Working with the Media
31 Dec, 2011By: Denise Stokes
Anyone who is any good at media relations had to start somewhere. No one starts off making the perfect pitch or doing the perfect interview. U.S. Youth Soccer Director of Communications, Todd Roby, remembers that all too well.
Nine years ago, he was on the job at U.S. Youth Soccer for just a few months when he got a phone call from one of the top, most well-respected newspapers in the country. He was excited as could be and thinking, “How, great is this! We’ve got a big time national newspaper calling. We’re going to get our name in there, and this is great for the association.” Most people would agree that would be a normal reaction, to say the least.
He knew the organization’s talking points and business protocols. Mr. Roby was quite comfortable with the line of questions in the beginning. Then, the complexity of the questions increased, and pretty soon he found himself talking about something in which he was not an expert. The article was published and it was, “No where near what I thought it would be,” said Roby.
That high-profile experience with a national media outlet taught him quite a few valuable lessons. They could be chalked up as necessary growing pains. Before you begin any interview with the media, know the boundaries of your expertise! Don’t just start talking. Think about the questions the media outlet will ask and then think what it is you want to say. If you are not an expert on the topic, point the media in the direction of someone who is! And last, but not least, craft written statements via e-mail at all possible times, if you can.
The good news is Todd Roby recovered from his mishap with that national newspaper and has been on the job with U.S. Youth Soccer for nearly a decade. The part he loves most about doing media relations is, “It’s a chance to let your organization or event shine. Being proud of the organization you represent and being a valued resource is a great place to be!”
If you are an event owner or manager planning a tournament or trying to increase awareness of an event or program in your community and you would like to encourage the media (newspapers, TV stations, magazines, online correspondents or radio stations) to cover it, this article is for you. With shrinking news staffs and writers, reporters, editors and producers are being deluged with hundreds of emails on a daily basis. How do they begin to cut through the clutter? And how can you make sure what makes it through is the news of your event?
You can help both those things happen. The best part? Believe it or not, you really do not need a director of Communications or PR firm to do it for you. With a little hard work and perseverance, you can gain exposure, generate interest, and establish key relationships with media people who can possibly help you get more coverage down the road.
Here are a few tips to build and maintain relationships with the media:
1. Be creative with pitches and email subject lines :
Think of yourself as a Hollywood director. What and how much can be packed into 10 words or less? Look for angles that are different, new or unique. Here’s an example of an e-mail subject line that included a media pitch that won coverage: Demand Increases for More Sports, More Fun, and More Spectators. E-mail subject lines have to grab attention and the same goes for your pitch.
2. Think about what’s in it for the audience :
Try the “So what, who cares?” test. If you ask someone on your team or in your office a question about what you are trying to do or thinking of pitching to the media and your teammate or office mate responds with 'So what?' or 'Who cares?', that’s when you immediately need to go back to the drawing board.
3. Determine which media outlets are the right fit:
Do people in your area watch more television than read the newspaper? Do they listen to the radio more? Keep in mind that magazines cannot provide immediate coverage, but they can run good, fun photos and recap your event.
4. Do not, do not, do not send the same pitch to every media outlet:
One size does not fit all! The key is to give each outlet what they need. Provide content that is useful to the outlet’s audience. If you are pitching to a newspaper or magazine, think about which section of the publication your information belongs – Metro, LifeStyles, Community Calendar Listings, Features, Sports, etc. Also, keep in mind what kind of pictures you would like to send with or accompany your information. When it comes to radio, there’s no visual element involved. The medium thrives on sound bites. Spokespeople should be lively, well-spoken and knowledgeable about your event. When it comes to websites, information is digested differently. Some are updated daily, others weekly and some monthly. Proofread everything before you hit the send button. Bottom line is to make sure what you send to each outlet is relevant and newsworthy.
5. Do not send the same to pitch to every single person in the newsroom:
Sending your pitch or press release to everybody who works for the organization is a great way to make sure your information never sees the light of day. Instead, find out who covers what in your area. What type of stories are writers, producers and reporters known for? You will find most all that you need in the Contact Us section of media outlets. In many cases, e-mail addresses and phone numbers are listed.
6. Find out how writers and reporters want to be contacted:
It always works to your best interest if you find out this information first.
