Media coverage is a means, not an end. You don’t want to get press for its own sake, but to obtain press that serves your agenda. This means the first step is to define the goal.
- Demonstrate community support for a project.
- Make something you don’t like controversial.
- Publicize information that bolsters your cause.
Once your goal is clear, the next step is to determine what you need to accomplish to advance toward that goal. An easy way to do that is to picture the headline you want to see.
- An article in a major paper examining a problem just in time for a public hearing on the topic.
- Television coverage of people offering personal stories to humanize your cause.
- A third party authority figure casting doubt on something that hurts your agenda.
When you know what you need to accomplish, then you can determine what tactics you need to get there. This is how you identify the action or content you want the media to cover.
- A public rally.
- A report.
- Testimonials at a public hearing.
- Press Conference: A newsworthy event to which press is invited.
- Press Release: A short (ideally one page or less, but preferably no more than 2-3 pages) document making a newsworthy announcement. Sometimes called a “news release.”
- Media Alert: A basic announcement alerting the media to an upcoming event. Includes who, what, where, when, and why. Also called a media advisory.
- Availability or “Avail”: An informal press conference where questions are taken.
- Background or “on background”: Typically off-the-record information provided to give context, clarity and understanding for a journalist.
It’s not enough to be right; you need to be understood and believed. That’s why it’s critical to consider how both your message and messenger appear from the perspective of your audience. You also have to consider existing narratives. It doesn’t matter if a narrative is true or false — if it exists and it hurts you then it’s just a bad idea to reinforce it. Always, always, always consider how you look and sound from the perspective of your audience and remember that you have multiple audiences that may or may not overlap.
In many cases, it’s more important to be clear and consistent than thorough and detailed. When you’re dealing with a reporter, you usually have a small window of their attention in which to get your message across. Don’t waste it: say exactly what you want quoted.
Don’t spend too much time debunking opposing ideas — when you do, you’re granting that those ideas are worthy of debate as well as wasting valuable time with a reporter talking about things you don’t agree with. The fact is, the arguments marshaled against your agenda aren’t usually the real issue — they’re often merely justifications. Strike past those arguments as soon as you’re able to without losing credibility and address the contested premise at the heart of the debate to get your message across.
Most journalists are extremely over-worked, and don’t have the time to personally investigate and write up every story. Sending them a press release with all the information they need to write up a story makes it much more likely that they will cover whatever it is that you want them to cover.
A good press release is written in a neutral voice free of personal opinions, except those contained in quotes. This makes it more likely that the journalist will adopt our general framing rather than writing the entire article from scratch. Bonus points if you also include a high definition photo with your press release that journalists can use with their story.
Consider carefully when and for what you want to send a press release. Send them too frequently, and journalists will just stop opening them. The best press releases are:
- Current, don’t send out old news
- Interesting, make your press release newsworthy!
- Action oriented, don’t talk about your opinions -- talk about what you’re doing!
- Well structured, don’t make the journalist look for the important information -- put it right in the first sentence.
- Pithy, keep it short and to the point. Carefully review every sentence and ask if it needs to be there and if you can make it shorter.
- Double-checked, journalists are pedants and any grammatical or spelling errors will be noticed and harm your credibility.
A. Don’t Bury The Lede!
The lede is a journalistic term for the sentence that summarizes the entire story. It is almost always the first sentence of any article and should be the first sentence of your press releases and advisories. Don’t make people wade through a paragraph to figure out what you’re trying to say, put the lede right at the top.
B. Press Contact
Every advisory or release should have the contact details for a press contact at the top. This will be the person journalists will contact if they have any questions or follow-ups based on your release/advisory. They should be familiar with your chapter and the substance of the release/advisory, able to answer most potential questions about the issue, and be available during the day to answer press inquiries quickly.
Someone working full time or about to go on vacation with no phone reception would be a bad choice as a press contact.
C. Emailing The Press
Emailing an advisory or release to the press is simple.
- Copy and paste the emails from your press list into the BCC field of an email.
- Paste the advisory or release into the email, leaving out the YDS logo at the top.
- Attach a PDF version of the release or advisory, including the YDS logo, to the email.
- Write a short snappy email subject, remembering that most phones cut off subjects after the first four or five words.
- Triple check your email for spelling or grammatical mistakes!
- Hit send.
Congratulations, you’ve just stepped into the exciting world of press and media relations. Now all that’s left to do is wait and see if your carefully worded email entices a journalist to cover your story. If you find that you’re not getting the kind of press attention you had hoped for, consider whether you’re sending your releases to the right journalists or check out some more thorough guides on how to promote your work available through a quick google search.