Media Relations 101

February 29, 2008

At a recent CNW Group breakfast meeting, David Akin, Parliamentary correspondent for CTV News National News Ottawa, revealed his four biggest complaints about PR. Jill from the inmedia Public Relations blog was at the meeting and posted a summary of what David said. He made some great points and they motivated me to share some of my own tips about basic media relations practice.

When I began my career in non-profit PR about a decade ago, a trusted resource was a book by John Longhurst, called Making the News: The Essential Guide for Effective Media Relations. The book, updated in 2006, provides great, basic step-by step advice with a focus on non-profits and religious groups wanting to increase their media coverage.

Most small to medium non-profits don’t have a communications/PR professional on staff but with a basic understanding of how media work and what journalists need from you to cover your non-profit, you can increase the chances of getting media attention considerably.

For a complete grasp of good media relations practice, read John’s book. For my top four tips, read on:

1. Understand what makes a story news – Your non-profit might be very excited about a new program or service but unless you know how to “package” that story in a way that makes it newsworthy, it will not get the attention you want. On the other side, many non-profits have great stories to tell but they don’t recognize that they are newsworthy so they miss out on some great media coverage.

Start tracking non-profit news stories in your local paper to see what’s getting coverage. When you’re thinking of making a pitch, be sure that you have the people directly affected by the program or service available to speak to the media about it. This was the subject of another post I wrote if you want to learn why this is important.

2. Learn how to write a good media release – There are lots of resources out there (including John’s book) to help you out. Learn how to make your release compelling, concise and in a format that makes it easy for journalists to quickly understand how great your story is.

There has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere about revamping the format of the traditional media release to reflect the Web 2.0 landscape but for your average non-profit looking for local news coverage, learning good writing technique for the traditional media release is the place to start.

3. Be prepared for media coverage – Don’t send out a media release the day before your designated spokesperson is away at a conference or day long meeting. This sounds like a no-brainer, but I’ve had the experience of sending out a release only to learn that the person who agreed to be the spokesperson on the story was scheduled to be away, or tied up in a big meeting the day the release was going out.

Media releases have a short shelf life. If you’re not prepared to respond to media requests right away, journalists will quickly move on to another story. You also risk frustrating them–making them less likely to take your next pitch seriously.

Along the same lines, if you get an unsolicited media call, make sure someone gets back to the reporter as soon as possible (i.e. at maximum within a couple of hours). Even if you know what the journalist is calling about and you don’t have all the facts and figures prepared, call back to say that you received the call and are working on pulling together the details. Find out what the reporter’s deadline is so that you can try to get him/her what’s needed within that time frame.

Reporters are under huge time pressures and if you don’t respond quickly you risk missing out on a chance to clarify the information. Even worse, you could be labeled in the media story as “unavailable for comment”, which always hints at being evasive.

4. Have background materials ready to go and accessible – This was mentioned by Akin but to expand on it a bit—make it easy for reporters to find out what they need regarding the issue or program you want them to cover. Reporters have to know a little bit about many things. Chances are, they won’t have comprehensive knowledge of your issue.

Have easy, point-form backgrounders that provide the detail that isn’t in the media release. Provide other outside resources (e.g. related websites, articles, fact sheets) that will offer a compatible but different perspective on the story. In short, make it easy for the reporter to get it right.

John’s Tip
I asked John Longhurst for his top tip and he replied, “Send news. If your press release contains information that is relevant to readers, viewers and listeners, reporters will gladly consider using it.” Good advice. Media relations is mutually beneficial. Media need good stories to tell and non-profits have lots of great stories that need telling.

Are you working at a non-profit with questions about media relations? Send me your question in a comment and I’ll endeavour to answer it in an upcoming blog post.

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8 Responses to “Media Relations 101”

  1. messagecom Says:

    Casie, there are many things you can do to promote your event including posters and/or handbills that you can put up in visible areas. Many newspapers and media websites have free community billboards where organizations can post their events. You should also look at using the social networks of your volunteers. At minimum spread the word to Facebook friends or better still, create a Facebook fan page to start building your community. You may also want to reach out to groups who have an interest in your cause (e.g. child welfare organizations, daycares etc.) to see if they can help with word of mouth for the event. Good luck with it.

  2. Casie Says:

    Other than the TV media, what are other good ways to get the word out? I’m doing a Child Abuse Awareness event.


  3. […] great time… on Improved internal communicatio…September great time… on Media Relations 101Ken Duncan on Help a Reporter Out – Help you…JournalistSource – C… on Help a Reporter […]


  4. […] and find a way to tell that story in a way that would be appealing to the media. See my post on media relations 101 for some tips. I’ve also covered the topic of getting your story out even if your organization […]

  5. messagecom Says:

    Thanks Jason. Sorry your comment was delayed in getting on my site. It inadvertently ended up in the old spam folder.

    I have now checked out Public Relations Insider and have subscribed as well.

    Thanks for reaching out.


  6. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

    Jason Whitmen

  7. messagecom Says:

    Great additional tip Jill. Pitching to the journalist on the non-profit/philanthropy beat likely has a better chance than pitching to the editor.

    Deborah

  8. Jill Says:

    Hi, Deborah.

    Thanks for sharing this great advice. If I could suggest an additional tip it would be to keep a close eye on who is writing about local non-profits and make sure they’re the people you’re pitching.

    Jill


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