Contacting and communicating with the media is an art in itself. Whether or not your item will make the news often depends largely on the initial contact you make. In this article, we will look at the best way of approaching print media, including newspapers and magazines.

The best and most common way of communicating with the media – print, radio and TV – is through preparing and distributing a media release to them. A media release is also known as a press release or a news release.

A media release is a document containing the message you want to tell them. It takes a specific format which is altered only slightly, depending on the author.

How To Build Your Media Release

Generally, your media release should include:

  • Your business name and logo at the top.
  • Your contact details near the top.
  • The date.
  • A heading that grabs the reader’s attention.
  • The news formatted into individual short paragraphs, with the most interesting information summarised in the first paragraph.
  • Background information about yourself or your business at the conclusion of the media release with its own heading.
  • Check your media release for spelling and grammar. If your media release contains grammatical and spelling errors, it becomes illegible to the journalist and doesn’t maintain your professional image.

Generally, the media release should not be more than a page, and I cannot stress enough how important it is to summarise the important and interesting information in the first one or two paragraphs. Why? Because journalists receive literally dozens of media releases a day, and do not have the time to read each and every one from top to bottom to work out whether or not it is of interest. They need to know immediately, and if your media release waffles on and on without getting to the point, I can guarantee that it will end up in the bin.

The language you use needs to be simple and to the point. Do not use technical jargon or unnecessary adjectives. Quotes, from yourself or relevant people in your business, are viewed upon favourably by the journalist. The best way to get an idea about how to write it is to read a newspaper – if you can get it to sound like a news article, that is perfect for the journalist. This means they can use much of the media release for the article as it is, without too many alterations.

The media release needs to answer the following questions where possible, and it’s a good idea to always keep the following in mind when writing it:

  • What – what is it about, what’s happening?
  • When – when is the event taking place or when did it happen?
  • Where – is this national, or local? Where is the location?
  • Who – who are the key people, and indeed the business, involved?
  • How – what are the details?

Contacting the Media

Now imagine you have identified something newsworthy about your business. You have written your media release following the guidelines above and are now ready to contact the media with it. Where do you begin?

Firstly, you need to identify which media your media release is suited to. If it’s only of local magnitude, your local newspaper or community magazine would be the one to target. Alternatively, if it’s something quite significant that should get state-wide or even national coverage, your state metropolitan newspaper/s are appropriate. Alternatively, your news story could suit a women’s magazine. If it is more of a business to business piece, then aim it at industry publications, which is your direct market, rather than a more general audience.

Once you have identified your media outlet, the next thing to do is find out who you need to send your media release to. On a local newspaper, the Editor is an appropriate contact; alternatively you may already know personally a journalist who works there, and can therefore send it directly to them. If we are talking about a national or metropolitan newspaper, the best idea is to identify the relevant industry journalist/section editor. If your business is in the health industry, you need the Health Reporter. If you run a gym, this may be the Sports Reporter.

There are programs and services, such as Media Monitors’ Media Disk and Margaret Gee’s Media Guide in Australia with equivalents overseas, you can subscribe to that collect the names and contact details of all the journalists nation-wide. They cover television news and programmes, radio programmes, local, rural, community and metropolitan newspapers, national publications, industry publications and the glossy magazines you find in the newsagency. There is an annual subscription fee to access these services year round.

Alternatively, if you already know what publication you are targeting, you can simply find the phone number online or in the publication itself, phone them and ask for the relevant person to send your media release to. I also always recommend spending some time in the newsagency, looking at all the relevant publications to make sure you are aware of what is available and what sort of content they cover. Paging through them could also give you ideas of future content to offer.

If I know my journalist contacts well, I don’t usually bother them with a phone call, as I trust they will either get back to me for more information or just go ahead and use the story if they are interested.

If it’s a new contact or an exclusive I am offering, it’s sometimes a great idea to phone, introduce yourself and give them a really brief overview of the story. Sometimes journalists get so many emails that they don’t physically get a chance to go through them all in time, so they appreciate the heads up. Just whatever you do, don’t get in the habit of phoning them to report that you have peeled three potatoes. They will get sick of hearing the sound of your voice if it’s always on the other side of the line!

Working With The Media

Once you have the contact details of the journalist/s you wish to target, and your media release handy, you are well on your way.

However, how you handle the next part of the process could mean lifelong media coverage or the journalist black-listing you forever.

There are three very important things you need to remember when working with the media.

  1. Journalists are not there to promote your business and help you make more money. They are there to present the news to their audience.
  2. Journalists work under very tight deadlines and a great deal of pressure.
  3. Journalists receive a great deal of junk every day – don’t let your message be one of those items.

Here are some more important tips to take into account when working with the media. Some of them are common sense, while others I learned the hard way.

Write in the subject line of your email what the media release is about – Journalists don’t have time to play guessing games. If you send them an email that is blank in the subject line (and journalists say that this happens surprisingly often), don’t expect them to bother opening it.

Write in the body of your email what the attached media release is about – Summarise your media release clearly and concisely in the body of the email, so the journalist knows immediately if it is worth his/her while opening it.

Don’t send large attachments – A journalist will be extremely annoyed if they are waiting anxiously for an email or an image for another story to be emailed to them by deadline, when they are forced to wait an extra half an hour while your massive email with large attachments downloads and then clogs their system.

Never send them an image with the first email and media release – Offer them one in the text of the email and advise them what sort of images you can make available to them. Only send them one if they contact you and specifically request it. When they do contact you, ask them what size they require it to be. Most journalists can generally not receive emails larger than 2MB so be very careful. You don’t want to be the one responsible for clogging up their email server. That is not a very nice introduction at all!

Give them your contact details in the email and make sure you are available – Make sure your contact details are clearly visible in your email, and once you have sent it, ensure you are available in case they call. Journalists will usually not call you back if they cannot reach you the first time. If they cannot reach you and you do not return their call in time, they will simply dump your story and go with another one. If they do not reach you the first time, you need to return their call within the same day. This is vitally important.

Give them what they need for their story – If a journalist contacts you, you need to make sure you provide them with the information they require. Be honest, friendly and helpful. Remember, this is for your benefit, so treat them with the utmost respect.

Don’t ever, ever mention advertising dollars you may have spent with the publication – You need to understand that the news department and the advertising department of any publication are entirely separate. A media organisation does need advertising dollars in order to make money, but this does not, and should not, ever, affect the news that appears in its pages.

Imagine if it’s the time of the federal election, and one major party had more money to spend on advertising than the other. Would you be impressed, as the reader of a newspaper, if the party that did not advertise was totally left out of the news content altogether? That would be an unbalanced view of the news.

Therefore, if you have advertised or do advertise with the publication you have contacted with your media release, do yourself a favour, and never mention that to the journalist. They don’t care and are simply sick and tired of hearing about it from everyone else.

Exclusive means exclusive – If you have offered a media release or story to one particular journalist or publication as an exclusive, don’t go and send it to other publications. This will just spoil the rapport you are forming.

Don’t send them rubbish – Once you have a journalist’s email address, don’t abuse it. Do not send them jokes, company newsletters, forwarded emails, or anything that is not relevant to them. If you do this, they will scrap you from their list of contacts and will never open an email from you again. Only send them well-written newsworthy media releases and remember – if you have nothing to send them, that’s ok, don’t send them anything.

What About You?

I would love for your to share your stories of either writing releases, working with the media and what you learned. Have you formed any great relationships with the media? How did you manage to do that and what has been the result?

Kerry McDuling