Build and Maintain Relationships:
- Get to know the media, and help them get to know you
before a breaking news event happens.
- Constantly maintain relationships with media. Be
sure reporters, editors, and producers on your beat or in your region
have your contact information. Make sure your voicemail includes an
after hours number so media know you are accessible. Ask for periodic
face to face meetings. Attend press events.
- Be sure you have the direct phone lines and e-mail
addresses of key media.
- Know your subject, including the numbers! Know why
your subject is important to the community and what your organization is
doing about it. Make sure reporters know they can turn to you for help
with a story or a breaking news event.
- Know the difference between coverage and collaboration.
Work for the former, don't expect the latter. Reporters appreciate a
good source, but they aren't looking for partners.
Pitching a Story:
- It's okay to call a reporter, news director, or
editor to pitch a story. Make sure you can answer questions they may ask
- Be reporters in your own office. Dig out stories
(there are always more than you think), fashion them, package them with
good background and contacts, and pitch them. Be absolutely thorough
(but stay brief!) with facts and information.
- Prepare your key staff to be spokespersons to the
media. Be sure they're willing, well-prepared, and ready at any time.
Media requests almost never come at preferred times.
- When you're talking with a reporter, consider it “on
the record” unless there is mutual agreement otherwise. Remember that
everything you say can be quoted. Parts of sentences – even words or
sentence fragments that are totally out of context – can be used.
- Be confident, but with realistic expectations.
You're not the White House or the Mayor's office, but you do have
important information and you can make news.
When and When Not to Put Out a News Release
- Restrict news releases to real news. Don't randomly
fire out press releases. Occasional, strong, and appropriate ones are
better than frequent, weak ones.
- If you do have a major news release, email it, but
do not send attachments. More than one person per news outlet is okay.
Do not fax. You'll be competing with hundreds of other faxes all going
to one number instead of a specific person.
- After you have sent out your release, it is good to
follow up with key reporters with a polite phone call to see if each
person got it and if they need additional information from you. But be
wary of calling a reporter or editor asking if or when a news release is
going to get published or aired. Many simply don't like it.
- Always stay on top of local current events so you
know what else is causing news in your area. Watch your timing. If there
is other local or national news breaking your issue may be ignored.
- “Fact sheets” and packages of useful information can
often do more to establish you as a reliable source than simply sending
- Be creative about getting your organization
mentioned in a story. Make follow up calls during a breaking news event.
It doesn't have to be your news release or press event for you to get
quoted or mentioned in a story.
When and When Not to Hold a News Conference:
- Only hold a press conference when you have something
urgent and important to announce. The rule is, “news is what's new.”
Organizations that don't follow this rule get reputations … and get
- Consider including a phone conference call to your
press conference so media from other areas can participate. Be mindful
of the time differences when setting up a call-in time.
- Make your news conferences interesting. Have
visuals, examples, and people related to, or impacted by, the issue.
Don't make your presentation too long. The journalists are there to ask
questions, so get to them fairly quickly and leave sufficient time for
- At a news conference or with a press call, it's okay
to admit you don't have the answer or information. Say you don't and
that you'll get back to them. But remember, they are on deadline, so get
back to them as soon as possible.
Editorial Pages, Talk Radio, and TV:
- Many newspapers are open to ideas for editorial
comment. Seek to visit editors and editorial boards. Get them useful
facts, state your position, and ask them to consider writing an
editorial. But don't write an editorial for them (unless you prefer that
your piece run as a “letter to the editor.”)
- Get to know the radio call-in and talk shows in your
town. Find ways to meet and get to know the hosts, producers, and
booking staff, so they know to take your call. Make sure they think of
you when they cover your topic.
- PBS stations and your local cable channels sometimes
have locally-focused public affairs and talk shows. Get to know the
producers and hosts. These programs have smaller audiences but can be
useful in reaching key audience.
By all means, keep in touch with the media on a regular
basis. If not, your good efforts can soon disintegrate.
Updated from an original version produced with the
assistance of Eric Swanson, then executive director, Radio and
Television News Directors Foundation, and Bob Meyers, president,
National Press Foundation.