Module 1.

Module 2.
PR events

Module 3.
Understanding the media

Effective media releases

Module 5.
Preparing the newsmaker

Module 6.
Crisis management

Module 7.
Campaign strategy

Module 8.
PR tool kit



Module 4: Effective media releases, kits & conferences

Media releases are going to be your primary and most important means of contact with editors and reporters. The American Wall Street Journal estimates 90-percent of its coverage originates with companies making their own announcements. Other media, too, rely heavily on news releases. It’s important you are able to do them well, so we are going to spend quite a bit of space now reviewing some techniques of preparing good releases.

Most important is to keep your releases interesting, tease the reporter and editor into wanting to know more about your story. You have about five seconds to sell them on your story, before they move on to the next release.

About the content...

Be sure to put the most important facts in the first paragraph or two. Remember the five important questions of journalism: who, what, where, when, why ... and how, if that’s important. If you don’t get the important information in there, chances are the story won’t make it to print or on the air. You should know that editors start cutting the stories from the last paragraphs first, if there isn’t room for the entire story. It’s called the inverted pyramid. Most important stuff at the top, narrowing down to the least important. A few more release tips:

  • Keep it simple and short. Make it clear, to the point, and only one page, if at all possible. Avoid technical jargon.
  • If you include opinions, attribute them to someone as a quote.
  • Make certain your news release is news — that it’s something that will truly interest a reader (or listener).
  • If the media do not use your story the way you wrote it, don’t be surprised or disappointed. If it’s published or aired even in part, be thankful that someone saw some value in it.
  • Once your story is out, be prepared to respond to a reporter’s follow-up probing questions, which might uncover possible negative aspects of your release. That’s news, too.
  • If you’ve written a release on a particularly technical topic, use generic terminology where possible. The release will most certainly be read by a wide variety of people with varying degrees of sophistication in your subject area.
  • Keep paragraphs short — 30 to 40 words is fine.
  • Pictures may be helpful (sometimes absolutely necessary) for placement of the release. They should be about letter-size black-&-white glossy prints. Leave borders for the editors’ crop marks.
  • Distribute copies of your release to key people in your organization even as you’re sending it out to the media. Your leadership shouldn’t have to read the news for the first time in the local newspaper.

Media release format:

  1. Clearly identify who is sending out the release through a letterhead. And it should include the organization’s name and address.
  2. Start out the release with a contact person’s name, telephone number, and a gripping headline that tells editor what story is all about.
  3. Type and double space all copy.
  4. Clearly indicate that another page follows with (MORE) at the bottom of each sheet.
  5. At the bottom of the concluding page, use “###” or “xxx” to indicate the end.

In module 8 you'll find some sample media releases and formats which have proven successful. For some excellent examples of media releases posted by companies around the world, you might visit PR Newswire or Business Wire.

About news media...

  • Send your release to names — not just titles. It means updating your media list on a regular basis. News is a very transient business.
  • Provide media with adequate advance opportunity to use your release, particularly if it is featuring an event that has yet to happen. A week is good advance notice for daily news media. Magazines and monthly publications use a much longer advance notice period, sometimes as much as 6 months.
  • Know your media. Their deadlines. Their needs.
  • Be available for follow-up calls from the media — especially if your name is listed as the contact on the release. Respond promptly to inquiries, with answers within the hour, if at all possible. Get a knowledgeable backup person to respond to press inquiries in case you’re called away.
  • With a general release, don’t play favorites with the media. Mail or distribute the release so that everyone receives it at about the same time.

About the follow-up...

  1. Don’t chastise reporters and/or editors for not running your story. They are the final judge for what is news in their world, and you may need to pitch them again.
  2. If there is a substantial factual mistake in the way your story was reported, that should be corrected. And you should let the media know in a prompt but respectful and courteous manner. If the issue is clearly a matter of opinion or perspective, however, keep your comments to yourself. A rule of thumb: never argue with anyone who buys their ink by the barrel.
  3. Be prepared to put the way your story appeared (or didn’t appear) in perspective for those for whom you work. Unrealistic expectations frequently sour what was otherwise acceptable coverage.
  4. It’s wisest to consider that everything you say to a reporter is on the record. Always.

And finally...

Take your news release seriously. If you don’t feel comfortable putting it out, seek the expertise of a professional communicator who can do it for you. A shoddy piece of writing is no bargain! Make sure it’s exciting to you, or it surely won’t be exciting to anyone else.

What is news is always defined by the publication or broadcast audience. If your event isn’t interesting to an outlet's audience, no editor will readily run a story about it. Period.

Outline your goal in a single sentence. It must be clear to you, and interesting to you, or it will be to no one else. Always decide how you want your release used before you write it.

A standard 300-word release works well for new product news. But don’t shy away from writing a full-length feature article concerning your issues, products, and services; lots of editors are hungry for ready-to-use material.

Write your release for its intended market. Every magazine and newspaper has a certain target audience: maybe an older audience, maybe a younger one, maybe liberal, maybe conservative. If you don’t target the publication’s readership, you’re asking the editor to do it. And maybe there’s just not quite enough time before the publication deadline.

* * *

Remember that your release is only one in a stack of thousands. If you fail the five-second test, into the trash it goes.

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Media kits

It’s a good idea to always have media kits available, for planned news events, or an unplanned media opportunity. The kit should include:

  • Media Release
  • Photo(s) of principal players
  • Biography(s) of principals
  • Fact sheet: like a resume — who you are, what you’ve done
  • Copies of articles run by other media; show how others have taken an interest in you.

* * *

The news conference

A news conference is where you invite many media at one time to come and hear your exciting announcement. Only hold a media conference if you’re absolutely sure the news item is too important to trust it to a release. Make sure the invitation is sent out in plenty of time to give reporters and editors a chance to schedule it — about one week. Give a follow-up phone call a day or two before the conference. Make sure you invite everyone who would have an interest. You might make a hostile contact out of anyone you forget.

Make sure the room or other area for the conference is comfortable with places for reporters to sit and take notes. TV news crews may need power for indoor lights, and will need to string microphones. Provide refreshments (reporters always like to be fed). Make sure your newsmakers are well-prepared to present the information, and to handle any questions.

Keep the speeches short. Provide releases and interview opportunities on the spot. Provide something interesting and graphic if possible, such as a demonstration of your product or service. Reporters are very pressed for time — if they take enough time out of their day to come to your news conference, make sure it’s worth it.

A bad news conference can make you look very bad. A good one can make you look very good.

* * *

Fyodor Doestoyevsky wrote, “If people around you will not hear you, fall down before them and beg their forgiveness, for in truth you are to blame.” It’s up to you to make your message interesting enough that people pay attention. Or YOU bear the blame.

Module 5: Preparing yourself and your newsmaker for media interviews.