|The Ways of Print and Broadcast Media: Your Guide to Good Publicity
By Robin Street, M.A., M.S., and Len Kravitz, Ph.D.
When you want publicity, it can be hard to get a reporters attention. Then sometimes, a reporter calls and catches you ill prepared. So how does a health and fitness professional go about getting publicity in the media?
Reporters - both print and broadcast- do follow a general set of guidelines in deciding what to report. Knowing and understanding these guidelines can help to get good publicity for your business. First, it is important to understand the difference in advertising and publicity. Publicity is information about your organization that you do not buy and over which you have little control. Advertising, on the other hand, you do control because you buy it. You control what the advertisement says and when or where it runs. Because you cannot buy publicity, you are not able to control it. That factor, however, makes publicity more believable than advertising. Good publicity is invaluable in building up a business, establishing recognition of your name, or getting health information to the public. Another advantage of publicity is that it requires very little of you; mostly time and knowledge of how the media operates (1).
This article will examine how to increase your chances of successfully getting publicity in the media. Lets consider Bob Wayne, a fictional certified personal trainer, who has opened his own training and consulting business called Train with Wayne. Wayne would like the media to do a story on his new business. To begin with, he must understand what information journalists consider newsworthy.
What is News?
Wayne may think his new business deserves a story in the local newspaper, TV or radio, but that does not mean a reporter will agree. Individuals and events must be considered newsworthy before reporters will cover them, so understanding the criteria reporters use to decide if something is newsworthy is beneficial. A newsworthy event must have one or more of the following criteria: impact, proximity, timeliness, prominence, novelty, and conflict (2).
1. Impact (sometimes called significance, relevance or interest) - Does the event have meaning to the intended audience? An article on exercise helping women to cope with menopause has impact on the readers of Modern Maturity, perhaps, but not to the readers of Seventeen. Television networks are also becoming more targeted, for example, the history channel would have little use for a fitness story.
2. Proximity Most broadcast stations and newspapers, along with some magazines, cater to people living in a certain city, state or region. If Waynes new personal training business is located in Milwaukee, it will not have proximity for readers of a newspaper in Atlanta. While this information may seem fairly obvious, lack of local information is the number one reason editors do not use news releases.
3. Timeliness The term News evolved from the word new. Old news is not news. Daily newspapers, television and radio news are the most timely, followed by weekly newspapers and magazines. Magazines that publish every month or two still want timely information, but their publishing deadlines are longer than newspapers.
4. Prominence - Famous people make news with just about anything they do. Thats why Madonnas or Cindy Crawfords eating and exercise programs are discussed on television talk shows, while your program, which may be more effective, is not. Theres not much you can do to overcome this factor.
5. Novelty - Events that are unusual, dramatic or of human interest appeal to the media. For example, the story of cyclist Lance Armstrong making a comeback from cancer had strong human interest and drama.
6. Conflict - Conflict between countries, politicians, or different fractions within a community makes news. This factor would influence health and fitness news only when there is a controversy over some new findings.
So does the opening of "Train with Wayne" have news value? Yes. His business has proximity to their local audience, impact on their lives because they might utilize the service, and novelty because it is the first one in town.
KINDS OF NEWS
Journalists recognize two major categories of news: hard and soft. Hard news is about events that must be reported in a timely manner, such as an election, hurricane or crime. Soft news involves stories that are interesting, informative or entertaining, such as "Selecting the Right Shoes for your Fitness Program" or "How A Certain Celebrity Loses Weight."
A story about the record number of people who got the flu one month is hard news. A story giving tips on staying healthy this winter is soft news. Public relations people sometimes recognize a third kind of news: specialized. Specialized news is of interest only to members of a certain field. For example, announcing a new computer system to monitor health club membership would be of interest in a publication for health club owners and managers, but not to the general public (3).
For Waynes business opening, and for any future events he wants to publicize, the most effective way for him to proceed is by sending a news release to the appropriate members of the news media. A news release has a particular style and format. If a release is done properly, it helps the media because it may not necessitate assigning a reporter. Some newspapers, particularly smaller dailies or weeklies, depend on news releases (4). Newspapers, magazines or television stations may use the release verbatim, or they may assign it to a reporter to cover. However, many releases are discarded. Common topics for news releases include personnel changes, new products or businesses, scheduled events or programs, results of studies or surveys, reactions to other local or national stories, or what an organizational representative said in a speech. Tips from experts may also be good, as can feature stories on someone interesting in your organization (3).
Typically, editors will spend about 30 seconds glancing at the headline and first paragraph of a news release to decide if it is worth using. Spelling or grammatical errors will usually lead to your release being rejected. So will a failure to use the accepted format/structure found in Boxes 1 and 2. Finally, as much as possible, write in journalistic style as described in Box 3.
