reporters that cover a specific beat. (Example: If your organization works to save trees, put the environmental reporter on your list.)
Update your list regularly from the records you keep of media contacts: every telephone call, meeting, conference or interview. (Use the form on the following page to keep such records.)
Media Contact List: Profile Page
Type of outlet: Newspaper [ ] Radio [ ] TV [ ] Other:_______
Preferred mode of contact: Mail [ ] Fax [ ] E-mail [ ]
Comments: If your contact has an administrative assistant, or other gatekeeper, their name, etc. is important.
History of coverage of our organization/program:
Build Relationships with Individual Reporters Know the media source you are trying to contact. Treat this relationship as you would any business relationship. Be prepared. Do your homework.
Here are a few tips:
Watch, read and listen to the news media you are trying to get to cover your organization. Know how they operate.
Notice the types of:
Letters to the editor they print.
Stories they cover.
Items on community calendars.
Organizations and events mentioned in the morning drive of radio stations.
Remember that the news reporters are regular people. When you have an opportunity to speak with them, do not just bombard them with your story. Engage them in a conversation that can be beneficial to you. Your person-to-person relationships with members of the news media are what can help you get the kind of coverage you want.
Respect reporters’ time as they are constantly bombarded with information through mail, e-mail and the phone. Know deadlines before you call.
Do not call (or send a release) unless the information is newsworthy.
Get copies of their editorial calendars to get an idea of what they want to write about and when it is due.
Know how they want to receive the information and send it that way (fax, e-mail, snail mail).
Be an expert in your field when talking to a reporter, not a salesman.
Make the Pitch Pitching a story is what it sounds like – “throwing” story ideas to the media. It is a way to engage the media and get their interest to do a story. There are two ways to pitch a story: in writing or through a phone call.
Pitch Phone Call
A pitch phone call can be a quick method of pitching a story but beware - you may have less than a minute to speak with someone. Some tips are:
Practice what you are going to say. Be clear and concise.
Immediately identify yourself, your organization and the reason for the call.
Make sure it is a good time to talk. DO NOT CALL near deadlines.
Describe the idea in about two sentences and the potential interest of the readers/viewers.
Let the person know that you are familiar with the publication/news station. (Do your homework.)
Pause to ask if the reporter is interested.
Regardless of the outcome, always thank the person for their time.
Set up a definite time to follow-up on the conversation.
A Pitch Letter/E-mail
A letter/e-mail is an effective way of pitching a story to a reporter; it allows you to clearly get your message across without interruptions. It allows the reporter to review the information on his/her own time and will allow for a follow-up phone call. The letter/e-mail:
Should be brief, one page maximum.
Does not need to tell the entire story, but should attract interest.
Should request exactly what it is that you want (e.g., a public service announcement, story coverage, a radio interview).
Can include an invitation to an upcoming event.
Can include promotional materials, such as a brochure.
Should highlight the organization’s expertise.
Sample Pitch Phone Conversation
Bob: “Newsroom, Bob Johnson speaking.”
Michelle: “Good afternoon Bob, this is Michelle Jones calling from Good Works to suggest a story idea. Is this a good time to talk?”
Bob: “Yes, but I only have about a minute. Can you make it quick?”
Michelle: “Sure. Bob, I know you cover the metro section and the education community here in Anytown. Good Works is collaborating with Greater Anytown Network in the 3rd ward area to help children improve their reading skills. Children and their parents are working together on neighborhood projects, and the children also get to take part in a fun, engaging reading program. We have teamed with local literacy groups to develop a curriculum that raises children’s skills by one grade in one semester. We will be expanding the project and are having a big even to recruit new literacy volunteers on MLK Day. Your readers might want to know about this unique project that helps kids, their parents, and neighborhoods at the same time.”
Bob: “That’s interesting. I’d like to talk about this when I have more time.”
Michelle: When would you like me to call back?
Bob: Can you call back tomorrow morning? I have a window of time between 9:30 and 11:30.”
Michelle: “Sure, I’d be glad to. Thanks for your time.”
Pitch the Story Using the hook and story idea from your own community, write some notes below about the potential story, and then pair with another person to practice making a brief phone pitch. After the pitch, solicit and receive feedback on what was effective and what you could do to improve the pitch. If multiple people on your Communications Committee will be making pitches, reverse roles to ensure that everyone gets to practice. Brief description of the story idea:
What makes it newsworthy?
Why would the story be of interest to the audience of this particular news outlet?
Pitch Partner Feedback Did the pitcher... Identify himself/herself and the organization?
