missrachelsmith

Posts Tagged ‘PR

STOP PRESS: My top media tips

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Since 2010, one of the areas I feel I’ve really progressed in is writing. When I started working towards CILIP Chartership, this journey was already beginning – I’d written a few webpages from scratch and I’d pulled together the odd report. But I hadn’t really had any involvement with media and PR (although in a previous life I did quite fancy being a broadcast journalist, so I had a bit of background knowledge about this area). However, in terms of the Library’s reputation, this was becoming an increasingly important area for us…

In 2010 and 2011, the Library was regularly getting slammed in the student newspaper, for one reason or another (fines, damning comment articles, etc). In some ways, I can understand this – we’re one of the biggest University departments relevant to all students, and bad news is often deemed more interesting than positive. But the newspaper was also getting a lot of its ‘facts’ wrong, which was not ok, and the editors’ weren’t asking us for the Library’s take on anything they were reporting on. So a couple of articles published in 2011 were unbalanced and full of errors. Although the newspaper published retractions in subsequent issues, the damage was already done.

So when I was promoted in late 2011, I decided this was something that needed to change. We needed to be more proactive about getting Library news out there and build up a relationship with the editorial team, so that when they were planning an article about the Library, we could put our point of view across. I attended a training session from the University’s Media Office and then I got started.

Be proactive: write a press release

Now, we regularly release news about Library news, events and activities to the student press. I identify stories I think the student media will find interesting – so, new developments, interesting statistics – something that has a coherent narrative and will make a great headline.

Next, I draft a press release. Here are my top tips!

  • Follow your organisation’s guidelines. The University have a number of press release templates, so I usually start by choosing one of these to ensure my formatting is correct and I write the release in line with the Media Office’s guidance. If you work for an independent library: start by googling ‘press release template’. The University of Reading and the University of Leicester have some good starting points to show you how a good press release is structured.
  • Think about your audience. Write with them in mind.
  • Start with a hook. Ensure your headline and first paragraph hook the journalist and make them want to read on.
  • Be succinct. You need to make sure the writing itself is tight and interesting, rather than waffling (like I often do on this blog!). I aim for one A4 page maximum for the main body of the release.
  • Don’t be vague. Don’t leave your release open to creative interpretation, or assume that the journalist reading it will understand Library jargon. Make the writing as straightforward as possible.
  • Stick to the facts. The main body of the release should present the facts, rather than offer an opinion on them. Obviously you can focus on the more positive facts where possible, but …
  • … don’t leave out the negative. Bad news is fine, as long as you explain the situation and what you’re doing to minimise the impact on your customers. In fact, I usually find it’s better to be up-front about bad news, as at least you’re being transparent.
  • Include statistics. Both librarians and journalists love a nice statistic.
  • Always provide a quote. This is where you can offer an opinion! The rest of the release tells the reader the facts, but journalists usually want a nice quote from someone central to the story. Our quotes usually come from either the Librarian, or the Deputy Librarian.
  • Write the quote yourself. I used to ask the actual person who was being quoted to provide the quotes, so that it would be as genuine as possible. The problem is that often, senior management just don’t have time – so now, I always draft the quotes and then check it through with the person being quoted. It saves time and it means the quote fits in nicely with the rest of the release.
  • Try and make your quote sound as if it’s spoken. Journalists like to give the impression that they’ve spoken to the person involved directly, so try and make the quote sound quite natural. This part can be a bit more informal.
  • Pre-empt questions. I also try to pre-empt any questions that student journalists might have and include that information in the release, to make their job as easy as possible. When you’ve finished your first draft, read it through with your ‘journalist’ hat on, and try and think whether there’s any questions you’ve left unanswered.
  • If there’s a lot of information, provide additional details. I usually do this at the end of the press release. Then you can provide schedules, full details of statistics, etc, so that the journalist has all the information they require to write their story.
  • Say you can provide a photo. And give details of what the photo is of. The newspaper may or may not take you up on it – often they use their own photographers – but it’s nice to offer…
  • ... Or let the media know of potential photo opportunities. You could invite photographers from the newspaper to an event you’re running, or organise a media call for photographers to attend.
  • Finally, get someone else to check it over. You may need to get sign off from senior management, or you may need to run it by the central media team (I do both). But even if you don’t need to do that, get a colleague to check it over for you. A second pair of eyes is always good!

Then, send it out to relevant media contacts – if you have a central media team, they should be able to provide you with a list of contacts. If not, you may need to build up your own by getting in touch with the publications where you’d like the news to be featured to find out who is the best person to send it to.

Be reactive: writing responses to media enquiries

I thought I’d also mention reactive responses here. With press releases, you call the shots. With media enquiries, the newspaper does. If a newspaper picks up on a story which you haven’t released to the press, they may contact you to ask some questions or to get a quote from someone involved. A lot of the tips above still apply about writing style etc, but here’s my advice on dealing with media enquiries:

  • Know when the journalist’s deadline is and keep to it. These people have tight deadlines for when the article needs to be ready and there is no wiggle room. If the enquiry arrives in your inbox on Monday and they need the information by Friday, make sure they have it by Friday. In fact, try and send it to them by Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning if possible.
  • Answer their questions. It might seem a bit obvious, but they’ve asked you particular questions because they want to know the answers.
  • Let them know who they can quote. If they want to use any of the text you’ve provided as a quote from someone in the library, let them know who they can quote. Again, I usually pick the Librarian or Deputy Librarian.

So how does this work in practice?: Fines Friday

Last year, the Library decided to donate one day’s fines revenue to charity for the first time – a perfect media story. We also asked students to vote for which charities the money would go to. So I drafted a press release in association with the student charity committee, which along with the rest of the publicity, was released a week before Fines Friday:

Fines Friday press release

There was immediate interest from the student newspaper (here’s where we get into the reactive part!). An issue was going to be published just a couple of days after Fines Friday, and they wanted to know the total money raised so they could include it as part of the story, as well as the results of the student charity vote. I closed the charity vote late on Friday afternoon and sent the results over, and our Systems Manager checked the fines totals first thing on Saturday morning and sent that to the journalist too.

This was the resulting news story on Page 3 of that issue:

Library donates day of fines to charities

I was really pleased with how this turned out. We also had great media coverage over the course of 2012 about Library 24/7 and building developments. And best of all, the student newspaper has also started to contact us when they’re planning to publish other Library stories, which I’m really happy about. And at the moment, I’m hoping that the next issue of the student newspaper will include a story about our progress towards Customer Service Excellence, our performance in 2012, and the introduction of a number of Key Performance Indicators. So it’s onwards and upwards!

Written by missrachelsmith

February 10, 2013 at 18:17

Posted in Librarianship, Marketing

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