Continuing with my series on media relations this month and next, I will introduce you to some of the traditional media tools you have at your disposal.
Again, this information goes into greater detail and can be found in the NACo Media Relations Guide for Counties. I will go into each of these in more depth in the future as there are specific strategies and considerations when using them – this is just a primer to get you reacquainted.
A news or “press” release is likely the media relations tool you are most familiar with (Click here to see an example of one). They are typically written on letterhead, contain contact information at the top, a headline (optional sub-headline), and then the body of content.
The key to creating a news release is to write it as though it were an actual news article you would read in the newspaper, stripped of any perceived bias. Obviously, news releases will have an angle or bias that is favorable for your organization. However, it’s important to write content for it that focuses on the facts and details, then mingle in quotes of authority figures sharing their opinions and reactions to the information. This approach will be viewed by the media more favorably and sometimes will use the news release word-for-word.
Similar to a press release, media advisories are put on letterhead and designed to give the press a teaser at least three to five days in advance of an event (usually a press conference). The advisory should include the nature of the event – why it’s worth their time or why the public will want or need the information that will be announced. It should also include the names of speakers, which can actually help entice the media to attend if it includes prominent individuals. And then, finally, all logistical details such as date, time, location and so forth.
One of the challenges of writing a press release is that a reporter or editor will exercise judgement and change the content however they choose – you have no control over what they actually report on. However, most news papers and even some other electronic, TV and radio media allow for Guest Editorials or Opinions to be shared. These are designed to be content you create and they publish as-is, giving you (in some cases) prime media real estate to share something you wouldn’t otherwise be able to with a wide and varied audience. They are subject to approval, however so it’s usually a “yes” or “no” proposition based on the quality of the content and competitiveness for the space.
Letter to the Editor
A letter to the editor is very similar to a Guest Editorial, except that it’s limited to print and electronic media (no TV or radio), in how lengthy the content can be (often just a short paragraph), and positioning in the media is not as prominent as a guest editorial. However, it is perhaps somewhat easier to have it published if you can keep it within a short length and is not deemed offensive or hard to read or understand.
This is one example where it’s helpful to have a good relationship with a reporter. You may feel you have a great story idea to share or “pitch” to them but they might have suggestions of how it could be improved and embraced by them. Allow them to coach you on that a bit as they have context of writing and broadcasting news every day – they know the elements of an interesting story and while your’s could well be very good they can help you make it better and together you both win.
Consider when pitching: elements of the message itself (make sure it’s very specific and targeted); the right reporter to pitch; offer it as an exclusive to them (you won’t share with other media); the timing of the pitch (ie deadlines, other breaking stories or possibly national stories that are related); arrange to discuss with them in person if possible; be helpful in gathering additional information that will help them.
We’ve all watched plenty of news conferences so I won’t share much here other than to help you understand that the purpose should be for something really big of public interest – something that impacts a large segment or all of your constituents. Again, a reporter you have a relationship with can help guide you as to the relevance or impact of holding a press conference if you are on the fence or undecided about it. They can also talk through with you many other best practices when organizing them.
Press packets can be prepared for press conferences or even with out them. Simply put, a press packet is a tool for sharing all the information a reporter would need to write up a story. That includes a press release, background information, facts and figures, quotes, contacts, and other resources all bound together into a packet of information. Some will even include photos and/or video to help create a more complete story for the media.
Editorial Board Meeting
In larger medias, Editorial Boards are a group of editors at a particular media who influence what content gets produced. They are high-end gatekeepers and will guide and director lower level editors and reporters on the types of stories that should be covered. They are very accustomed to outside groups or individuals coming in to discuss coverage of issues or to talk about things coming in the future that the media has not yet picked up on. It’s a way to build relations with the media broadly and so they know who to contact regarding related items of news-worthiness.
Like any other meeting, request one well in advance. If you have something that is time-sensitive you will likely want to meet with them weeks or even months ahead of that so as to ensure you can make the meeting happen before it needs to. If they decline, for whatever reason, request a Guest Editorial opportunity and they will perhaps feel a greater sense of obligation to help you with that (in some circumstances).