What is a media release?

If I’m going to keep posting media release templates, or suggestions, and if my “how to write a Media Release” guide is going to be of any use, it strikes me that I probably need to lay down what my understanding of a media release is… otherwise people will keep looking at me funny.

From the very helpfully descriptive name, you might get the idea that a media release is some information that you’re giving to the media. You might also assume that it’s given to the media for a purpose – and usually this purpose is to secure some sort of media coverage for something, though it might, in the reverse, be used to water down an issue so that you don’t receive coverage – if you can make something seem more boring and less newsworthy than it is.

That’s a pretty limited, though functional, definition of what a media release is.

Here’s my definition.

A media release is a thoughtfully crafted, public, summary of your key messages, and your brand platform, usually in response to a set of newsworthy circumstances.

Media Releases are best, in my opinion, when they’re proactive, not reactive. When you’re on the front foot, looking to contribute to a conversation, not when you’re being chased to say something in response to some circumstances that might be related to you.

It’s not actually for the media, though they are its first readers – it’s for the public. It sums up what you think of an issue, so that the media, if they want to write a story about it, can include your perspective.

It should be tight. It should be not too long (I generally aim for about 500 words). It should be relevant and timely. It should contain news. It should contain facts that back up opinions. It should include your opinions – as quotes from someone credible. It should start with the important stuff and work down – in the good old inverted news pyramid (so that the bottom stuff doesn’t need to be read).

Public relations is about people, and for people. The public. You’re relating to them. There’s no real magic to it. People want to know how your story applies to the average Joe or Joanne. A good media release tells a story that people want to read. So it should also be relatable, and wherever possible include a real person who is affected by your story. People like reading about people.

But if your media release doesn’t present your view on an issue, from your platform, and include what you want to say about the issue – then don’t send it. That’s pretty much the point of this other post about how I think Christians should be doing media stuff.

If you think you can say all you need to say about a complex issue in three sentences, then by all means, send that, but a busy journalist isn’t going to thank you because they have to call you to get more information, or if they have to call you not having the information they need. They’re also not going to necessarily read to the end.

But the journalist isn’t your only audience – so you don’t have to only write three sentences. Your media releases will also inform your spokespeople, if you have a diverse organisation, and provide them with a guide to what your key messages are, they’ll inform your staff, your members, your customers, your congregants, anybody who reads what you say.

If you’re not publishing your own media releases – via your website, and social media, then again, I’d ask what the point is. They’re essentially a publication, from your organisation, on an issue. Publishing them widely also pre-empts the possibility of you being taken out of context, or misrepresented. The media isn’t generally out to misrepresent you – despite what some more paranoid, and less clear, communicators might think.

You can read a bit more about my approach to writing media releases, or about paying me to write them for you, here. If you ask nicely and it seems valuable, I might even write them for free.

Tips for better media releases

Hey. If you liked my “How to write a media release to promote your church event” post from about this time last year. Then you should check out the twelve tips I just posted as a follow up on Venn Theology. And feel free to comment there with any questions/additions.

This is a post about the best media release ever written

This is an introduction sentence.

This is a quote from that release.

“The science behind this Earth-shattering news release lies in its simplicity – no science, just pure old press release craftsmanship. It started with an incredible brainstorming session that asked a very simple question: “what makes a press release amazing?”

Elaborate notes from that brainstorm were then formulated into mesmerizing sentences, paragraphs and pages…all expertly designed to make you pause and reflect at the brilliance of this press release.
Every single word of this news release was track changed, stetted, then track changed again to its original draft. Upon final approval, it was spell checked, fact checked and printed for posterity. The result is a two-page, 1.5-spaced news release that is like no other news release in existence.”

This is a link to that post – which is a promo piece for a PR agency. It’s an interesting way to do it.

If you want to know about how to write your own press release, read this post. If you want me to write one for you, or have a look at one you’ve written. Please email me. We can talk.

How to write a Media Release to promote your church event

Mikey responded to yesterday’s rant about media releases with a post on Christian Reflections urging churches to think about how they can use the media. The day before yesterday a friend in Townsville sent me an email asking for some tips on how to talk to the media – she had sent a release out and had received some interest from a local television station.

For those wondering what makes me qualified to give this advice here are my qualifications in a nutshell. I’m a journalism graduate who spent four years working as a corporate communications hack for a regional development and tourism marketing body – I marketed my organisation and the Townsville region. I wrote hundreds of media releases and had a pretty good strike rate in terms of getting them placed. This was partly because Townsville is a regional centre with lots of media outlets and a finite number of sources, and partly because my organisation had a finger in just about every pie, and probably partly because I know what I’m doing. Enough self promotion for now…

It’s time to put all those years of spin twitting to good use – here’s my guide to writing a media release for your church event, and some tips for what to do when it is picked up, and when it’s not…

The first thing you’ve got to remember when sending out a release is that journalists are time poor and get heaps of media releases. You need to be prepared for the idea that they may not get past the heading and the lede (the first line). If you’re lucky they’ll think your release is interesting and read to the end, if you’re really lucky they’ll want to follow it up. With that in mind… follow these steps.

