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Steven R. Van Hook

Crafting Effective Media Releases
How to get valuable media coverage on a small budget.
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 by Steven R. Van Hook, PhD

Steven R. Van HookMany if not most start-up companies and nonprofit programs will have limited or no budgets for advertising.

Even larger organizations will appreciate the value of a well-placed news report promoting their products and services.

Free media coverage is not so hard to get if you are clever about how you approach it and frame your story well.

And it all starts with a well-prepared media release and an enticing news hook.

First we should consider some of the pros and cons of working with the media, as compared to paid advertising. On the upside:

  • A story in a reputable medium gives credibility to your message with an implied editorial endorsement.

  • Your story can reach thousands and even millions if you win wide media play.

  • Your news can spread in an instant through online and broadcast media.

  • And -- most importantly -- all this coverage can be for free!

On the downside:

  • You cede control of your story angle to reporters and editors.

  • You have no say in when or if your story runs.

  • You cannot dictate where a story is placed in a publication or newscast.

  • There is no certainty you will connect with the target audience you hope to reach.

As you are framing your story for a media release, put yourself in the mind of a reporter or editor. What would be interesting to you? More importantly, what is interesting to the audience the medium serves?

Consider the five Ws they teach in journalism school: Who, What, When, Where, and -- most essentially -- the Why-Should-Anyone-Care question.

Also keep in mind some news hooks that especially catch an editor's eye:

Immediacy: breaking news happening *right now* -- like a street demonstration

Proximity: a story important to your local community

Consquence: something that impacts hundreds or thousands of people

Conflict: east against west, right versus left, good battling bad

Oddity: things that are unusual, such as a two-headed puppy

Sex: there's a reason sex scandals get such headlining media play

Emotion: heart tugs of a family reunited, a kitten saved, a child cured

Prominence: a newsworthy celebrity or high-ranking official

Suspense: will there be victory or defeat, life or death, a mystery solved

Progress: the world moving in a better direction with innovations and discovery

As you begin to format your media release, you can find a template suggestion here: Sample Media Releases

Media Release

Keep in mind that editors may see hundreds of media releases a week. You have to pass a five-second test (or less), or into the trash bucket you go.

For a favorable first impression, ensure you have an attractive layout free of typos. Have an eye-catching headline, and a brief summary sentence covering the gist of your release.

You may want to wisely put your contact information at the bottom rather than the top, unless there is something familiar or prestigious about who you are. Why waste a second on detail that can wait?

You can find lots of tips professionals who do this for a living with free articles on media relations. Here's a sample of some of their best:

  • Get a book on Associated Press writing style and respectfully use it.

  • Tell your story *as* a story. Everyone loves a good tale of challenges overcome and a happy ending.

  • Don't put too much information in your releases. Focus on a handful of talking points and stick to them.

  • But still have plenty of background data available if a reporter requests it.

  • If you can't think of any reason to send out a media release, check this reading with 55 ideas for newsworthy topics.

Be sure to watch the video below to see more tips on crafting a media release.

Media Releases

Once you have your release finely honed and ready to pitch, here are some suggestions on how to attract the media's interest.

You can find more articles on fundamentals of marketing and communications on pages here, and on our sister website

And visit our YouTube video libraries on Communications & Business, and Personal Development.

Steven Van Hook has taught MBA and undergraduate marketing 
and communications courses for colleges and universities in the 
United States and abroad for more than a decade, and has 
developed more than a dozen courses with an international focus.

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