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How to be media savvy

Good media relations and the ability to communicate clear messages can really help your business to grow. Paying for an ad is all well and good, but by giving your media relations a little more thought, it is often possible to get free editorial placements instead of, or in addition to, advertising. And an editorial piece can often carry more weight than an ad as it is seen by readers as a proper news item. 

The best place to start with media relations is to think about what stories you have to tell. Do you have an open day coming up that members of the public can attend; have you just started some new and unusual classes; is there a family of dancers at your school; do you have wonderful photos of a recent performance; or maybe your students just got some great examination results?

Local newspapers, free community newsletters and websites will often list and report on local events and activities, but only if they are of relevance and interest to their readers. The aim of all publications, whether they are in print or online, is still to make money, generate advertising revenue and build their readership so they are looking for appropriate content to entertain and interest their readers. And you can make their life easier by providing it for them – the key is in how you present it.  

Writing an effective press release is an important first step in building up your media relations and giving your story the best chance to be heard. The initial role of a press, or news, release is to provide reporters with the basics needed to develop a news story. 

“Press releases are not ads, so keep to the facts and tell your story as simply as possible”

Be clear and concise – these are the two most important things to remember. Use plain language and cut out any over-the-top statements. Press releases are not ads, so keep to the facts and tell your story as simply as possible. Just as a job recruiter will dismiss a cover letter or CV that contains spelling errors, so too will an editor throw out a press release that exaggerates or does not get to the point quickly. 

In general, these are the key areas of a press release, and this format is typically how reporters and editors are used to receiving information:

Headline: a brief summary of the key information that grabs attention. 

Dateline: contains the release date, ie the date that you send the press release out.

Introduction: the first paragraph that generally summarizes who, what, when, where and why.

Body: further information and explanation about the event or news, with supporting quotes or statistics, including any sponsors or partners you are working with on an event or project. Make sure you get permission and approval to use any quotes. It is also useful to include page numbers but try to stick to under two pages!

Contact information: include name, phone number, email address and postal address for the person who will be dealing with the media. And make sure that they are available to take any calls that might come in!

Closing: most releases use the text “ENDS” on a line by itself to indicate the end of the release. Anything after this is additional information.

‘Notes to Editors’: a brief ‘about’ section, with background on the dance school involved and any other relevant information that is not essential in the body of the
press release. 

How to be media savy

It is now much easier for smaller businesses to distribute their news stories electronically rather than by fax or post as happened in the past. Digital publishing has also widened the potential audience and many journalists now prefer to receive emails. Include the press release in the body of the email, rather than as an attachment – you are asking a reporter to make an extra step to open it and it might get caught in their spam filters.

Timing is also important – send your release out early in the week to make sure you hit deadlines, and don’t call a journalist when their deadline is that afternoon! A follow-up phone call after you have sent the release can allow you to check they have received it and gives you the opportunity to offer more information, such as a photo or interview opportunity. But don’t call unless you have something extra to say that was not included in the original release.

Develop your own media lists of publications, radio and TV stations that might be interested in your news. You can do lots of research online, but if you are not sure who to contact at a certain outlet, just call the switchboard and ask for the newsdesk. Also ask for their editorial schedule and check to see whether there are regular inserts in a local publication, ie for young people, that might suit your story and target those. 

Also bear in mind that even if your press release is very well crafted and you have done everything right, there may be bigger breaking news that day, so don’t be too disappointed if your story doesn’t make it into that particular issue – there is always next time. And the more you get to know your local reporters, the more likely they are to come to you if they have space to fill, need a story idea or a local dance expert!

Finally, don’t forget to track your own coverage. A reporter will not call you to say an article is running, unless they need more information. So, sign up to Google Alerts or another online tracking tool and make sure you are up to date with your own news! 

Sarah Clarke