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Media Relations - Some Do's and Don'ts

by Kay Ross

A list of tips on how to get media coverage (and how not to alienate journalists)

DO

  • Do your homework to find out: the appropriate journalists' names and titles; the correct name of the publication/show; the style/tone of the publication/show; what kind of images they need, in what format; the deadlines.
  • Give a contact name and number so journalists can contact someone for further information.
  • Tell an interesting story - the journalist is always asking: "WIIFM?" (What's in it for me - and my audience?).
  • Answer the following questions in your publicity material: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How Much? What language is the event in? How do I get a ticket/buy the product/offer to volunteer?
  • Put it in writing - typed rather than hand-written.
  • Talk to the person who can say YES.
  • Answer media inquiries promptly - if you're the designated media contact person and you don't know the answer to a question, promise to find out and call back rather than telling a journalist to call someone else.
  • Label all photographs clearly.
  • Try to understand that there are hundreds of organisations out there that want free publicity at least as much as you do, and that a given media organisation may not be able to give free publicity to all of them, every week.
  • Try to understand that journalists run stories as a service to their readers/viewers/ listeners, not as a favour to you.
  • Create and maintain your own media list that's relevant to your organisation.
  • Say "Thank you".

DON'T

  • Tell the journalist how to do his/her job - let him/her decide where, when and how to run the story.
  • Try to tell the whole story over the phone - put it in writing.
  • Beg for coverage or plead that you deserve/need it.
  • Impose on an actual or imagined friendship by contacting a journalist you know personally at his/her home to lobby for coverage - that's not appropriate.
  • Ask when your story/event will be featured - things often change at the last minute, so journalists prefer not to make absolute promises.
  • Ask for the right to approve an article about your organisation before it is published - the media organisation retains editorial privilege.
  • Attempt to apply pressure on a journalist by saying: "We've booked an ad so please list our event", or "We've booked an ad so please make your article about us positive", or "If you promise to run a positive story about us then we'll book an ad." It just doesn't work like that. In reputable media organisations, the advertising and editorial departments are quite separate.
  • Pin all your publicity hopes on just one journalist/interview/article - there are no guarantees, so send your information to every relevant journalist.
  • Ask the journalist to send you a copy of the article - buy the paper/magazine!
  • Expect journalists to check your organisation's website every week for your latest news (that's "pull" marketing) - they don't have time. If you want free publicity, it's YOUR responsibility to send the information to the relevant people (that's "push" marketing).
  • Complain if your story doesn't get covered exactly when and how you wanted it - if you want your event/story to be covered exactly the way you prescribe, on the exact days you determine, that's called advertising, and you have to pay for it.
  • Say "No comment" - it looks like you're hiding something.
  • Send your press release to one journalist and expect him/her to copy it and distribute it for you to other journalists in the same organisation.

Copyright Kay Ross, April 2002

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Kay Ross is a Hong Kong-based marketing consultant & coach, editor and copywriter. She devises creative marketing strategies and crafts compelling English-language marketing communications messages that translate into bottom-line results for her clients. To learn more, visit www.kayross.com.

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Sharing tips at the "Making the Most of the Media" seminar
September 18, 2006