This post was authored by guest contributor Erin Lawrimore, University Archivist, University of North Carolina Greensboro
Working with journalists in any medium – tv, radio, print, electronic, etc. – requires a strong focus on relationship building, an understanding of the person or venue you are targeting, and an effective press release to concisely convey your key points. Without a little leg work, you
might be wasting your time writing and sending information off into a media abyss.
First, the key word to remember in talking about media relations is “relations.” Effective media relations is all about building the relationships with the right people. Don’t wait until you have a story in hand to contact your local press. Instead, put your information-finding skills to the test and learn all that you can learn about particular reports and media outlets in your local area. Who has written about issues or events similar to yours in the past? Who has an audience similar to the one you are trying to reach?
When you’ve identified individuals you can target with your news information, contact these folks directly. Ask them to meet you in a coffee shop near their base of operations. See if they would be interested in coming to meet you in the archives. Try to get a face-to-face meeting so that you can continue to build your relationship. A potential bonus: If you establish yourself as a useful source for local information, the reporter may turn to you for guidance on future pieces that are tangentially related to your work.
With relationships in place, your press release will carry a bit more clout. If the reporter knows you, she’s more likely to read your email and not simply delete it along with the others received during the day. But, even with an established relationship, you need to make sure that your press release is a good one. Here are a few tips for making sure that your press release is one that will catch the attention of a busy journalist:
- Be sure that what you have to say is really newsworthy. Don’t flood your new reporter friend’s inbox with notes about every event, activity, or acquisition. Focus in on the really important things that have a strong, and potentially lasting, community impact.
- Create an informative, jargon- and acronym-free headline that would allow a reasonably-intelligent person to understand the importance of your message.
- Write in a clear and concise manner. Think Strunk and White (or read The Elements of Style if you haven’t already). Avoid passive voice (“The archives hosts…” instead of “The archives has been hosting…”).
- Keep your release short, factual, and to the point. Aim for 500 words or less (definitely keep it to one page!), and include links to your website for additional information.
- Focus on your opening sentence. This is your sales pitch. It needs to contain all of your critical information (who, what, when, and where), and it needs to convince the busy reporter to read on.
- Don’t forget to include contact information (name, email, and telephone number)!
When you’ve written your press release, email it to those reporters you identified as covering similar topics or reaching your intended audience. You can include it as the text of the email itself (remembering the importance of the subject line), or you can attach a PDF to the email message. If you choose to go with an attachment, write a factual, one-paragraph message for the email itself then point to the attachment. Or, if you have an institutional blog, send the one-paragraph message with a link to a lengthier blog post on the topic.
Remember that journalists are busy, busy folks, and your press release is far from the only one they will receive on any given day. Think about reporters’ deadlines and schedules before sending a press release. For instance, many print reporters will appreciate releases early in the morning as opposed to the afternoon. Additionally, avoid the urge to call the reporter directly immediately after sending the email. It’s doubtful that the message got lost in the internet ether, but it’s likely that the hard-working reporter hasn’t had time to read it. Bugging her isn’t going to get your message read any quicker.
Finally, if a reporter does indeed report on your event or activity, either by using your press release directly or giving you any kind of media coverage, follow up with a “thank you.” And, two or three months after your event, follow up again with a quick email to let the reporter know how the event went or what the lasting impact of the activity has been. This will give your journalist friend a sense of how you fit in to the greater community – your impact and influence. Also, this can be an incentive to report on you even more when the next big story pops up!
Have other tips about or examples of successful media relations? Share in the comments below or consider contributing them to ArchivesAWARE! Read more about the submission process on the About page, and send your ideas or drafts to the editors at firstname.lastname@example.org.