For this week’s journalism.gov “how-to” blog, I reached out to friends in Chicago-area government communications and journalism.
What follows is their best advice — the do’s and don’ts of getting your stuff printed or posted in local, regional or even national media.
DO: Build Relationships With Media People
TIP FROM DAN CAMPANA, OWNER OF DANCAMCOM MEDIA and CO-AUTHOR OF “Cubs 100: A Century at Wrigley”
“Build a relationship with your local media now. That starts with knowing the reporters/editors/producers who most-often cover you and to whom you would most likely pitch a story. Seems simple, but changing newsrooms have made it difficult for public entities to keep up. The media-type knowing you before you come in with a pitch is half the battle.”
5 Tips for Building Media Relations
(1) Find Out Who Does What — When Pat Gengler was named Kane County Sheriff’s Office public information officer a number of years ago, the first thing he did was look at area publications to find the names of reporters covering the police beat. He called them up, got their contact information, made e-mail distribution lists and, in very little time, became one of the most effective and respected PIOs in the Chicago area.
(2) “Meet the Press” — In addition to calling around, I strongly suggest setting up a face-to-face, when possible. Meet a reporter for a cup of coffee and find out what types of stories he or she is looking for. (Don’t offer to buy lunch, though. That’s a no-no for you and the reporter.)
(3) Seek Out Columnists and Bloggers — Most often, we think of reporters or assignment editors when we want to pitch an article idea or news release. But columnists (although there are fewer of them these days) and talented bloggers can tell a story with more personality and panache. Strike up a relationship with a good columnist, and you’ve struck gold.
Quick Anecdote: At a recent lunch with former newspaper colleagues, Andre Salles, now a government-communications guy from Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, tells a really funny, interesting story about how former Monkee Micky Dolenz dropped by Fermilab for a visit.
Denise Crosby, the Tribune columnist at the table, says, “That’s a great story!”
Two days later, she posts a delightful column that tells the Monkee tale better than any news release ever could. The win-win-win? Good PR for Fermilab, great column for Crosby, fun reading for the citizens of Kane County, IL.
(4) “Network” — You’ve joined GovLoop and maybe you’re a member of the Public Relations Society of America. In addition to hobnobbing with folks you already know, consider joining a newspaper organization. Press associations often have great, apples-to-apples training opportunities and provide another chance to get to know the media players in your neck of the woods. I’m on the board of the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association, and I’ve greatly enjoyed my time on the board and the people I’ve met through that organization.
(5) Praise When Appropriate — The “One Minute Manager” talks about the “leave alone — zap” management style. Too often, our only contact with good employees (or good reporters) is when we have something to complain about. What we should be doing (with reporters as well as employees) is “catch them doing something right.”
DON’T: Be a Jerk
TIP FROM TOM PARISI, MEDIA AND PUBLIC RELATIONS SPECIALIST WITH NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY
“When pitching stories, there’s a fine line between being helpful and becoming a nuisance. Help means providing story ideas, images, a press release, video and quick access to sources. To avoid being a pest, I typically stick to email pitches, which are less intrusive than phone calls.”
The following advice, sans long explanation, is a combo from media friends and verbatim bullet points from Tim Harrower’s “Inside Reporting” textbook.
5 DON’TS When Dealing With the Media
(1) Don’t Make Demands or dictate how the story should play. Stay flexible; explore new angles. Be willing to reshape your story to satisfy the journalist’s needs.
(2) Don’t Go Off the Record during an interview if you can avoid it; you may blab something you’ll regret. If you don’t want it quoted, don’t say it.
(3) Don’t Be Cagey or Evasive. Give straight answers and honest facts, even if they’re not always beneficial to you. Saying “no comment” raises red flags that can kill a story.
(4) Don’t Be a Pest. A reminder from time to time can help a reporter or editor. But too much badgering won’t help that important relationship-building.
