As a child, most of us learned early on how to get something we wanted – which parent to ask, when to ask them, and what approach to take. Good salespeople in the business world understand, too. Which contact at a company is the decision maker, or who can influence that person? What’s the best way to ask without being annoying, to seal the deal?
For success in public relations, you have to take the same approach as that savvy child or successful salesperson – you must know exactly how to approach the media to get your news out there. With that in mind, here’s a quick rundown on various forms of communication with the media:
Classic Press Release – Most non-media-savvy people think that a press release is the only way to communicate your news. These should only be used for a real, actual, news story that is “fully baked” with all of the details a reporter might want. They should have a compelling headline, an interesting opening sentence or hook with all of the high-level details – journalists call these ledes – quotes and an attached photo or graphic. Press releases should be used strategically and over time. Too much of a good thing, to put a spin on Mae West’s famous quote, is anything *but* wonderful.
Media Alert – If you have a big, media-worthy announcement, or a camera-ready event or speaker to publicize, send a media alert. These one-pagers are usually in the “5W: who, what, where, when and why” format. Journalists receive many of these and are skeptical of their newsworthiness, and sometimes lack the bandwidth to attend an event, even if they want to, so you may need to give them a personalized heads-up as to why it’s relevant, or even share your embargoed news and let them know when they can release it. With a media alert, also called an advisory, there should be a compelling visual element so that a photographer or video crew would have something noteworthy to see or hear about when they arrive. If that’s lacking, strike this tactic from your playbook.
Op-Eds – Opinion/editorial pieces are, as the name implies, a way you can share your opinion on a topic. Unlike other media formats, you can inject opinions and passionately state a point of view. To be published, the author of the op-ed should be considered a thought leader on the topic. We all have a lot of opinions, but to an editorial page editor, the only voices that matter are those with a reason to weigh in. There is a word limit, usually around 500 words or so and it helps to tie the content to current, relevant news. Do your research and find out the preferred word count, format, and who to send it to so that your submission stands the best chance for pick-up.
Letters to the Editor – Sometimes, less is more. The miniature version of an op-ed, a Letter to the Editor, is a fantastic tool to communicate an opinion, and does not require the same level of perceived expertise on a topic. These 150- to 250-word letters on the opinion page of a newspaper or front page of a magazine can include a point of view, thank groups of volunteers or invite the public to take advantage of a community resource. As with op-eds, be sure to check editorial guidelines. Each publication has its own length preferences and some ask the person submitting to include town of residence and an email or phone number so they can verify information before printing.
Captioned Photos – A picture is worth a thousand words, right? So often we forget the power of photos – which is kind of crazy considering the social media, photo and video-driven world we live in. A compelling photo with a short, but detailed caption might make it into print or get shared on a media outlet’s social channel and website and can be a wonderful way to extend media coverage post-event. Remember, too, you can always share a captioned image on your own website and social media channels, even if media picks up your good news. This tactic works especially well with charitable donations, groundbreakings and ribbon cuttings and is a smart one to keep in an arsenal of earned media tools.
In closing, knowing the best ways to connect with journalists and editors to share your story is just as important to sharing your news as the news itself. Rather than defaulting to a press release by habit, be sure to choose your formats wisely and you’ll see greater success.
About Filomena Fanelli
Filomena is the CEO and founder of Impact PR & Communications, Ltd., an award-winning, strategic public relations firm based in New York’s Hudson Valley region. For the past 19 years, she has enjoyed telling clients’ stories through public relations and she believes every single one of them has one. When not running her own business, or running after her two young children, she enjoys running (literally) and pounding the keypad to blog about – you guessed it – public relations.