Composing Your News Release
Order the information in your news release in the following manner, as suggested by Smith (3). Examples of the steps are provided in Box 3.
1. The first paragraph, or lead, summarizes the most important or interesting information in the story. It usually answers who, what, where, why, when, and how.
2. The next paragraph or two should state how this information will benefit the reader. A good way to do this is to provide a quote from the people involved.
3. The next one or more paragraphs provide secondary, or less important, details or information.
4. Background information: Here, you briefly explain the background or history of event or announcement.
5. Action statement: This provides the reader a way to take action after reading the article.
6. A paragraph identifying or explaining your organization is optional, but often used. The same paragraph may be used repeatedly in different news releases. For example, a news release from a wellness center in a hospital might say, "The Ohio County Hospital Wellness Center has served five counties in Ohio since it was founded in 1950. More than 50 health and fitness professionals are on staff there."
Deciding where to send your news release
Once you have a news release completed, which media should you contact? Remember that television and radio newscasts, as well as daily newspapers, have breaking deadlines each day, so they are able to report news quickly. Magazines, on the other hand, may not report your news for several months because they have longer publishing deadlines. One advantage of using print media, such as newspapers or magazines, is that interested readers can tear out the news and save it. Once you have decided which form(s) of media to use, you can select outlets either by location (the ones in your geographical area), or by target audience, such as sending information on women's health to womens magazines. You can locate media through published media directories. Some commonly used directories include Bacons Public Relations and Media Information Systems series, Burrelles Media Directory, Editor and Publisher, and a series published by Larrison Communications (1).
You can also compile your own media list (4) by calling the publications or broadcasters in your area. If you make your own media list, include the following information:
A) name of media outlet,
B) names of editors & reporters for print; news directors for broadcast
C) address of outlet, both mailing and street
D) telephone and fax numbers, e-mail if they use it
E) editorial info such as deadlines for publication
Mail, fax or e-mail your release to the appropriate media representative. Avoid sending it just to "Editor" or "News Desk." Find which editor or reporter covers the health and fitness beat either by calling the publication or broadcast station, or by consulting a media guide. Address the envelope using the persons name and job title. (e.g., Ms. Sue Anderson, Fitness Editor). Get the release to the media a week to 10 days prior to their using it. Personal delivery is sometimes, but rarely, used. Or, you may hire a placement agency, a business that distributes press releases to media outlets, using their own media lists (1).
Dealing with reporters
Sometimes, whether you are seeking publicity or not, a reporter calls. How do you deal with a reporter effectively? Remembering some key points will make the process go more smoothly.
1. After sending a news release, do not pester reporters or editors to ask if they plan to use it.
2. Remember that reporters are often required to balance a story, meaning they must interview at least two sources for a story and report any conflicting opinions. So do not be offended if a journalist calls you, as well as another expert or two.
3. Pay attention to the reporter's deadlines. Daily newspapers or television news broadcasts have unforgiving daily deadlines. Most magazine journalists, and newspaper reporters working on a soft news feature, have less immediate deadline pressure.
4. Never offer a journalist anything that could be construed as a bribe such as money or valuable gifts. For example, Wayne could not offer a reporter a free health club membership or series of personal training sessions as a thank you for doing a story on "Train with Wayne." A token such as a ballpoint pen imprinted with the company logo is probably okay. If a reporter covers a banquet or social event, most journalists feel comfortable accepting a ticket to the event. However, more large newspapers are requiring that journalists pay their own admission to such events (4).
5. If a journalist interviews you for an article or television piece he or she is doing, remember it is their work, not yours. Do not ask to approve their work before it is published or aired. Not even the president can tell a journalist what to report. If President Clinton only allowed journalists to use stories about him that he approved of there would be very little news reported. However, many magazines, and some newspapers will call you to check that the quotations they have from you are accurate.
6. If a reporter requests an interview, ask the purpose or topic. Then ask for time to prepare. Often, you may need to refresh your memory on a topic. Jotting down some notes may help.
7. Answer truthfully. If you don't know an answer, say so. Offer to find the answer if you can.
8. Use examples and anecdotes if appropriate. Use non-technical terminology.
9. If the reporter fails to ask a question that is important, feel free to suggest it. For example, "Would you be interested in hearing about our latest findings?"
10. If the reporter asks a question that you prefer not to answer, avoid saying "no comment." Instead, give a calm reason that you cannot answer, such as "We're not ready to release this information for publication until we examine it further."
The media can be one of your greatest allies if you understand their guidelines and plan in an organized approach. Dont be discouraged if your events arent all published. The enthusiasm you have as a propelling force for your business may also be used to open up new opportunities through your knowledge of the media.
END: Three sidebars follow
Sidebar 1: Structuring your News Release
A news release must be structured in a certain form. The following guidelines are all taken from Bivins (1).