  1. Write an intriguing headline – it doesn’t have to be literal, puns are ok, but make sure you get some feel for what the story is about from the heading.
  2. Put the important stuff first – who, what, where, when, and most importantly why. The first four are easy. The why needs to cover why you’re doing it, why the outlet should cover it (is it news), and why their audience should be interested in coming.
  3. If you’ve never spoken to the media before put some information about who you are in the second or third paragraph.
  4. Keep it short – ball park 500 words.
  5. Include quotes from a spokesperson – do as much work as possible for the journalist – if they don’t have to call you for follow up that works for them. Three sentences (or paragraphs) of quotes should suffice.
  6. Include a closing paragraph that contains a call to action – how can people register for an event? Who do they RSVP to? Media Releases are great to put on your website too, it won’t necessarily just be the journos reading them.
  7. Include contact details for follow up – and most importantly – be available for calls from a journo. They’re not going to follow you up just because you think your story is worth it (unless it really is). If it feels like covering the story is doing you a favour (and not a disservice) then treat it as such. If your availability is patchy put when you are free in the footer of your release.
  8. Send it first thing in the morning (if you want television coverage) or after lunch if you want to give the paper a free run at it. Remember that media releases need to be timely. Don’t send it six months out from the event (unless that’s when you need registrations).
  9. Remember that you won’t always get a response. That’s ok. Send releases regularly so that you can build a rapport and a reputation with the local media. If it’s your first release, or an important event, place a phone call to the newsroom’s chief of staff (not the editor) and make sure they received your release. Be prepared to talk them through your event – pitch it to them as a story that matters to their audience. It’s also ok to call before you send it to make sure you’ve got the address of the newsroom right – you may also need to fax a copy through.
  10. Remember that pictures are worth 1,000 words. Be prepared to have a quirky photo op lined up for a newspaper or some pictures for a TV station to shoot – TV stories without pictures are dead. Make it clear in your footer that you have opportunities for filming or photos – and be creative. Does your event involve people in costumes? Get someone on site in a costume. This will give your story the best possible chance for the best possible coverage.

Once your release is in the wild you need to play a little game I like to call “wait and see what happens”… if you do get a call from a journalist – relax. Take a deep breath. Most of them are nice people, and most of them aren’t out to build a reputation as a bloodhound who takes down churches and disgraces ministers. Here’s how to get the best out of your interaction with the media post release…

  1. Never ever, let me repeat, never ever say “no comment” or “I can’t answer that” – if you get a tough question just answer it without answering it. Learn from the politicians, turn the question into an opportunity to push your agenda. Say “it’s interesting that you ask that, I think it’s important, but right now we just want to tell you about…” if they ask again, say it again. Repeat ad nauseum. They’ll get sick of asking the same question before you get sick of answering it.
  2. Try to include the gospel – you never know what they won’t cut.
  3. Remember they’re looking for eight second sound grabs or two sentence print quotes. Try to be quotable, succinct, and interesting.
  4. Don’t wear stripes or loud colours for TV interviews.
  5. If you mispeak during an interview pause, correct yourself, and start the sentence again – unless you’re doing a live interview (which I don’t really recommend unless you’re pretty experienced). Be prepared to tell the journalist that you stuffed up and want a do over.
  6. Stick to your point – stick with what you know.
  7. A good journalist will ask you at the end “is there anything you’d like to add” – use this as an opportunity to make a clear statement about your event and why people should come… and then stick the gospel in there. Journalists need it too. Even if they cut it they’re hearing it.
  8. Act with integrity, smile, make small talk before the interview with the journo to make yourself comfortable.
  9. Remember to blink if you’re looking at a camera, breath, relax, look confident, look up not at your toes, look at the journo, not at the camera.
  10. Speak clearly. Deliver your words as though you’re speaking to a crowd, not just to one person. I have a theory that Camera presence comes from aiming your words to the back of the camera not the lens – like when you kick a soccer ball you try to hit the far side while connecting with the front, or when you hit a cricket ball you follow through…

If this all sounds too hard I’ve set up a fiverr task where you can pay me $5 to write you a ten line media release. If you want to use me more than once I’ll probably make you pay more – but I’m happy to help. And I’m always happy to read over something before you send it out…