Quickly tell you the reason for the call?
Ask if this was a good time to talk?
Briefly and clearly describe the idea and its interest to the audience?
Make the case for the story being news/newsworthy?
The News Release
A news release (also known as a press or media release) is an important tool to communicate your story to the media. It is an effective means of getting your message to reporters, of gaining positive publicity, and of providing the public with information.
Some questions to consider to help you evaluate your planned news release:
Is the story of interest to at least 10 percent of the media outlet’s audience?
Is it timely?
Does it have a local angle?
Does it have a human interest angle?
When writing a news release for the media, keep the language simple and direct. Use short, clear sentences, devoid of jargon and hype. Remember to use quotable “bites” of information or short summaries of issues that are easy for both print and electronic reporters to use. Make your most important points first and then emphasize them. Your release needs to grab the reader.
A well written news release:
Is short, single-sided, one to two pages - no more than 500 words.
Is on company letterhead.
Is concise, well written, factual and timely.
Includes the location and date of the news release.
Places media contact information in the upper right-hand corner below the company letterhead (name, telephone number, e-mail).
Contains summary information about your organization.
Contains one or two quotes.
Provides a clear description of the news you are trying to communicate, using details and specifics.
Tips for Sending a News Release
Send to only one person per media outlet. Who is the “sorter”?
Know the best way to send the information - fax, e-mail, or regular mail.
Be clear on what you want the reader to know.
Include a human-interest angle.
Get the reader to see why “this” is important and why he/she should care.
Send the release early. Do not send a release the day before an event and expect coverage. Call to find out when the news outlet likes to receive the information.
Write in a professional manner. Using journalistic stylebook can be helpful.
If you have photos/videos available, state that at the bottom of your release.
You may also want to put a brief background paragraph about your organization at the bottom of the release.
Check the facts, figures, spelling and grammar in your release. Proofread and edit your release to check that you have kept it short, and written a good headline and lead paragraph.
Call to follow-up, do not just send.
News Release Guidelines
Type the release, double-spaced, with wide margins, on 8 ½ by 11 paper, single sided on organizational letterhead.
At the top of the first page, place the name, telephone number, and e-mail address of your group’s contact person.
List the release date/time in the upper left corner.
The release may be for:
IMMEDIATE RELEASE: This is used most of the time, and means that it can be run immediately.
FOR RELEASE AFTER (TIME, DATE): This is called an embargoed release. It is used when a news conference/event has been planned and the release provides details or information that will be provided at the conference. Time the delivery so that the release will not be received until the morning of your news conference or event.
Write a brief headline that tells what your story is about; center it on the page. The headline needs to tell the person reading what the story is about.
Put the most important information in the first paragraph – called the lead. It should grab the reader’s attention and cover the 5 Ws and H: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How. It should not be longer than 25 to 30 words.
Write the rest of the story in “inverted pyramid” style. The most important information is placed first, followed by information of less importance. Try to make the story precise, clear and interesting to the reader. Include facts, not opinions, and quotations. Avoid jargon. Emphasize what is unique.
Try to keep the release to one page. If it is longer:
Type “-MORE-” at the bottom of each page to ensure that the entire release is read. Includes page numbers at the top left of each page.
Do not split paragraphs between pages.
End with “###” or “-END-” centered at the bottom of the final page.
Checklist for News Releases
Yes or No _______ Is the contact person’s (at your organization) name/phone number listed at the top of the release? _______ Is the release dated and marked “For Immediate Release” or “Embargoed Until (Specific date)”? _______ Is the topic newsworthy? _______ Does it answer the questions: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? _______ Does it have a headline that catches the reader’s attention and summarizes the story? _______ Is it double-spaced? _______ Have you quoted your organization’s spokesperson and cleared the quote in advance?_______ Have you checked the grammar and the spelling [including names]?
_______ If you did not know about this event/topic, would reading this release interest you? If not, re-write it. _______ If photo opportunities or special visuals are available, are they mentioned?
The Media Advisory Sometimes a news release is too much or too formal; a news release should only be used to announce something newsworthy. For other types of information, it is better to write a media advisory or calendar notice. The media advisory is similar to a release in its purpose - to communicate your story. It is sent to inform the media of an event. It not only covers the basic questions of journalism, it is written in a fashion to clearly convey the information.
