Don’t be intimidated by public relations (PR). It isn’t rocket science and it isn’t beyond anyone. Doing the basics of PR can generate some helpful local/regional coverage, even if it’s not USA Today or ABC News. In fact, you’ll often get more immediate return on your efforts from coverage that runs closer to the area.
What you need to always remember in dealing with the media is:
- On deadline
- On the record
- On the mark (ie, newsworthy)
On deadline – Stories are reporters’ lifeblood. If they don’t finish them on time, they may be out of a job, so be prompt and professional in your interactions. Understand what they’re functioning under and politely decline if you can’t meet their deadline, as you don’t want to make promises you can’t keep.
On the record – Remember, it’s a professional relationship; reporters have a job to do and so do you. Interactions with media are not really casual conversations, but instead are opportunities for you to deliver your key messages on a story, whether it’s one you’ve proactively pitched or a reactive inquiry you’ve received. So stay on task and remember that anything you say or type is considered on the record; there is no “off the record” really.
On the mark – What you’re sharing needs to be newsworthy. Reporters are not your marketing department. Focus your pitching on what’s new, unique, or interesting about your property. And even then, there’s no guaranteed coverage, so don’t assume and don’t ask.
In light of these three rules, particularly deadlines, you need to always be concise and efficient in your dealings with the media. Read on for help in doing that.
At the fundamental level of PR, a good local and regional media list is a must, with contact info for relevant TV, radio, newspaper, magazine, and web-based outlets.
So what do you send to the media? Two of the most basic items are press releases and pitch emails.
Releases follow a typical format, usually one page long. The key to remember is that you basically have the headline and the first paragraph to grab the reporter or editor’s attention, so make the language eye-catching and focused, with the who, what, when, where, and why of your news up near the front. Also be sure to include your contact details at the top or bottom of the release.
Pitch emails are typically shorter, a bit more informal, and may sometimes only be sent to select contacts on your media list. In two/three or so paragraphs and an attention-getting Subject line, include your catchiest language, best facts, and useful web links pitching a story idea of possible interest. Again, include your contact info.
For a significant news release or email pitch, make follow-up phone calls to key outlets two to three days after sending, with a key extra factoid/angle (as a reason for calling). Be sure to ask if they’re on deadline first, and if so, when’s a good time to call back. Often, 10am-2pm is best. Make sure your message is concise, including if you have to leave a voicemail. Also be sure to have additional info and resources at the ready when calling.
Sometimes, you may wish to unveil your news by inviting media to attend an announcement, with key spokespeople, at a set time and place.
With the media’s hectic schedules, this usually only works with really significant news, so use it sparingly, but if you do, then save your press release for distribution at that time.
Instead, for the invite, use a media advisory, which briefly lists the who, what, when, where, and why of your event, as well as your contact info. Remember, this is just enough information to entice the media to come, without giving away your story.
Send the advisory to media two weeks in advance of your event, to get it on their calendar, then send it again three or four days in advance, as a reminder, and then finally follow up with phone calls to key outlets either the afternoon before or the morning of your event.
You can also use a media advisory and its follow-up techniques (see section immediately above) for inviting coverage of your visitor events like festivals and concerts.
In addition, submit a calendar listing for your visitor event by sending the very basics of the event (along with relevant contact info) to the “event listings” section of the Lancaster area's main newspaper (LNP), and to an email blast put out by the Central Penn Business Journal called Ten Things to do This Weekend:
Entertainment Lancaster (for LNP)
Kathy Daminger (phn 717-481-6015; email@example.com)
(comes out each Thursday; submit info about two weeks in advance)
Ten Things to do This Weekend
firstname.lastname@example.org (no contact name)
(goes out every Thursday afternoon; submit info 5-7 days in advance)
Besides reaching out to the press, you also need to be sure to provide some helpful info for whenever media find you by including a Press page on your website. This page should at least contain the basics:
- Contact info
- General backgrounder on your property/business, no more than one page
- Your latest press release
- One or two downloadable hi-res general images
- And be sure to provide an easy-to-find “Press Room” link on your homepage
You can also monitor and respond to media requests through free services like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) (choose the Travel e-blast option).
This is a collection of media queries that are sent out on a regular basis, and you can respond as you like. Essentially they’re media leads, for FREE. But just be sure that you have a good match for the inquiry, as reporters hate when you’re really stretching to fit inside their story. It’s a waste of their time, and of yours.