Tips for Connecting with Your Local Media
Define your message first.
In today's world there is an abundance of information coming at us everyday. Given a chance to have the media run just one sentence from you — what would it be? Spend some time developing your main point, as this will be the most important part of your communications strategy and the foundation for everything else you convey. Choose a goal, and craft your message so that it supports that goal. Your message should be focused, timely, and relevant and you must stick to it. If you stay on message, you're winning half the battle.
If you want to reach people through the media, you need to stay on top of what people are already talking about, which is often shaped by what's in the media (in a curious cycle.) You also need to familiarize yourself with local controversies, keep tabs on which journalists are the ones writing about your issues, and follow closely the nature of the coverage your issues are receiving.
It's not enough to read newspapers and watch television; you should take an active role in shaping the news. Subscribe to all of your local papers and begin clipping stories that pertain to your issues. Start a database that contains the names and contact information of the journalists covering your issues. Track the frequency with which these journalists write about your issues. When the time comes to make that pitch call to a journalist, you'll be able avoid pitching something they've already covered. Instead, you can woo them with your familiarity of their material.
Think locally, pitch wisely.
Journalists have very little spare time and are bombarded with pitches on a constant basis. It is more important that the information you send to them is timely and relevant and retains a human element that their readers will find interesting, than it is to send them lots and lots of stuff with your name on it. Remember, reporters are always looking for the local angle. So, package your message or information in the context of a local story.
Try different tactics.
Press releases are only one of many useful ways to pitch journalists. Be creative in your attempts to reach the public. Your message may be framed just as well within an op-ed article as it is within a travel piece for an airline magazine. Tailor the frame to the audience you seek. If you have large budget, perhaps you'd like to hold a special event in a unique setting. On a smaller budget, be selective about the publications you think your target audience reads regularly and devote more time to pitching those outlets.
Choose the right tool.
Each tool has its own benefits and drawbacks. Part of making the successful pitch is choosing the right tool You may be familiar with some of these tools: press releases, media advisories, op-eds, letters to the editor, video news releases, public service announcements, print advertisements, flyer campaigns, press conferences, and staged events. You should consider the nature of your message, the level of urgency expressed, the "news" value, your budgetary constraints (if any), and your target audience when selecting your communications tool to ensure a good fit.
Journalists love it when you make it easy for them to enhance a story. The less research that they have to complete on their own time, the more likely it is that they will use your material as the basis for their piece. You can assist print journalists by providing accompaniments such as photos, anecdotes, fact sheets, handy lists or rankings of relevance, contact and biographical information for topical "experts," and useful website addresses. Try to make all of your information available online, and include collateral research info. For pitches to TV news media, it is helpful to provide B-roll footage in addition to these resources.
Locating the media.
Want to write a letter to the editor? Getting started means figuring out where to write. Information on where to send op-eds or letters to the editor can usually be found on the editorial page of your local paper. If you are tracking journalists who cover your area of interest, be sure to pay attention to newspaper bylines. The Internet has become a tremendous resource for dealing with the media. Most newspapers and television stations maintain websites. Many newspapers even allow you to submit letters and op-eds online. Websites will usually give you the information you need when determining where to send a press release. But don't forget that APA's press office maintains commercial directories and databases of press contacts. So contact APA if you need help finding the right target.
Play by the rules.
There are some standards that are part of the media relations game, and you'll tip your hand by ignoring them. Always double-space the front page of your press release. Be sure to indicate whether the information contained in the release is free for use "immediately" or if it is "embargoed," for a later date and time. If you include a quote, obtain permission from your source before releasing. Media advisories should include only the most basic details (who, what, where, when, why and how.) Keep letters to the editor short and sweet. Return media calls promptly. Don't promise an exclusive to anyone unless you intend to give one. Never attack a journalist — if you need to disagree, do it firmly and with professional conviction, but avoid rudeness under any circumstance. Tell the truth; if you are unable to do so for any reason, then say nothing.
Remember these tips for crafting an effective and compelling message for the media:
F is for framing. The frame is the big-picture rationale for why people should listen. A good frame drives home the overall importance and value of your message.
A is for analogies. Analogies do two things: allow the listener / reader to explore an idea with more familiar concepts; force the listener / reader to actively engage your idea.
S is for sound bite. Incorporate a few short, pithy, memorable phrases. These prompt recall of your message and make good copy for a journalist looking to capture a complex message in a compact, engaging manner.
T is for tale. It all comes back to simple storytelling. Stories make a lasting impression and humanize your message. Stories are also useful ways to relate a complex idea to the local context.
Use APA staff resources and expertise. Contact Government Affairs for consultation and help.