Sample Media Advisory Media Advisory
April 1, 2001
Contact: P.R. Person
SUMMER DAY CAMP OFFERS OPPORTUNITIES FOR TEENS
What: Teen GoodWorks Summer Day Camp
Where: GoodWorks Station
123 East Lane
When: Two-week sessions beginning June 1
Full day sessions run 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Cost: No cost; qualifying teens will be paid a stipend
GoodWorks, Inc., and the Greater Anytown Network present Teen GoodWorks, a hands-on summer day camp now in its 5th year. Teen GoodWorks offers teens ages 13-18, an opportunity to work with other teens to improve Anytown neighborhoods, and have fun while doing it.
Participants learn about themselves and their neighborhood, through activities, learning games, arts and crafts, and visits to area museums. The group then completes a community works project in their neighborhood. Teens are paid a stipend at the end of the completed project.
Teams of teens are forming now. For more information, call GoodWorks at 456-7890.
Your neighborhood. Your chance to make it better .
News Conferences and Briefings
When many people think of getting publicity, what they think of is having a news conference. Most times, a news conference is not the most appropriate way to get media attention – it’s often better to pitch a story, send news release, or stage another kind of event. News conferences should be held only when your organization is putting forth its most newsworthy information which requires an exchange between your organization and more than one media contact/outlet. A news conference may be the right approach if you expect significant coverage, if you have a breaking announcement or information to present, if you need to respond to a fast-breaking story, or when you want to take advantage of the presence of a celebrity. The most important questions to answer before scheduling a news conference:
Can you offer something in person that can’t be offered in a news release?
Do you have a real news story?
Is the news value sufficient to not waste journalists’ time?
Is the time and effort required for you to organize the conference worth it?
Here are some tips for holding a news conference:
Send a news release about one week in advance, if there is time. If it is breaking news, call media contacts, fax or hand deliver an announcement. The announcement should describe what the event is about, where and when it is to be held, who the speakers will be, and who the contact person is.
Keep it brief. Plan for a maximum of four speakers.
Schedule it at a convenient time – early in the day to meet the deadlines of afternoon papers and evening news.
Make sure other similar events are not being held on the same day.
Have a media kit available (news releases, fact sheets, speaker bios and statements, and other background material).
Select a location that is convenient to members of the media that is equipped to accommodate television camera crews and photographers that has good story related visuals and that is large enough for expected attendance.
Plan an attractive visual scene. Use posters, banners or project t-shirts if available.
Select credible, competent spokespersons. Each should understand the major political and social aspects of your program.
Formalize the order of speakers and their “talking points.” Put the most important speakers first. Walk through the media conference and practice. Anticipate the questions that reporters will have.
Contact friends and supporters in order to have the seats filled in the room.
Have someone serve as event host/MC.
The morning of the news conference:
Call all media contacts to remind them of the event.
Double check the room, and walk through the conference with the speakers.
Make certain the room location is clearly marked by signs.
Start on time and end on time. The event should not last more than 45 minutes.
At the news conference, ask members of the media to sign in. If important newspapers or broadcast stations are not represented, hand deliver media kits later that day.
Give each media representative a media kit.
Remember that photographers often arrive early to shoot candid photos.
Advising the Media Review the following scenarios to decide whether you should send just a news release, a media advisory or hold a press conference.
An independent research group has just finished a report that shows that the Good Works projects in the Midtown Neighborhood had a significant impact, leveraging an average of $10 million dollars in new development or construction. Because of Good Works, new businesses located, jobs were created, and a new branch of the Anytown Library was constructed in Midtown.
Would you send a news release or a media advisory?
Would you call a press conference?
The Good Works project is sponsoring a luncheon for businesses in and surrounding the Pietown Neighborhood in Anytown. Good Works is just beginning to work in the neighborhood and is hosting the luncheon to familiarize area businesses with the project.
Would you send a news release or a media advisory?
Would you call a press conference?
Denzel Washington and rapper LL Cool J – both of whom were born and raised in Anytown – will be visiting the Teen Good Works Summer Day Camp, to kick off the summer program.
Would you send a news release or a media advisory?
Letter to the Editor A short response from a reader is a very low cost method of getting your message across to your audience while building your public profile. Your letter to the editor should:
Be short and specific - generally a maximum of 250 words, 150 words ideal.
Be timely - respond in 2-3 days from when the article appeared or the event occurred.
Be about a single subject.
Not be mean or abusive, although it may be passionate.
Start with a statement about your specific position, followed by evidence using facts and figures when possible.
Include contact information.
Make reference to the newspaper. (List the name of the article and the date published.) Note: while some papers print general comments, others will only print letters that refer to a specific article in its publication.
Public speaking and article writing Have staff, board members or volunteers speak at various community events, or write articles; these are great ways of spreading your message, while establishing your organization as an expert in the field.
