In an era where social media is often promoted as the key for getting your message out, the humble media release can easily be seen as old-fashioned and very much past its use-by date.
In fact, the very opposite is true. There’s arguably never been a better time to make use of this tried and tested method – especially via local newspapers.
In the face of collapsing advertising revenues, many newspaper companies have slashed staff numbers. This means those left running the show simply don’t have the time to research and write their own stories, and are more than ever heavily reliant on contributed content.
However, just writing and sending a media (or news) release is no guarantee of success in winning coverage. Dispatching a release to the local paper is completely different to paying for an advertisement.
Payment for advertising means a guarantee of publication and total control over the content that appears. On the other hand, a media outlet has no obligation to publish a news release unless they deem it to be worthy of coverage. And, even if they do decide to run a story based on your release, the way that story is written is entirely at their discretion. If you want to guarantee publication and control how the content appears, you need to pay for an ad.
However, there are some things you can do to lift your chances of winning coverage.
Above all else, make sure your media release is about something that is genuinely newsworthy. Assess the subject matter through the eyes of the newspaper editor and not through your own rose-tinted glasses. A journalist’s primary concern will always be to ensure the topic is of genuine interest to his or her readers.
For a local newspaper, these are the factors that will most commonly tick that box:
- The subject of the release is genuinely local. It could be about a student who lives locally and has achieved something significant.
- The information is relevant to the readership. This could include detail of a forthcoming event they can attend, such as a school fete or even an open day.
- It contains news that is topical. It could be an opinion you are expressing about some educational trend that is being debated in the wider community, or the way in which your school is responding to a recent event. For example, raising money for people impacted by a natural disaster that is attracting widespread publicity.
- The content is genuinely out of the ordinary or different. An example of this is becoming the first school in your area to adopt a new piece of technology, or to offer a particular subject or course.
Some other tips for giving your media release a better chance of earning coverage include:
- Keep the running length to no more than one page – eight to ten paragraphs is ideal.
- Include an eye-catching headline. News editors and journalists are busy people and often just scan the first few lines – you need to grab their attention.
- Get to the point. The first and second sentences need to convey the key facts – burying them deep in the body of the release is a mistake.
- If possible, include photographs. When emailing your media release, attach some high-quality photographs of the subject matter. They don’t need to be taken by a professional, but neither can they be out of focus or poorly framed.
- Make sure you include contact information at the bottom of the release – a name, email address and phone number – so that the journalist can easily get more information or ask a question.
- Don’t be afraid to check that the news outlet received your release. It is not uncommon for media releases to get lost in a busy journalist’s inbox, so a follow-up call is highly recommended.
The media release can be a very powerful tool. There is no 100 percent guarantee of winning coverage every single time but if you follow the tips above you certainly increase your chances considerably.
John Le Cras has nearly 40 years’ experience in journalism, public relations, marketing and corporate executive roles. John launched his own consulting firm in 2011 and works extensively in issue management and crisis communication in the private school sector. jlca.com