7 Steps to Launching a Top Media Relations Program

By Andrew A. DeMuth

Newspapers need to fill real estate in the form of column inches, and you need media coverage. If handled correctly, “this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

A top-notch media relations program is essential for every business and organization. Most, however, never even bother to try launching a successful media relations program. You would not believe how often reporters find themselves at a loss for content. In fact, many newspaper and other media outlets sometimes have to sink to cold calling police departments looking for stories, and that is an absolute fact. Of course there are other times where they have more stories then they can handle, so timing will play a part as indicated later.

Before delving into things, a quick word of caution. In this piece we are strictly addressing the publicizing of positive accomplishments, achieving milestones and other such events designed to reflect well on your business or organization. Handling controversy is a completely different matter and really should be farmed out to experts. Let’s begin.

Establish a Policy
The first step is to create a well-constructed policy on media relations. The policy should dictate who may have contact with the media, what information may be released, when permission should be sought from persons or entities mentioned in the press release, and other such information. Many organizations only allow one specific person to issue press releases. This is counterproductive and, often, too much work for just one person. Your policy should allow several specific employees who are familiar with the policy to issue press releases.

Use the Right Vehicle
Press Releases should generally be issued in writing. This is a good idea for several reasons. First, it protects the issuing entity from any accusation of releasing inappropriate information. Second, if there are mistakes in the printed story, again, the organization is protected. Third, in the written press release you will strive to credit all deserving persons and organizations.

If an article comes out and a deserving employee or entity is upset for not being mentioned, he or she can be given a copy of the press release showing that the organization did recognize his or her efforts and did credit them. Also, issuing a written press release saves a lot of time. It can simply be dropped in a fax machine or email and sent to three or four local and regional media outlets instead of having to make the same phone call three or four times. Finally, the actual press release can posted in the office to publicly recognize the company and employees for their accomplishments.

Constructing a Good Press Release
The easier you make things for the reporter, the more likely your story will be printed. Prepare the press release as if you were writing the story for the local paper. Most of the time they will change it, but, when in a rush, the article that appears in the paper may look very close to your press release. DO NOT WRITE IN ALL CAPITALS. Doing so is sacrilegious in the journalism world, difficult to read, and, often, pushes the reader away to something else.

Use paragraphs, and separate them with spaces. The only thing more annoying than all capitals is an article that just runs on in one giant blurb of non-breaking words. Always supply contact information in the piece for any follow-up questions. It is also important to include quotations. The quotes should be given by the people involved in the particular event as well as by organization heads describing their feelings about the event and offering accolades. Quotes should also be given by persons or groups who, if applicable, benefited from the event.

Give them Something to Look At
The media loves visuals. This is especially important for television media. Visuals are something that can be photographed to accompany the article. In law enforcement, we use mug shots, photos of seized contraband, or pictures of involved officers. Visuals can really be anything associated with the event. Just use your imagination. When preparing the written press release, indicate that you have visuals for any interested media entity. Sometimes, having available visuals will mean the difference between your release making the paper or making the shredder.

Develop Contacts
As with most things in business, contacts are king. The best way to have your story actually make it into the paper is to have a contact with the press. Developing relationships with reporters and editors is crucial for a successful media relations program. Start by issuing press releases to different reporters, and when you find one who you relate to well, forward all releases to him or her. Reporters have bosses breathing down their neck for articles, and they love nothing more than a contact who feeds them ideas and stories. Contacts should be made at all of the local and regional medial outlets.

Press Release Distribution
Faxing press releases or sending them via regular mail is, of course, better than nothing, but emailing it gives the reporter the option of cutting and pasting the text. Keeping them happy yields better results.

Be Proactive
Here, especially if you are new to media relations, it is important to think outside the box. Take a look around your business or organization. Anything newsworthy? Sure there is. Below are some examples:

  • Promotions and transfers
  • Organization member was recognized for an accomplishment
  • Introducing a new, innovative product Launching of a website
  • Creation of an innovative program

When Wal-Mart learned of one of their truckers stopping to help a stranded woman change a tire, they did a television commercial on it. Get the idea? Be proactive!

Timing
Once you have prepared the press release for distribution, don’t send it. Yes, don’t send it. You first need to grab the newspaper and see what’s happening. If a major scandal with a local politician was just uncovered, or something else that will take up news space for several days occurred, you should wait. Ideally, you want to distribute your release when things are quiet. Of course something could pop up at the last minute after you have submitted the press release, and that will occasionally occur. Just do your best.

If you follow these seven steps, you will be well on your way to launching a top-notch media relations program.

Andrew A. DeMuth is a long-time small business owner and police  officer with extensive experience in marketing. He currently  runs one of the nations largest law enforcement websites, http://www.NJLawman.comand  has authored many articles for bothhttp://www.NJLawman.com and  other periodicals.

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