How to Get Publicity
What Is News?
Reporters and editors are concerned with informing their publics of events and issues that affect their media outlet’s target audiences. For something to have news value, it must, in the eyes of the news media, have impact on the general community. If it is important to the public, it is important to the media. The essential elements of news value are timeliness, local appeal, and interesting subject matter. Ask yourself these questions about your subject matter:
- What is the significance of your school’s services or special events to the general public?
- When education news breaks, is there an angle related to your school or to the profession in general? Are you an expert in that area?
- How does your expertise, special event, or unique service help the community?
- Are trends in society reflected in your school?
There are several kinds of coverage: News—usually noting conflict or change; Features—usually stories of human interest or news that is not time limited; Editorials—usually coverage by the media that takes a stand on an issue of relevance to the general public or to a particular constituency; and Op-Eds—also opinion oriented, but generated by people not associated with the media.
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Where Do I Begin?
Get started by reading publications that cover issues in which you are interested, by watching and listening to news broadcasts, and by becoming familiar with the reporters covering education issues. After doing this, you will easily be able to develop a list of media targets.
Cut the job down to your size. If you have only one day a month to work on your public relations program, you need to set your sights for a small-scale result. If your stories are local, concentrate only on local media. If your story warrants regional or national coverage, be prepared to give your campaign quite a bit more time.
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How Do I Develop a Media List?
If you are concentrating your public relations program in a small local area, you should be able to develop a media list by calling the newspapers, television, and radio stations in the community and inquiring about the reporters who cover the education “beat.” If you are initiating a regional or national media campaign, you should consult a media directory. One easy way to decide which directory is right for you is to look at the ones available in your local library. Sometimes local organizations, the chamber of commerce, or the convention bureau have developed a media directory. You can find out if your area has one by calling a local public relations firm and asking them to recommend one.
Whether you use a national directory or a local one, you will have to check all contact names before sending information or making a call to pitch a story. Editors and reporters change frequently, and a news release sent to the wrong reporter usually ends up in the trash. Simply call the media outlet and ask who is covering your issue area. For schools, the typical issue area is education, but your issue could apply to the metro or business sections. Remember that there are many more news outlets at your disposal than you might think. Do not overlook these important sources:
Television stations have local news programs, editorial opinions, “talk back” opportunities, public affairs programs, one-on-one interview shows, and public affairs specials.
Community cable stations can offer local news programming, community access channels, and public affairs programming.
Public television stations provide local news programming as well as a diverse mix of locally produced public affairs programming.
Radio formats include all-news stations, radio talk shows, public affairs programming, and editorial comment.
Newspapers have numerous reporters covering specialized issues for the main news section, editorial page editors, op-ed opinion pieces, letters to the editor, the business section, consumer reporters, and “style” sections offering soft news.
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Basic Media Tools
A news release is an up-to-the-minute summary of the importance of your news. Include who, what, when, and details of why and how. Retype on school letterhead and substitute your own information and names. If possible, include photos of students preparing for a special event that you have planned. Be sure to attach a separate sheet for each photo, identifying the students and explaining what they are doing. Mail or hand deliver about February 1. Don’t forget your own school newspaper and other special publications.
Often when your news is not pressing or significant enough to warrant a news conference or media briefing, you should still send out a news release. Keep in mind, however, that newsrooms are inundated with news releases. The average editor may receive several hundred news releases a week. Although no precise data have been collected, general opinion and observation indicate that only 10 to 20 percent of news releases submitted to the media are used in some way. If the news release is to survive as a conveyer of information, it must be issued with discretion—only if the information is really news. Your news release must be written as skillfully as possible and directed to the appropriate person.
Download Sample News Release (MS Word)
Guidelines for Placing Op-Eds
Many newspapers provide a forum for opinions opposite the editorial page (“Op-Ed”) that addresses issues of concern to your community. Pitch letters can be effective tools to propose an op-ed column to a publication. When your local education association or school is involved with and has a point to make on a major, newsworthy issue (such as trends in career and technical education), the op-ed page provides you with the chance to illustrate the value of the profession. Papers will occasionally publish a philosophical piece that may comment on a continuing problem, such as funding of education or an observation on society.
Send your pitch letter first to a handful of editors with the op-ed outline and then follow-up with a call. In a pitch letter, you should indicate the subject matter and proposed author. Although you could simply send out the op-ed piece to all the editors on your media list with a pitch letter, it is better to approach them first so you can tailor the piece to a specific publication’s needs.
Here are five general steps to follow when preparing an op-ed:
Find opportunities. Review all publications in your region to determine which accept op-eds and which formats are preferred. Are they generally about current social issues? Are they in a pro/con format?
Decide on a topic. In general, try to relate your topic to a current issue. Samples include the role of the educator in the school system and the reasons why career and technical education have to be an important part of the education agenda.
Approach editors. Send a pitch letter to appropriate editors outlining the proposed topic and author. If you have established a relationship with a particular editor, make a call instead of writing. Keep in mind that the person whose name appears on the op-ed need not be the person who wrote it. The byline should be that of a person prominent in your organization, community, or with a recognized expertise or specialty.
Prepare a draft. Op-eds require a good deal of work to make a comment or to state a view on a current issue convincingly and should not be undertaken unless there is some indication that there is interest. With a positive or encouraging reply, it then can be worthwhile to undertake and submit a draft op-ed. The average op-ed should run about 750 words (approximately three double-spaced, typed pages), and the byline should include the author’s current professional position. In addition, be certain to identify the author as an educator, if appropriate.
Submit a draft. Adhere to deadlines. If you promise an editor you will have a draft by a certain date, do so. Remember, an interest in reviewing an op-ed does not necessarily mean the publication will use the piece, even if it is particularly well written. You may have to adapt the op-ed to the editor’s wishes or to provide back up for points you make in the piece. If the editor ultimately declines the piece, try reworking it and begin the entire process again. Persistence is the key.
Keep in mind that some large newspapers may ask that an op-ed piece be on an exclusive basis, meaning no other publication can simultaneously print the piece. Smaller papers generally accept multiple submissions, as long as competing papers in the same city do not run the same pieces. Check each publication’s particular policy.
Media kits are important tools when dealing with the media. If compiled correctly, they can be used to package an issue—complete with accompanying graphics, sidebars, and other background materials. They are essential at a news conference or special event. Media kits are also easy and inexpensive to prepare. Include items in the kit that reinforce your story, such as other news clips about the project, photos, pertinent news releases, fact sheets (with career and technical education documented statistics, for example) and brochures. Place these items in a folder with pockets. These folders should identify your local organization or school. You can choose to have folders printed or to use stickers with your name and logo. Include your business card.