Guest opinions Commonly known as Op/Ed pieces, these articles can be submitted by the public to give an opinion “opposite of the editorial page.” These articles can be longer than letters to the editor. Op/Ed articles should:
Not exceed 750 words.
Show local angle.
Be written on a controversial topic.
Not be sent to multiple newspapers in the same market.
Use the same style recommendations as a letter to the editor.
Community calendars Community calendars are a great tool to publicize upcoming events or specific needs (i.e., a call for volunteers). Calendars can be found on television and radio, in the newspapers and on the World Wide Web. Calendar submissions should include specifics of the event/request - time, date, cost, location, type of volunteers needed, items to be donated. You can use media advisory format, changing the title of the page to “Event Notice” or “Calendar Listing.”
Get to know reporters By being active in the community, responsible in your communications, concise in your message delivery and persistent (not pesky), establish relationships with reporters to set yourself up as an expert when an opinion or insight is needed in your field. They will then come to you seeking stories. Remember: they need stories as much as you need to get your story out.
Public Service Announcements (PSAs) PSAs are free “commercials” for non-profits offered by television and radio stations. PSAs can be used to bring awareness to an organization’s work or to an upcoming special event. As always, contact the station for specific requirements, but generally PSAs should:
Be brief, concise and catchy.
Be submitted as a written script in the form of 10-, 15-, or 30-second spots.
Be typed, double-spaced in CAPS.
Be in correct format. Check to see if a pre-recorded spot is necessary or if the station will accept a live-copy script which they will then produce.
Get Writing Draft a letter to the editor to promote your project ... using the newspaper article you identified earlier as the bridge. Share your letter with another participant and solicit feedback.
Other Ways to Get the Word Out
That Cost You Advertising
Traditional method of getting your message to others.
Can be costly.
Best when research is done to make sure you are using the most cost effective method and most compelling message to reach your audience.
Use of television, radio and newspaper advertising
Can reach a large mass of people.
Allows your message to leave an active, visual impression.
Can be costly — most organizations will only be able to afford time slots when viewing is low (i.e., overnight).
Costs are also associated with the production of the commercial.
Can reach a large mass of people.
(Statistically, talk shows during drive-time reach the most.)
Allows your message to be heard in the manner of your choosing.
Airtime can be costly, but not as expensive as television.
Can reach a large mass of people.
Potentially has a longer life span in the minds of the audience in that they can clip an advertisement.
Can be affordable depending on the type of newspaper publication and the placement of the ad (i.e., the back page of section 1 of a major newspaper will exceed the budgets of almost all organizations, while a small ad in a neighborhood journal can be affordable).
Promotional materials can be an effective means of getting your message across and in the hands of your audience. With today’s technology, many of these items can be produced in-house to keep cost down.
Brochures: Great for passing out useful information in a
succinct and portable manner.
E-newsletter: Keeps stakeholders informed, links well to updating
your “ask” for volunteers and in-kind resources.
Posters: Attention grabbing. Can be used to draw attention
to the organization, especially a special event.
Annual reports: A wonderful tool to highlight the organization’s
accomplishment over the past year while
Direct mail: Gets your message in the homes of the audience.
Large direct mailings can be costly and can run the risk of being lumped with “junk mail.”
T-shirts: Serve as a walking billboard to get your message
Magnets, pens, Can be a very cheap method to get a specific item
mugs, and more: or idea across to the reader such as a slogan or a
phone number. These items are effective because they can actually be used in the day-to-day lives of the audience.
Working with the Media: Points to Remember
Although busy, reporters are people just like you. Don’t be intimidated.
Focus on your organization and your goals.
Before contacting the media, make sure what you have to share is newsworthy.
PROOFREAD!!!!!!! You want to make a good impression for your organization, setting the tone that it is an expert in its field.
Do your homework and research. Know ...
The stories which are covered by particular stations/publications.
The proper person to contact.
The guidelines and format in which information needs to be received.
How the person wishes to receive the information (snail mail, fax, e-mail).
Be pro-active. Offer story ideas.
Call to follow-up. Be persistent, but not pesky. One call can be enough.
Be able to clearly and succinctly articulate your message in the event you call a reporter or an interested reporter calls you.
When writing or calling, include the important facts first. Exclude superfluous information, jargon and hype.
Become a supplier of well-prepared releases and of information backed by quick and accurate service.
Say “thank you”, write thank you notes. Cultivate and appreciate!
Corporation for National and Community Service MLK Day 2010