With every Tom, Dick and Harriet sending their media releases to request a spot in the news, you’re already facing fierce competition before you even type your media release about your event . So what do I suggest you do to rise above the competition?
Having worked in mainstream media, I understand how journalists work and what makes them notice you and your business. So here’s my tip:
Do what many businesses fail to do – plan ahead and send news of your upcoming event BEFORE it happens. Don’t wait until it HAS happened! So be proactive and useful.
To rise above the competition, you need to understand that:
- Journalists like strong relationships. Get to know them before the event.
- Journalists like to prepare. Send them a media alert days in advance.
- Journalists like exclusivity. Send to your local paper or favourite journalist first.
- Journalists like helpful business owners. Make things easy for them.
- Journalists like to be kept informed. Let them know of any changes, ASAP!
If you plan ahead, you’ll even have your key diary dates mapped out well in advance so you can email your media alerts to your targeted journalists early.
What’s a media alert?
A media alert is a short notice sent to journalists to pique their interest about an upcoming event or other story and with the hope they give it some coverage. We send it before a media release. A media release (or a press release) is sent on the day of the event or the morning after.
We try to keep this alert to one page and list only the key information that will help journalists to assess the worthiness of your story and to plan ahead for it. It’s like sending a party invitation, but with slightly more details to briefly explain what, who and when.
You can use one to announce:
- Hard news: Breaking news and serious topics for news hour and that easily expire, e.g. you’re downsizing your business and this will affect many people right away.
- Soft news: Current affairs material that journalists don’t have to quickly make an effort to cover, e.g. you’ve been delivering training courses and now introducing your seventh course… but people can enrol whenever they want.
What to include in a media alert for your event
The media alert should be simple and written in a format that doesn’t require journalists to read it more than once. They should be able to tell right away what you’re inviting them to cover. Make your document scannable and formatted with bold subtitles for the various sections as presented below.
Headline: If you’re emailing your media alert, pay attention to your email subject line. It should be written in a way that distracts journalists from the other emails they’re receiving and it should make them open yours. Once they open it, there should be the same or slightly longer headline but kept to one line (preferred). Even when you know that most journalists will rewrite the headline, yours will give an idea of the kind of story they could get out of your event.
What, Who and Why: This is your introductory paragraph that quickly outlines the story. Here’s what you should know about writing your paragraph:
- It should contain no more than two sentences (3 lines maximum), explain what’s going to happen (what type of event), who is involved (the organiser) and why they’re organising it (the occasion).
- It should have a strong angle and only one angle. Stuck? Remember how you convince your mates to attend your parties? Whatever you say to make them say “I’ll be there” is usually your angle (e.g. “We’ll have a DJ, you’ll get to wear a costume and around midnight we’ll drive to the club in a limo!”). Now, try it with your business event.
- It should convince journalists that your story is worth a spot in their medium.
- It should make journalists cover the story even if they’re too busy to attend. Usually a busy journalist sends a photographer and then calls you for an interview.
When: Include the date without any abbreviations (e.g. “Monday 15 December 2014”).
Where: Make it as easy as possible for journalists to find your event – if the venue is hidden in a back alley or on the rooftop, attach a Google map to your reference and, if you must, mark the exact spot on it with arrows and any additional instructions – e.g. parking and which door to walk through.
Time: As simple as “4pm to 6pm”.
Who else: If anyone special will be at your event, name-dropping will surely help you grab the journalists’ attention. This could be your local mayor, a well-known speaker or the minister for your industry. List any VIPs that journalists are allowed to approach for an interview and for a photo opportunity. List their names and company (e.g. “Mayor John Smith from the City of Perth”).
Media contact: Let journalists know how to follow up if they wish to attend, want to find out more or would like to conduct an interview over the phone. Include the direct mobile phone number and email address of the person who is acting as spokesperson. Don’t forget their after-hours numbers. If the main spokesperson has a busy schedule, add a second person who can be contacted.
What to do after writing a media alert for journalists
Your next step is to send your media alert to the journalists you’ve chosen. Be prepared to answer for phone calls from the targeted media outlets. Call the journalists within an hour of distributing your media alert (or at least before the end of the day) to check whether they have received it and plan to cover the story. Some journalists want pre-event interviews, photos, news grabs, special parking and VIP passes.
Before your event, prepare your post-event media release and any additional information pack. Leave space in your media release so you can state what really happened and what the special speakers had to say. This way you can send it off as soon as the event closes.
Send your media release as a follow-up with the targeted media right after your event. If you can, don’t wait till the next day. Following up gives you the opportunity to work with journalists to provide any outstanding resources to help them complete their stories.
You know you’ve written a media alert (not a media release) when…
Your announcement is in future tense as your news or event is in the future:
“Prince William will be cutting the ribbon on…”
Your announcement is short and sweet.
Your announcement doesn’t contain any ‘proper’ paragraphs other than the introduction.
Your announcement doesn’t contain any quotes from your spokesperson.
Remember, you distribute your media alert BEFORE the event and distribute the media release after the event. It’s to invite journalists to attend or to give them a ‘heads up’ so they can expect a media release.
Over to you now…
Do you ever send media alerts? Or do you prefer to media releases? I challenge you to send a media alert next time and to see what kind of response you receive.