- Budding researchers take to the stage at free community event
- Tech tactics for learning: (insert institution here) educational technology conference
- Less stress more laughs with Anthony Ackroyd
- Celebrating indigenous culture
- Diversity celebrated at interfaith breakfast
These are all real media releases, by the way, but, sadly, they generally read more like marketing collateral.
Regardless of the reasons, unless it is a slow news day (hello, Monday), a decision maker in a media outlet will glance at the headline, the first line and then trash any of these or send it off for a listing and nothing else. Particularly in today's media world where fewer people are doing more work.
As a result, whatever effort went into these media releases was pretty much wasted. Why?
The headlines are the clue (and also part of the problem, but let's save that for another blog post about how to write a good headline). All of these media releases are about events - some are even about events that have already happened.
None of them have been written with a story in mind, just a focus on "we have this great event, isn't that exciting". I'm sorry but without a story this is just marketing - and not great marketing at that.
The release writer may indeed be excited about the event but if there isn't a story to capture the imagination in the media release that appeals to the readership/viewers where you want this placed, it's a bust.
Worse still, the quotes used in these "marketing" releases listed above are either vague, read like a running sheet of the event or are bland statements - the kind that promote attacks of narcolepsy or sarcasm in newsrooms. Every experienced member of a newsroom looks on these things as nothing but marketing fluff. It's almost as bad letting the advertising staff choose all the stories and write all the copy for a newspaper.
If reporters get these kind of marketing releases repeatedly from the same source, they soon start canning everything sent to them by that source without even giving them a second look. Trust me on this, I've done exactly that and I don't know a single editor who hasn't done the same. Don't waste the time of time-poor media folks working to a deadline if you don't have a story.
The real shame with some of the media releases listed above is that a few look to have real cracker yarns nestled inside them.
So here are a couple of rules if you want to promote an event and get decent pick-up.
Always, always, always, find the story. Media types are looking for stories not event listings or newsletter essays of your good night out.
With this in mind:
- You must have an emotional trigger. If the event is about research, how many people or what industry will the research help? What is it's potential? Get a figure and/or get a quote. Make it relevant and exciting for your audience.
- If you know someone will be saying something controversial or topical at your event, put that in your media release and offer that person up for interviews beforehand (assuming they are good talent).
- If you are not sure where the story might be, start working the phones. Talk to the organiser. If anyone knows where the story lies, it's the person putting together the show. After that, chase the leads they gave you or chat to speakers you think may have something interesting to say.
- If the media release is reporting on an event that has already happened, what has someone done or said that can cause a conversation to be started in the general public? Get transcripts of speeches where you can. Sometimes, the mere profile of the person is enough to create the opportunity for an edited version of a speech to appear as an opinion piece.
- Don't try to talk about everything at your event. Pick one key point to highlight and then work down "your" priorities but always keep the public interest in mind. If you try to fit too many topics or broad descriptions of all the things happening at your event, the best you can hope for is a brief or a calendar listing. There is nothing wrong with doing multiple media releases staggered over time if you have multiple cracker speakers with something to say. Watch that build up the excitement during the lead-up period.
- Put the full details about time, place, MC etc at the bottom (unless the MC is a key drawcard). The way to get your event into the story is simply to mention that the subject of your media release will be starring/featured/speaking/displayed at your event. The other details come later.
- Use the inverted pyramid style of writing but with one warning, don't get trapped trying to jam every who, what, when, where, why and how in the first sentence - that is a rookie mistake and will dull your lede.
Don't waste your time or that of newsrooms. Before you put fingers to a keyboard or pen to paper, determine if you have a story that makes a great media release or whether it's just an event listing puff piece. If it is the latter, perhaps it is better sent as an event listing to a media outlet or placed as an article for your website or in a newsletter that aims to let your stakeholders know what has happened. You can also use social media to let people know.
If you are not sure about the strength of your story, make a phone call and talk to a reporter about the event. They will quickly tell you whether there is something worthwhile in what you are pitching. If it's really good they may even ask for an exclusive.
In short, if you can't find a strong and exciting story that can stand alone, don't send a media release. It is better for your reputation and that of your organisation with those who control the news at media outlets.