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Six Tips for Effective Media Relations

This news item is the eighth in a 10-part series on public health communication. This installment focuses on media relations.

This news item is the eighth in a 10-part series on public health communication. This installment focuses on media relations.

The news media and the 24-hour news cycle are constantly evolving to meet public demand and technological improvements. Though media practices and protocol are hardly static, traditional outlets still subscribe to specific standards and etiquette. And, since most public health organizations communicate with the public through various print, television, radio, and online news sites, it's helpful to know how to navigate their systems.

First and foremost, editors, journalists, and reporters work on very tight schedules in high-pressure situations, so you should make your story or press release as easy to use as possible. This will increase your chances of publication and help build stronger relationships over time.

Consider the following tips for navigating media relations and garnering more reach with your message.

1. Identify the appropriate media contacts.

Journalists typically cover "beats," or specific topics, for a given publication. Read through a newspaper or magazine to find stories that are similar in content to stories you may want to pitch. For instance, you may want to find the person who writes about health issues, community issues, and/or the person who manages event listings. Consider whether or not this writer and their publication are credible and reach your target audience—is a blogger more effective than a newspaper journalist? Does this outlet use "new media" to target hard-to-reach people?

2. Track media contacts and publications.

As you research these questions, track the stories they report so that you can tell what interests them and respond to stories, if applicable to your goals. If, for instance, you read an article about community pools open during the summer, you may want to follow up with information about pool safety classes. The writer may publish a follow-up or update the story, depending on the outlet and media type.

The best way to store the information you collect is in a media list, which includes reporters' names, contact information and preferred method of contact, beat, and publication information. By keeping all of your sources together, you can be ready at a moment's notice.

3. Contact media directly.

The most effective way to engage media professionals is to contact them directly, by phone, e-mail, or in some cases, through social media. This allows you to develop a personalized message about why your story will be a good fit for their publication. Since your press release is facts-driven, it can be helpful to use a story of a person affected by the public health issue to show how these facts are important.

4. Keep scientific language to a minimum.

When writing press releases or other press materials, consider all of the populations who may be reading or viewing it. Complicated or scientific language can be confusing and overwhelming. Microsoft Office can help you gauge readability by providing a score for the Flesch Reading Ease Test and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level Test. With these tools in mind, it's a good idea to write your materials at a fourth grade reading level. Not only does this make your work easier to understand by your audience, it also prevents journalists or editors from having to rewrite it. For more examples of how to transition scientific papers to plain language, review this guide from the National Institutes of Health.

5. Tailor your materials for each circumstance.

Not every situation requires a full press release. Upcoming events or press conferences might be better served by a media advisory, a truncated release that outlines who, what, when, where, why, and how. Unlike a press release, a media advisory doesn't read like an article, but rather a bulleted list or an invitation. Other times, a verbal or e-mail "pitch" will suffice. This method may be used for proposing an interview with an organizational leader or community member or when you want to work with the press to develop a story. Of course, you'll want to properly prepare for this by creating talking points for those speaking and/or being interviewed.

6. Consider distributing your release on "the wire" or submitting online.

If you need mass distribution of your release, you can pay to use services like PRNewswire. Media outlets subscribe to this service, so there is a higher probability that an editor or journalist will see your press release. More recently, organizations have started subscribing to online submission sites, like PRWeb, that allow users to upload a press release, photos, and videos to a site. Then, the link to this site is distributed among a network of journalists. The link may also be used by the organization to help direct writers and reporters to the site via social media and e-mail. It's also a good idea to post your releases on your organization's website so that visitors can read the latest information and so journalists can find your information through search engines online.

If you have additional questions about media relations, consult this toolkit from National Public Health Week.

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