Whether it’s your small business’ big event, your book launch or your community party, sometimes getting a little media coverage can make all the difference to your success. So what can you do if you don’t have the resources to bring in a professional firm or you’re simply not comfortable doing that? The best bet is to focus on your local media, they have a vested interest in hearing and telling local stories. Planning a media event, like planning a meeting takes work, but it can be done. The PR work can be broken down into three distinct phases, before, during and after the event…yup, that easy.
This week we’ll look at before the event, this part quite naturally takes the most time and effort on your part, but is critical to your success. Next week, we’ll explore during and after an event.
1. What’s Makes Your Event/Product Special?
- If you’re planning an event, consider what makes it appealing or think about ways to have fun with a traditional activity. On the night my organization’s CEO was to appear in an episode of Undercover Boss we hosted movie nights in various locations around the country. We treated it as an opportunity to reach out to our communities and have a little fun. The Ottawa activities started on Parliament Hill with a private viewing with senators and MPs and then moved to a local restaurant where we watched it with staff and friends on a big outdoor screen. The story got covered in various local newspapers and yet all that was really happening was an episode of Undercover Boss Canada.
2. Identify the media outlets you want to reach.
- In order to reach the media, you need to identify the local newspapers, radio and television stations and create a contact grid of people at each of those organizations by calling them and asking them who manages the local news beat or if your news might more effectively fit into a local column or radio show, ask for the producer or their assistant. You can often find a media directory at your local library and that will save you a good deal of time. There are a number of providers who will sell media list, Cision’s global media database (formerly Bacon’s Directories) provides the full name of publications and contacts and of course there is always the local yellow pages.
- Newspapers: Look for issue specific editors or journalists, community and calendar listings that you can then add your event to.
- Radio: morning show producers and news assignment editors are good starting points. Many stations have community programs that announce calendar listings.
- Television: Look for the assignment editor, weekend assignment editor and community event producers as good starting points.
- Social Media: From creating Facebook Event page to tweeting throughout your event there are number of ways to not only promote your event in advance, but also generate chatter during and afterwards.
3. Choosing and preparing the right spokesperson for your event.
- Choose your spokesperson based on their level of engagement on your issue and their role within your organization. They must be familiar with your issue and goals or they can end by making recommendations or comments that you can’t support and once its in the public domain it’s very hard to get it back. It is also best if they are articulate and poised. Too much passion on an issue can come across as shrill through a microphone.
- Make sure that the spokesperson is well briefed on the potential issues that may surface. Practice possible questions with them and make sure that they have a written copy of succinct short sentences that he/she can learn to be sure they have an effective interview.
- Practice, practice, practice.
- Avoid putting spokespeople in situations where they will be easily distracted or may display behavior that will detract from your message. For example, a swivel chair for a sit down TV interview can turn into a joy ride and the spokesperson may end by swinging back and forth as they get excited by the topic. Waving hands can be equally distracting. Speaking with your hands is a natural human behavior, but gesturing too wildly will result in your hands being the star attraction of your interview.
- A crisp white shirt can look great for a photo, providing the background isn’t also white, but it can create glare on camera. A shiny forehead will make you look like your sweating and that can be a seen as a physical response to lying. A small application of face powder can reduce shine (yes for you men too).
4. Prepare your press materials
- Press materials are generally made up of a notice or media alert, the press release and background documents. The Media alert does exactly what is sounds like. It alerts the media that you will be telling them something of interest on a given day at a set time. The press release itself is the “news” item or the information you want to share and is given at the indicated time. The background documents are to provide reporters with additional information should they want to expand on your story or to allow them to learn more completely why your story is news. If you were a scientist and you broke the news that you had found fossilized people poop in America that dated back 10,000, 000 years ago, you would probably earn yourself some odd looks, but no coverage. If you explained that the earliest humanoids weren’t supposed to be around for another 4,000,000 years at the earliest and that the poop provided insight into the diets and habits of these unusual people, you might actually get a news story.
5. Distribute your press materials including a media alert, a calendar listing and a press release at least a month before your event.
- The media alert should be used if you would like the media to attend your event and to conduct interviews with your spokesperson or others.
- A calendar listing can come in different forms, local radio stations often offer a calendar listing of events, as do newspapers and local “what’s happening” online services. The listing should be used if your event is open to the public and you want to attract attendees.
- The press release includes similar information as the media alert, but with more details, such as participating program objectives and quotes from spokespeople.
6. Distribute press materials in a timely fashion.
- Send out the calendar listing about a month before your event (many local newspapers have a one month deadline for submissions).
- Media advisories or alerts should be distributed about two weeks prior to the event to allow for ample time to secure interviews.
- Press Releases are for the day of the event.
7. Conduct media follow-up.
- Make sure the media outlets received your press material and make yourself or your spokesperson available to answer questions about the event and offer interviews.
- Be persistent, but polite.
- Be sure to call the TV stations the day before and the day of to be sure your event is on their schedule. If a story falls through, they can look to the schedule and maybe decide to cover your event.
If you plan on filming or photographing participants, ensure that everyone you have selected for filming or interviewing has signed a release form. The form does not have to be complicated.
Have you ever been at a local community event that had great coverage? What made it appealing? Have you ever attended an event because of local news coverage? Have you hosted one that you thought was amazing?