7. Social Media and Community Outreach:
Flip cams are no longer being manufactured, but lots of people still have one. Put it to good use filming aspects of your event and then create a YouTube, Twitter or Facebook page. Use it to get a conversation started about planning and attending your event. Don’t forget about e-zines and community based e-newsletter publications, either.
8. Respect deadlines:
Fail to do this and you will fail to get media coverage! Calling a reporter who is up against a deadline is a surefire way to give an immediate negative image. If you accidentally do reach someone on deadline, apologize and ask them to suggest a better time for you to call back.
9. Think like a reporter, writer, editor or television producer:
They all have different goals, needs and (as previously noted) deadlines. Reporters have someone over top of them whom they have to please and that is usually their editor. Therefore, they are thinking about what would please their editor, first. Second, does the story idea fit their beat or what they usually cover? If you are pitching a television reporter/producer, think about the visuals, first, and be sure to keep your press releases short. Newspaper writers are interested in trends and timely stories that impact readership. Magazine writers usually have longer deadlines.
Editors are always thinking how the story relates to their readers and they are in part responsible for the overall content of a magazine or newspaper. If they can’t figure out how the event will relate to their readers, then it won’t fly. (Reread tip #2) So be prepared to tell why your event or program would be a good fit for their readers or audiences.
10. Be grateful:
Courtesy, kindness and saying thank you actually goes a long way. You would be surprised how much it’s not practiced and how much it’s remembered when it does happen.
Think of the visual dynamics of your event for newspapers, magazines, and television stations. Creating an impression and attracting people is the goal. If you’re inviting the media to attend your event, it’s OK to suggest an ideal time for them to show up and that’s usually when it will be the most crowded. If it’s a first-time event, you may not have as good a sense of when this will be.
Something else that lends to the visual dynamics is a treasure trove of high-resolution .jpg photos. Your event is much more likely to get coverage by newspapers and magazines if you are able to supply such photos. Sending a pdf version of a press release, media alert, or media advisory with a photo in it just won’t work. Newspapers and magazines rely heavily on the use of high resolution action or emotion photos. Example: show the person winning the race with eyes closed, arms thrust forward in the air and chest leaning forward to solidify their #1 spot. Another example is the shot we have provided, of FC Dallas showing emotion on the field.
One thing that always rubs an editor the wrong way is when you promise photos and deliver them and they are not high resolution! Editors will simply move on to the next event or program vying for space in their publication. These days, many writers will take their own pictures to accompany their story or article. Television stations will send reporters with a camera in tow.
How would you know a high-resolution photo from a low-resolution photo? High-resolution is usually measured in MB (megabytes). Hold your cursor over the photo. The type, size and date modified will appear. Type should say .jpg. Size, if it reads anywhere from 10 to 900KB, the resolution is low. If size says 1MB or 2MB or even higher, then you have a high-resolution photo. The right photos may boost your chance of coverage.
If you are using a photographer, specify that you get high-resolution photos (and name the minimum size), as this may not be a given. Video links can also come into play. Newspapers, television, magazines, radio stations and websites can all make use of video links.
Maybe you would like to hold a press or news conference before your event. The perfect timing for that would be between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Why? Because rush hour traffic is over and it’s convenient for the media and other participants to get there. Also keep in mind the use of press credentials and parking passes if necessary.
It would be nice to end this article by telling you that everything you pitch will be a homerun. Fact is you have to be prepared for the worst. Unfortunately, not everything you want to publicize will be published, printed, televised or broadcast. If a reporter can't make an event, e-mail photos and a recap of what happened. They may have gotten busy, and may be able to use the materials anyway.
Something else essential is follow-up. One thing to be wary of following up and asking is, “Did you get my press release?” Remember the media is inundated with press releases and they can't memorize who sends what and when. Think of following up as an opportunity to expand on your pitch. If you’re doing that, try using ‘pocket book’ issues, like the fact that attending your event is free or of little cost as compared to attending a more expensive event in the area. The single most important thing you don’t want to do is waiting until the last minute to make your pitch. Waiting until 2 days before your event will usually not result in media coverage.
Learn to communicate on the media’s terms, plan and be prepared and you will create your own luck with them. Free publicity that is positive is always worth its weight in gold!