Use plain white good quality paper. At the very top, you may type the word "NEWS" or "NEWS RELEASE."
In the upper left-hand corner, type the name and address of the sending organization. Below this, or to the side, write "Media contact" or "For more information, contact" followed by your name, and contact telephone numbers. You may include your e-mail address and fax number.
On the right, type a date of release. If the editor can use the release as soon as he or she gets it, type "For immediate release." However, often a news release goes out before the information can be publicly released. For example, a scientific journal may send out a news release about the findings of a study to be published in the next issue, but ask reporters not to run the story until the day the journal comes out. In that case, write "Hold for release until (insert date) or "Embargo until (insert date). Next, write an identifying title or headline that explains what the release is about such as "First Personal Training Service in Town Has Grand Opening."
The body of the story follows, preceded by a dateline that identifies where the story originated. Write the dateline in all caps. If the city is well known, you do not need to follow it with a state. Double space the body of the story and indent the paragraphs.
If the release is longer than one page, write -more- at the bottom of the page. At the top of the second (or later) page, write a key word or two, followed by the page number, such as "Personal Training--2."
When the article is completely over, at the bottom of the page, type one of the following: -30- or -END- or ###
Sidebar 2: News Release
Train with Wayne Personal Training Service
123 Main St.
Anywhere, USA 56789
Media contact: Reba Lane, 666-777-8888
For immediate release
Free Seminar on "Building a Healthier Body" Offered
Anywhere, Iowa-- Train with Wayne, a personal training service, will host a free public seminar on "Building a Healthier Body," at 7 p.m. March 6 at Maximum Health Club. (LEAD)
"So many people tell me that they can't seem to find the time to take care of their health," said Bob Wayne, owner of Train with Wayne. "I want to teach people five easy ways to improve their health and fitness." (BENEFIT STATEMENT)
The seminar will be the first of five seminars Train with Wayne will offer this year. Admission is free, but reservations are needed. (SECONDARY, OR LESSER IMPORTANT DETAILS)
Wayne Personal Training opened in January 1999. The company employees 15 certified personal trainers who work by appointment either at a health club or in your home. Company owner Wayne is a health fitness instructor certified through the American College of Sports Medicine. (BACKGROUND/ORGANIZATION INFORMATION)
For more information, or to reserve a spot at the seminar, call 555-5555. (ACTION STATEMENT)
The example above is based on the system presented by Smith (3).
Sidebar 3: Writing in Journalistic Style
Journalists write in a particular style, and look for news releases to follow that style. The following suggestions are from Smith (3).
1. Write short paragraphs, of no more than three sentences each for newspapers. Each sentence should be fairly brief, an average of 16 words. Remember that six typed lines on a piece of paper equal 15 lines in a newspaper column.
2. The first time you mention a person in your news release, identify him/her with their first name, last name, and their job title, academic degree if appropriate, occupation, or role in the story. Job titles are capitalized before a name, but not after a name. Their age and address is usually not needed. The second or later time you mention a person, use his or her last name only with no courtesy or academic title. Examples: Director of Operations John Jones; Sue Smith, fitness director at XYZ Health Club; Alice Jones, who just began exercising in January; Tom Smith, Ph.D., a professor of exercise science or Dr. Tom Smith, a professor of exercise science.
3. Quotations add life to a news release. Quote a person by putting quotation marks around the words he/she said, assuming you have their permission, of course. After the first sentence of the quote, place a comma, close the quote, then attribute the quote (tell the reader who is speaking). Generally, a quotation should start as a new paragraph. Using "said" is best, rather than words such as exclaimed, cried or declared. Be sure to quote only a person, not an organization itself.
For example: "Ive been wanting to open this business for many years," said Bob Wayne, owner of Train with Wayne. "This is a truly a dream come true for me."
4. Write in third person. The writer should not refer to him or herself. You may use "I" or "we" in quoting someone, of course, as in the quote from Wayne above.
5. Consult a journalists stylebook for how to write numbers, addresses, and dates. Most newspapers use the associated press stylebook and libel manual (6).
END OF SIDEBARS
1. T. H. Bivins. Public Relations Writing: The Essentials of Style and Format. 4th ed. Chicago: NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group, Inc., 1999.
2. B. S. Brooks, G. Kennedy, D. R. Moen, et al. News Reporting and Writing. 4th ed. New York: St. Martins Press, 1992.
3. R. D. Smith. Becoming a public relations writer. New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1996.
4. T. Hunt, and J. E. Grunig. Public Relations Techniques. Orlando, FLA and Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehard and Winston, Inc., 1994
5. D. L. Wilcox, P. H. Ault, W.K. Agee. Public Relations: Strategies and Tactics. 5th ed. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers, 1998.
6. D. Newsom & B. Carrell. Public Relations Writing: Form and Style. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998.