WRITING FOR THE MEDIA
Press Releases vs. Press Letters
Many organizations only communicate with the media using the press release format. Press releases are the best format when an organization is releasing news. However, everything an organization does or advocates for isn't necessarily breaking news. For non-breaking news communication with the media, consider sending a letter. This can introduce information for a "feature" story. Letters also serve to credential the organization and to pave the way for inclusion in future articles on issues that the organization works on. The chart below should help you decide which is the better vehicle.
- Releases breaking news
- In specified format-the inverted pyramid (starts with the conclusion, then supports the conclusion.) Begins with an attention-grabbing lead. Tells the media who, what, when, where, why, and how, and often includes quotes from appropriate spokespeople.
- Contains timely information.
- Solicits immediate coverage.
- Included in the release are enough facts for an immediate story to be written with little or no legwork.
- Releases tend to be fodder for the circular file in the newsroom. In order to avoid this happening to yours, follow up written
communications with a phone call to encourage coverage. Most importantly, an organization should have already established itself as a reliable source with a reporter at the outlet so when they see the organizational letterhead, they will take time to read it.
- It is essential to include a contact name and phone number.
- You shouldn't phone a reporter after sending a release. Reporters find this annoying. The release contains all they need if they want to follow-up.
Back to Writing for the press.
- Introduces an organization, an idea, an opportunity for future coverage.
- Written for an individual, personalized to their interests or an outlet's interests.
- May be sent to 1 or 100 outlets with minor changes.
- Establishes a relationship between the organization and the outlet.
- Identifies good spokespeople on specific subjects.
- Introduces something that is upcoming, giving media a heads-up.
- Serves to "credential" an organization by identifying it as a good source of information on an issue.
- May be in response to a story covered by a specific reporter that contained some inaccuracies, or left out a vitally important point.
- Tends to focus less on generating immediate coverage and more on educating reporters.
- Information in the letter presents an opportunity to cover a feature or trend story. Encourages reporter to invest time to discover the facts.
- Reporters tend to file these in their "teaser" files. This can be a black hole for story ideas. Calls should be made and other information should be sent to keep reminding the reporter to move the information to the front of the file, and eventually onto the desk so it can be turned into a story. Do not, however, become a pest. Take your cue from the reporter. If she/he expresses interest, continue to follow up. If not, or if the reporter is clearly not interested, move on.