I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chatted with people about putting out a press release and the common feeling is that as long as you type some words on a page and send it to a generic e-mail address at a news outlet, your story will magically appear on TV, radio, and the newspaper.
Here’s a hard truth: that’s not reality.
Assignment editors – the hard-working people who manage the decisions involved with what should and shouldn’t be covered – in some cases receive thousands of e-mails every day. Some of those e-mails rise to a level of importance because of who they are from (top government officials or large employers, for example), but the rest just become a jumbled laundry list of things that are of equal utmost importance in the eyes of the sender.
So what is one to do to help get your story out there? Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Read your media release as though you are the assignment editor
Did your subject line capture your attention? Is there enough detail in the first paragraph to keep you interested? If not, it’s got a slim chance of survival.
2. Recognize the job being done by assignment editors
Thousands of e-mails a day. Sounds daunting, yes? If your organization tries to generate coverage for every little thing that happens with every news outlet in the state, chances are that when your release is more important to a specific media outlet, the decision makers may have grown numb to your constant e-mails. Be selective. Just because you have an event happening in Bangor doesn’t mean that the weekly papers in Aroostook County need to hear about it. Easing the burden on their inbox might make your future e-mails stand out a little more.
3. Be honest
Fun fact: If you have an event that draws 10,000 people, it will probably generate some news coverage. Fun fact Extra: If you promise 10,000 people and only 17 show up, you might lose some credibility. That’s a rather extreme example, but honesty and credibility can go hand-in-hand. Do your best to make sure that any conversations you have with reporters and editors, and any written words you send, are vetted and as truthful as you can be.
4. Ask yourself if you would cover this story
There are so many different reasons why stories get covered. If you are doing the same thing every single year without any variation what-so-ever, even if it’s for the best of causes, it may not get covered year after year. When I worked in radio, a consultant once told me not to tell listeners about “the box,” rather, tell them “what’s in the box.” If your event is a walk to raise money for a cause and it’s not getting any coverage, maybe you would find more success if you found someone who will benefit from the walk directly who has an interesting story to share. It’s a rare case where you are encouraged to “think inside the box.”
5. Do your homework and follow up
It’s not just an e-mail that will make your story idea become a reality. Follow up on your e-mail with a phone call. But only after you’ve done your research. Don’t call a TV station and confuse its reporters with another station’s news team. And don’t call a print publication without knowing if they’ve already done a similar story the week before. Reporters and editors are responsible for doing their homework and learning about all of the things they cover to present reliable facts to the public-at-large. The least we can do is afford them the same respect.
This list is by no means the beginning, middle, and end for how to get your story covered, but it’s a start. Keep in mind that the person on the other end of the e-mail or the phone is a human being, just like you, juggling many different ideas from many different angles every single day. Starting with that mindset can do wonders. Good luck!
Bonus tip: If you are feeling a little overwhelmed by the whole press release process, don’t worry! Sutherland Weston can help. Give us a call at 945-9999 or send us a note.