This is the first in a four-part series about developing a traditional media strategy.

So I have written about reaching out to new media, but it is always important to develop a traditional media strategy to get your message out to print, radio, and television news. This post will help you create a media contact list and learn some best practices about writing and sending press releases.

Building your media list

So before you can send out press releases, you need people to send them out to. This is why you need to create a media contact list of reporters and editors that are on beats that would be interested in covering your organization. Read through your local newspapers and find the names of the reporters that cover local and state politics. Once you have a list of names for reporters that may be interested in calling you, find the contact page of the news organizations website (here is the LA Times contact page as an example). From here you can complete your contact list. You may want to call the reporters before you ever send them anything to make sure that your organization falls under the scope of their beat and ask permission to send them your releases. You can go either way here. Some people like to build a relationship with a reporter first, others like to start sending releases to avoid being blown off in the first place. Create a spreadsheet in Excel or your software of choice and you are ready to go.

Sending press releases

The first rule of press releases in a traditional media strategy is to not overwhelm the reporter or editor with the sheer volume of releases. They get a ridiculous amount of releases sent to them every day, so don’t be part of the problem. Only send releases that are interesting, current, and relevant to the reporter, paper, and their readership.

The most effective way to make sure a reporter is aware of your release is to give them a call. Once again, don’t abuse this. Every communications director and press secretary worth their Blackberry does this. The important thing here is to be considerate of the reporter. Don’t try to badger them into writing your story. If you do this right you will be building a relationship with the reporters, which means they will trust you more than the random person sending a press release and will possibly come to you when they need a comment for a story pertaining to something relevant to your organization.

Send your releases from an official email address from your organization. Your release is much more likely to be taken seriously.

Content and format of a press release

Here are some of the rules of press release content and formatting:

General Rules:

  • A release should address the 5 Ws: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
  • If you are writing about an event make sure to include the date, time, and location.
  • The release should be around a page to a page-and-a-half double-spaced.
  • Your release should include contact information for the person the reporter should call for more information.
  • Always end your release with “###” or “<END>” to let the reporter know that they have reached the end of the release. If you have a hard copy of a release always have “<MORE>” at the bottom of the first page.
  • Fonts – use one of the big three: Arial, Times New Roman, or Verdana. Don’t try anything fancy with your fonts. If you send me a release in Vladimir Script (or worse, Comic Sans) you are about to enter a world of pain.
  • I personally like including my organization’s logo on my release to help draw attention and show that it is coming from us. If you choose to do this in your email releases, DO NOT include the image as an attachment to the email. Host the image online and have the document call for it. To do this in Microsoft Word (for sending out through Outlook): Insert>>Picture>>From File. Instead of using the picture on your hard drive you just enter the URL of the image that you have on your web server.

Headline:

  • The headline is arguably the most important part of your release. A good headline is the difference between getting noticed and being lost in the crowd of other releases flooding the editor’s inbox. It should be very clear from the headline exactly what the release is about, don’t get too cute with it.
  • The headline should be bold and in a larger type than the rest of the release.
  • The general rule for capitalization in a headline is to capitalize every word that contains four or more characters.
  • End your release with a brief description of your organization. Here is the YDAZ about language for releases: YDAZ is the youth arm of the Arizona Democratic Party, working to build strong chapters and a solid youth voting bloc for Democrats statewide. As a chapter of the Young Democrats of America, YDAZ mobilizes young people under the age of 36 to participate in the electoral process, influence the ideals of the Democratic Party and develop the skills of the youth generation to serve as leaders at the local, state, and national level.

First Paragraph:

  • <city>, <state>: should start off the first paragraph of every press release. The reporter needs to know where the news is located.
  • Your first paragraph needs to be concise and make clear the content of the release. A tip I have often heard is to write the first paragraph as if the reporter has not read your headline (which sometimes is actually the case).

To look at some examples of press releases, you can view all of the AZ Democratic Party’s past releases here on their website.

There is more to writing and sending press releases than this. If you want help ask some people in your area that work in communications. The communications director or press secretary at your state party may be willing to help.

If you have any questions, ideas, etc. leave a comment.

Tomorrow’s post: Part 2: Working With reporters