Tips for building a positive relationship with press:
- Be quick and efficient in your communication. Press are very busy! Try to summarize your event and motivations in a few brief sentences.
- Be friendly! Being pushy won’t make them any more likely to show up, think about it like you would think about recruiting someone to show up at your event: you have to sell it.
- Call between 9am and 2pm. TV journalists and editors may be earlier, like 8am to 12noon. But amongst most print journalists and editors, these are often slower times of day. The point is to not interrupt while they are trying to meet a deadline.
- Be factual and knowledgeable, try to become a “source.” Share your expertise on the issue and build credibility. Never answer a question you don’t know — admit it and tell them you’ll get back to them.
- Create a Relationship. The temptation when dealing with reporters is to send a press release and leave it at that. Ignore that impulse! Press releases drift into newsrooms like snowflakes in a blizzard.
A better idea: Get to know reporters and editors long before you need them for your story. Call or email and ask if you can have a short meeting or conversation with a potential contact early in your campaign. Journalists want to know the people in their communities who will be making news, and get a sneak preview of your plans.
Once talking with them, lay out the basic plan for your campaign and how it relates to your community (and how it relates to what they write/ care about), the things you plan to do in the lead-up to your event, and the kinds of people you have involved so far. This isn’t the time to press for commitments—all you’re doing is establishing a relationship and demonstrating that you’re a helpful source.
- Build a press list. Don’t just rely on one or two reporters. Keep adding new people to a list. Use a spreadsheet to track and share with colleagues press’ name, phone, email, Twitter handle, and area of reporting. Make a space for any notes, like the kinds of stories they don’t cover or note who among your team has the strongest relationship with them.
If you’re having trouble finding press, consider asking very close ally organisations if they would share the names of some reporters they work with. (Occasionally groups may share parts of their press list with each other.)
- Read press. The best way to find new reporters and the right pitch for a story is to read lots of press. When you find someone writing on an issue close to yours, add them to your press list — and, if appropriate, call them up for a short chat to introduce them to your campaign. Diversify the news sources you consume (read newspapers, watch TV, read blogs — wherever you want to be get to know the kinds of stories they publish).
- Do send press releases and media advisories at helpful times. Here’s an ideal timeline for getting maximum coverage of your story. Get started early, designate a person on your team to be the main press contact, and follow the basic timeline below:
- 1-3 months before – start building relationships with reporters and bloggers as well as researching who is writing about events/ stories like yours.
- 1 month before –– community calendars! Now is the time to make sure your event is listed in every community calendar in town: try newspapers, blogs, radio shows, organizational websites, etc.
- 5-7 days before – send media advisory by email; include info on interesting spokespeople able to do interviews by phone or in-person. Start drafting the press release you will be sending the day of the event, include quotes from organisers and partners (where relevant).
- 3 days before – follow up with a phone call to pitch the story and make sure they received the advisory
- 1 day before – Re-send advisory, follow up by phone with confirm calls.
- Day of – confirm they are coming!
- End of day — send your press release with photos describing what you did!
- Try not to call reporters just to ask if they got your release — instead find good excuses to call them. They do not have time to respond to every release they receive. Instead, call them to pitch the news and remind them about the release, or with timely information (e.g. “we just found out that the Mayor will be attending” or “there’s also a new report on climate change in our area you may be interested in…”). Be prepared to send another if the first one was misplaced.
For more on working with press, see “Understanding Journalists“.