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Work Your Plan: Generating Earned Media Coverage

There are a wide variety of tactics and approaches to publicly communicate and convey your messages.

Keep It Simple, but Significant

The key to generating significant press coverage almost always begins with giving the media something simple and news-worthy to cover.

Examples include:

  • Major mobilizations and crackdowns
  • Special emphasis around key holidays and special events
  • New national or state statistics or survey information
  • Official proclamations
  • New programs or approaches being used to reach your target audience
  • Dramatic testimonials or tragedies that help build human interest

Put It On Paper

Generating press coverage can be done through regular news releases, advisories and announcements of significant stories for the media’s readers/viewers/listeners in your area.

A news release is simply your story presented in journalistic form. On receiving your release, reporters will first glance at the headline or the lead - the opening paragraph - to get the gist of the story.  If it fails to spark their interest, the release will likely be discarded. So do your best to make your story timely, unique, interesting, informational, or even unexpected.

Make sure your release answers the journalist’s “Five W’s”: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and also whenever possible, the “How.” While your headline or lead paragraph should be concise and catchy, your release should also be packed with the essential information needed to tell and explain your story.

The most effective releases:

  1. Attract attention with a strong headline and lead paragraph
  2. Convey one central message
  3. Concisely include only the most appropriate information needed to support the message

Unlike news releases, media advisories are sent out in advance of events, announcements and press conferences. The goal of a media advisory is to provide just enough information about the “Five W’s” to encourage press attendance and coverage.

Advisories and releases should always carry a contact name and phone number as a reporter’s point of contact for more information, questions and follow-up.

Convene an Event

Consider a news conference or special event to help build awareness about your news or announcement, especially when your news is likely to generate significant media turnout, or is visually engaging for television coverage.

The goal of a press conference or special event is to convene the key players to publicize your announcement, share dramatic visuals and provide availability for questions all at the same time.

But news conferences and special events can be time consuming to effectively pull together and execute, so if a news release can do the job just as well, then consider that as a preferred alternative.

Talk It Out

More complex stories, trends or announcements are sometimes better explained in direct interviews with reporters.

Inviting members of the media for one-on-one interviews, going to a group interview with a number of editors and reporters (such as a desk side briefing or an editorial board), or scheduling a local TV or radio talk show interview can be good ways to promote your most engaging stories and announcements.

But since the reporters may ask pointed questions to elicit interesting, illuminating, lively, or even entertaining responses, prepare in advance how to respond to the range of questions - from the most basic to the most difficult - that you could expect to encounter.  Identify your core messages and concentrate on expressing those points, and practice your answers.

By anticipating their questions, you can help guide the conversation and keep control of the messages you want to deliver.  Even if the interviewer attempts to stray, or weave in any “off the wall” questions, your goal is return to and underscore the key messages you have practiced and most want to deliver.

Share Your Opinion

Another effective way to generate buzz around key initiatives and announcements is to submit a guest editorial, commentary or letter to the editor for publication in a national, state or local newspaper.

This form of communication needs to be directed to the newspaper’s opinion page or editorial page editor, and not the standard news reporter you may usually deal with.

The strongest opinion pieces are conversational, informative, and persuasive.  Always ask in advance for the outlet’s policy on word count -- with most outlets preferring OpEds in the 400-600 word range.

Make It Human

Life-and-death highway safety stories touch real lives through heroism and tragedy. The media loves to share these types of human-interest stories with their audiences.

Highlighting lessons learned by crash survivors is a powerful take on highway safety.  By tastefully and sensitively working with law enforcement and emergency response officials on the “front lines”, as well as crash survivors, or the family and friends of crash victims, their stories can convey perspectives that are of great interest to the news media.

Get Creative

This website offers a template of sample releases, OpEds, story angles, and approaches that you can tailor to fit your specific needs. But don’t be afraid to try your own ideas to create media interest and coverage of your story.  Thinking “outside the box” can be both fun and effective.

Remember, Follow Up Is Key

There is no magic way to create media coverage. Building coverage requires time, work and diligence.

When you have something newsworthy to share, first think to yourself:

“Do I have the right pitch for the media, and the right plan to follow up?”

Sending your information and stories to targeted reporters is important, but quickly following up by email or over the phone is what secures the story.

Make enough calls in advance of your event or announcement to build the right list of contact information for those reporters most appropriate for your story. Find out when and how each reporter prefers to receive information from you. Learn and respect their deadlines. Once you have sent them your information, continue to follow to confirm they received it, see if they have questions and ask for coverage.