(5) Don’t Keep Score. “Strike the word ‘favor’ from your media-relations vocabulary,” says PR whiz Richard Laermer. “Just because you gave a reporter a story once, and he covered it once, doesn’t mean he owes you.”
DO: Give ’Em Good Stuff
TIP FROM CAMPANA:
“As for the pitch itself, package the key information (names, contact info, 5 Ws, photo/video possibilities) like ingredients in a recipe for the reporter to follow. Oh, and make sure the contacts you provide to a reporter are aware a reporter could/should be calling them.”
TIP FROM PARISI:
“Emails need to be concise, too. Before Christmas, Northern Illinois University researchers came out with a study on stress and dogs. I started out my email: ‘The old adage warns that stress will cause gray hair in people. Now, a new study finds that stress does indeed lead to grays — in man’s best friend.’ The note went on to provide all the info needed for the journalist to get started.
“It worked. The research story was picked up by numerous media, including CNN.Com, Yahoo News and the Chicago Tribune. Of course, I can’t take too much credit here. The press can’t resist a good dog story.”
5 Things to Put in Your News Release
(1) Quotes — Every news release should have at least one good, lively quote. The third paragraph is often a good place to put one. Any piece of information that’s an opinion (“this is one of the best workshops in the Chicago area”) is better as a quote than in the body of your news release.
(2) Images (photos, charts, graphics) — This is probably the No. 1 element lacking in government news releases. When you can provide a good image, you double the value of your news release.
(3) Video — Obviously, news releases don’t just land in print publications. A YouTube URL is enough for bloggers and online editors to embed your video, drive traffic to your channel and get your message directly to the general public.
(4) Links — When I run a news release on Kane County Connects, I always try to link to the original source. The link does two things: authenticates the material and gives your readers (viewers, audience) a place to go for more information.
(5) Contacts — Always try to include in your news release not only your own contact information, but contacts for experts who might be able to provide additional background and color, should the media want to explore the topic further.
DON’T: Give ’Em Stuff That Makes The Job Harder
The following tips are from me, with a splash of Harrower, and fall under the category of pet peeves.
5 DON’TS For News Releases
(1) Don’t Use Jargon and Technical Terminology — Harrower: “Your goal is to communicate instantly to the widest possible audience, so avoid specialized jargon, buzz words or acronyms that ordinary folks (or irritated journalists) won’t understand.” Some of the government news releases I get look like alphabet soup. “Visit the LRTP to learn more about the proposed CRIP” is a sentence that shouldn’t show up on a government news release or website.
(2) Don’t Post a Week After an Event — Govies like to tell people about a meeting they held a week ago. Previewing an event is often of more value to readers than telling what happened awhile back.
(3) Don’t Send a Poster — A lot of nonprofits and local-government organizations (libraries and park districts, for example) will send a pretty PDF with a lot of clip art to promote an upcoming event. While media types like to write their own stuff, no one has time to retype information sent in a PDF form. So my advice is to send text that a reporter or editor can copy, paste and edit.
(4) Don’t Embed Images in a Word Doc — Another of my pet peeves is when images are pasted into a word document. Those images often end up postage-stamp size and unusable. If you’re sending via email, make sure to attach a high-resolution image.
(5) Don’t write long — Once again, I’ve failed to be brief in this blog. So my last piece of advice is “DO as I say, DON’T do as I do.”
Coming next week: the seven words you should never say in a news release.
Read The ‘Journalism.Gov’ Series
- Week 1: Introducing the Revolutionary Concept of Journalism.Gov
- Week 2: Aggregation for Good’ — 5 Secrets Govies Can Learn From Patch
- Week 3: How to ‘Think Like a Reader’
- Week 4: 5 Writing Books Every Govie Should Read
- Week 5: The Argument for Using AP Style
- Week 6: How to Get Your Stuff Posted in Mainstream Media (Part 1)
- This Week: How to Get Your Stuff Posted in Mainstream Media (Part 2)
- Next Week: The 7 Words You Should Never Say in a News Release