Tips For Planning a Media Event – Part One, Getting Ready

Planning A Media Event Part One

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.

Tips For planning A media Event

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.

Tips For planning A media Event 2

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?

About Debra Yearwood

Experienced communications and public relations executive who manages challenges with an eye on outcomes and a sense of humour. Learn more about how I think at Learn more about my experience at
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31 Responses to Tips For Planning a Media Event – Part One, Getting Ready

  1. Laura Caluian says:

    Wow! This post is more than I could have ever imagined…this is what I needed to know. My brother and I are working in putting together a business event, so your advice is a blessing :). It’s our first activity as a team, that’s why I’m a bit nervous about that, as I want it to be perfect. But following your steps, I’m sure we’ll make it!
    Thank you, Debra!


  2. This is a great and highly informative post. I’m currently putting together an event and this had been quite helpful! Thank you!


  3. Wow, Debra. You are clearly a seasoned professional with deep knowledge of communications and media events. My challenge is to find the time to follow some of your advice to promote my novel Revelle (I have a full-time job, like many writers). Thanks for sharing your wisdom so generously.


    • Alison chances are, if you found the time to write, you can probably find the time to promote your book. 🙂 Your book is set in your home town of Portland, that alone should get some attention from local radio stations, but when you add a twist like, Portland’s answer to Sex In the City” (a description I read on Amazon of your book), then I think it gets a lot easier for people to engage. It doesn’t even need to be that elaborate, just consider features in the book that you can play upon to make your promotional activities come to life.


  4. Debra – As a virtual assistant I often help my clients with exposure for their events. Whether is be a local story in a paper to E-vites and social media announcements, I try to fit the event with the type of promotion I use. Being able to help a client frees them up to focus on the details of the night.


    • I hadn’t realized the extent of work that virtual assistants do. It would make life so much easier on an organizer to have someone dedicate attention to some of the many activities involved in putting on a great event.


  5. There are so many businesses that do not know these important steps. I have seen events that could have been much more successful if they would have just followed these simple but vital steps. There are so many social outlets that a person can use to get the word out. 🙂


    • I always think its a shame when a good cause or great event doesn’t get the attention it deserves. I think those of us in the industry sometimes take for granted how useful our knowledge is.


  6. valerieremymilora says:

    What wealth of information you share with us Debra! I’m planning an event for late January and am thrilled to have such a detailed blueprint of what to do.. This is will help me think like the media as I prepare my event so I can properly position myself to get the desired attention. Thank you!!!


  7. Debra — very thorough and informative post. I organized media events for years. My rule was that you put your finger on the panic button the day you decide to do the event and you don’t release it until the last reporter as left. By that I mean you have to be alert to everything you need to do. Prepare for the best and expect the worst. I learned from experience that the media will brave snow, sleet and rain to attend if it’s something they really want to cover.


    • I love that rule Jeannette and even if I didn’t know about it, I certainly felt it. I get so keyed up before an event that I generally don’t need my heels to be walking on my toes.


  8. Arleen says:

    Debra-What is interesting is today all the avenues open where you can advertise that you are having a media event. Think about it, years ago we didn’t have cell phones that you text someone of an up and coming event. Referrals and word of mouth are great connectors. There are some great advances in technology that help get the event in place in the first place. With all of this said, I am glad I don’t have to do the leg work to get it done. Very nice detailed post.


    • It’s wonderful how many more opportunities there are to reach out. It means that folks who would normally have a hard time being noticed can often be just as successful as those with more resources.


  9. Agree with you Debra that explaining in detail often makes them hire experts to do it for them which is great for many of us. However, I am pretty confident that a lot of people would manage absolutely fine if they just went ahead and did it. Once upon a time we did, and succeeded, remember:-) When we need to do something we somehow manage. The worst is the night before the battle, as Wellington once famously stated.


  10. Very thorough description of what to do. We have several A list entrepreneurs who have made a second livelihood of this. Not for their benefit but for the benefit of a worthwhile cause they believe in. They must have read your article! teehee

    Over from LinkedIn Group BHB


    • I am so grateful for those PR professionals who give their time or a reduced rate to charitable causes. Generally speaking people frown on charities spending money on marketing and communications, even though by doing that they increase the overall benefit to their cause. In fact, when I do get the opportunity to hire professionals, I lean towards individual entrepreneurs. My experience is that they take the time to know my organization’s objectives and are highly responsive to the challenges I face in getting a lot of work done on very little.


  11. Someday I will need to plan a book signing, and all that is entailed in order for even minimal success is a bit boggling. Two events I just had to participate in after seeing repeated news coverage was the See Spot Walk event put on by the Idaho Humane Society and the local Art in the Park festival. The ability to create a level of momentum that builds of around an event seems to be key.


    • I love our local Art in the Park events and I am always dazzled by the talented people that I discover at them. Those local festivals in particular gain most of their momentum from word of mouth, but having a few great photo’s in the local papers doesn’t hurt either. I went to a great book signing event here in Ottawa that was hosted at our National Archives. The location itself brought a number of people out and definitely contributed to the mood of literary appreciation felt by participants.

      Pardon my presumption, but I’ve never had the pleasure of doing a book launch (though I’ll have to do one for my organization next year). If I was allowed to play with a launch event for you, I’d do it at night and look to a cool old building with plenty of atmosphere like, a local haunted house or old library or a ghost walk or bonfire. Essentially, some setting that was fun, appealed to people’s imaginations and played on the possibility of ghosts. Hope you have fun with it.


  12. Ann says:

    Thanks for this; there were several things I would never have considered. I’ve bookmarked this to make sure I keep on top of things for my next event.


  13. parrillaturi says:

    Great article, Debra! I’m in the process of promoting a “Latin Jazz, Salsa Concert.” The information gleaned by me, will come in handy. I’m going to have to follow you more often. Blessings.


  14. Undercover Boss is a big deal in my book. It is a great way to show the human side of your business. Sharing the show like that reinforces the importance of it all.


    • You are absolutely right. Undercover Boss was an amazing experience for our organization. It took a tremendous amount of work to pull off, but was worth it. The trick though is that while it was incredibly important for us, these things don’t always translate to the public. It is a TV show after all. We were clever and lucky in this instance however, as our participation in the show resulted in numerous requests for copies of the show to use as a tool to illustrate the importance of the homecare sector. As that was one of our organizational objectives, it was great.


  15. As always a good article, Debra. Could not have described how to prepare for a media event better.

    You know, sometimes I wonder if we benefit or scare people who have not done something yet when they find out how much work it entails. The worst is the ongoing debates about leadership. Someone who suddenly find themselves in a leadership position must feel overwhelmed because they believe they have so much to live up to.


    • Catarina I always ask myself if it’s better to leave people in blissful ignorance of the details or to engage. What I have found in the not for profit sector is that because people are often tasked with projects outside of their scope and given little to no resources to implement, that it is better for them to start armed with knowledge. It often means they will see the value of investing in professionals or at least understand that they can’t do the work off the side of their desk. I have worked with many associations over the years, either in-house or as a consultant and I never cease to be amazed by how often staff or volunteer leaders are expected to have broad and in-depth knowledge of areas they couldn’t possibly have experience in. The same is true for politicians. It’s almost as if upon election the public assumes they will become expert in all sectors and knowledgeable of all professions. Unfortunately, after a while, leaders actually start to believe they are supposed to live up to those unrealistic expectations.

      In that context, countless times people are tasked with “getting media” or similar things without the requester or the recipient having any idea what that really means.


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