Learning Center

Making Media Relations Work for You

What story does your business have to tell, and who would find it interesting? Think about that for a second. If media relations isn’t part of your promotion strategy, maybe it should be.

Media relations vs. public relations

The Public Relations Society of America defines public relations as follows: “public relations is a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” In other words, public relations means you’re working to ensure that investors, customers, employees — any group that matters to your company — and the general public have a good relationship with your company, forming and maintaining a positive view of your organization.

Public relations tactics vary widely and should be dictated by what your company is trying to accomplish, but all have the same basic goal of building a good relationship between your company and its publics. Common tactics include holding special events; giving speeches; promoting educational efforts (for example, a candy company might create a PR campaign to promote safe trick-or-treating); content marketing, which by definition assists your publics rather than selling your company directly (such as this Learning Center!); supporting charities, cultural organizations, or other non-profits through in-kind donations or sponsorships; and soliciting and managing media coverage.

It’s important to note that public relations is distinct from advertising – you don’t exactly buy it, although you can certainly invest money in it — and a paid media buy is often part of a public relations campaign. Generally speaking, public relations is a much softer sell than most advertising.

A lot of times, when people refer to “public relations,” they actually mean media relations. In fact, media relations is a much narrower term, and refers to the portion of public relations that involves soliciting and managing news coverage — which is what we’re focusing on in this podcast.

News media today

Today’s news reporters are more strapped for time than ever. The splintering media environment means that fewer ad dollars are being spent in traditional news media advertising, which means newsrooms have fewer reporters than ever before. That means if you can provide the media with a well-written press release on a newsworthy topic, your chances of getting coverage are quite good — you’re providing them with something that saves time.

Writing a press release vs. writing promo copy

Avoid anything subjective! Press releases are very factual in nature. For example, while a promotional brochure for Prime Design Solutions might read something like, “Prime Design Solutions has grown to become one of the region’s best-known marketing agencies, and is your single source for all your promotion and branding needs,” a press release might instead read, “Founded in 2005 as a one-person design firm, Prime Design Solutions is today a full-service marketing agency offering web design and development, corporate identity and design services, copywriting, and more.” The same basic idea is conveyed in both sentences — but everything in the second version is an empirical fact, without any opinion expressed.

Express opinions in quotes. To build on the above example in my theoretical release about Prime Design Solutions, I could add a quote from Brian Law, the firm’s president, as follows: “‘I’m proud of the strong reputation we’ve built regionally,’ Law said. ‘We have some of the most talented professionals in the area working for us, and our client list speaks for itself.’” Better yet, I might find a client to give a testimonial quote about our firm.

What to write about

We’ve discussed how to write a press release just a bit (you can find more in How — and When — To Write a Press Release), but what on Earth is newsworthy?

Business briefs. Business “briefs” are just what they sound like – short blurbs about something going on with your business.

  • Most any business hires new employees. Once you’re sure the new employee is working out, send a release! This will generally get a business brief in news media. Send high-quality headshots if you can!
  • Significant new contracts, industry certifications, or awards are all possibilities as well. Sometimes the certifying or awarding organization will provide template copy to you. Don’t assume, in that case, that everyone knows what the certification will mean – not everyone is expert in your industry! Be sure to spell out why this is so noteworthy.

Feature stories. These is are harder to get, but obviously desirable! Potential topics include:

  • Growth, including but not limited to opening a new office or branch, or a merger. The press is always interested in quantitative information — how many new employees, what percentage of new growth, dollar figures of sales. What information can you share?
  • How your company relates to a national trend (be sure to articulate this well in your press release). Examples include how your company is taking advantage of increased interest in gluten-free food, branching into an emerging technology, and so forth.
  • Charitable efforts of note. Here, the emphasis should be on the charitable effort, not the company. In Johnstown, a company that does a particularly good job with this is Laurel Auto Group, which has founded and promotes a significant charitable foundation devoted to promoting ovarian cancer early detection and awareness, and helping ovarian cancer patients. The primary focus is on the cause — ovarian cancer — but you can’t help but come away with a positive impression of Laurel Auto Group when you’re exposed to the foundation and its efforts. Of course, it doesn’t drive traffic to the dealership in the same way that advertising a big sale might. But over the long-term, it just might make people more likely to consider Laurel Auto Group when the time comes to buy a new car.

What should be in a press release

When you’re writing a press release, make sure you include the following information:

  • Contact info. In most cases, you’ll include your email and phone. Who can the reporter contact to learn more?
  • Headline and subhead. These should summarize the story in as interesting a way as possible. The headline and the subhead are the first — and maybe, the only — thing the reporter will read before deciding whether your release is any good. Make sure your first impression counts.
  • Body copy. Here you tell your story. Again, make sure it reads like news copy, not promo copy! Basically, the simpler the story, the shorter the release should be.
  • Quotes. Quotes are your opportunity to express opinions within the body of the release. Consider carefully who should be quoted, and how that will affect your release’s credibility. For example, in my theoretical release about Prime Design Solutions, who would be a better choice as a person to quote about how great our company is — a client, or the company’s founder? Sometimes it’s appropriate for more than one person to be quoted. Be aware that quotes will likely not be used in business briefs. For a feature, sometimes a reporter will call and do an interview and use quotes from that conversation. If you’re fortunate enough to land an interview, it is completely okay to repeat the substance of the quotes included in the release.
  • “Boilerplate.” Your boilerplate is a paragraph at the end of the release, often formatted in a smaller font, that gives basic information about your company. This can give reporters useful background information if they’ve never heard of you. Include as much quantitative information as you can — number of years in business, number of employees, regions served, products offered and so on. If your release is about more than one organization — say, an awarding organization and your company — you can include more than one boilerplate.
  • Photos. Quality photography can be a tremendous asset in media relations. Headshots of new employees or photographs that illustrate your story should be included whenever appropriate.

Where to send your press release

When you invest the time and effort into writing a press release, you should also invest time and effort into your distribution list. This requires a little research — you should consider:

  • Local newspapers and weeklies. Don’t know what reporter should receive the release? It’s perfectly okay to call and ask.
  • Business publications. What business publications cover your region? Do they have an editorial calendar? If so, can you tailor your press release to fit their editorial calendar topics?
  • Chambers of Commerce, Convention & Visitors Bureau, or similar organizations that have a newsletter of some kind. Pay attention to the newsletters of organizations to which you belong. What kind of member news do they publish?
  • Alumni publications. Did you hire a new employee just out of school? Send a release (with headshot) to his or her alumni publication. Not only will this make your new employee feel valued, it can be a recruitment tool in your industry.
  • Trade publications. What trade publications are important in your industry? What kinds of stories do they cover? Check to see if they have an editorial calendar.
  • Television news. TV is less interested in business news unless it is something very visual, and a pretty big story — business briefs are not of interest.

Promote your news in your own network

Don’t forget to promote your news in your own network, too – AND DO IT FIRST, before you send it to the media. Your own supporters like feeling “in the know,” and it also gives you a greater return on the effort you expend in writing the release. Here are ways you can promote your news:

  • Post on social media, including LinkedIn
  • Send your news via e-newsletter
  • Post it on your blog

Then, post the resulting coverage to your own network after it occurs, including hotlinks. That way, you promote your news to your network twice.