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Promoting Your Organization
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This document is not intended to tell the whole picture about public relations. I originally wrote it for NetDay's network of non-profit education groups, to help them launch a "grass roots" promotional campaign that was effective and inexpensive. These suggestions, tips, and guidelines will work for any organization or business, but is not a substitute for a professional PR practitioner. I have also attached a press contact database (found later in this document) comprising of about 700 U.S. magazines and newspapers which the reader is free to download and use at their leisure. --rw
Magic, or Just Hard Work?
Most of the news you read, see, and hear is triggered by somebody like you - somebody with a mission. Apart from crime, very little else that is reported as news is not self-generated. What we're talking about here are good intentions, community interest, and special events - things that, with a little luck and some hard work, you can turn into news and get the public attention you need to make your project a success.
Think of every aspect of your organization - the people, the mission, the event - as coins you can use to attract public interest. Your coin, when properly evaluated for newsworthiness, can generate public attention through the news. This guide will help teach you how to create news value, locate people who want it, and communicate with them.
The Value of Angles
Finding newsworthiness is a little like cutting a log of prime lumber into planks. An experienced cutter will study the grain for characteristics that can change the appearance of the final product. Cutting angles are set either to include or to avoid irregularities like knotholes and rot. You can cut into some knots at a sharp angle to create an interesting splash of grain or avoid them to achieve strong and rigid planks.
Break your organization down into three categories: people, mission, and event. Under each, apply names, dates, places, messages, and whatever else seems relevant. Use the old newsman's "5Ws" litany to organize your list: Who, What, Where, When and Why (or How). Include even seemingly negative and trivial things in your lists. Now stand back and take a good look. Each one of the items you wrote down is a possible angle that may be worthy of reporting. You can use an angle to create an interesting story or to make an old story seem new (more on that in Working an Angle). Use personal events, changes in your program, unexpected benefits, surprise after effects - anything that passes the "NIM" test: new, interesting, and memorable.
An example of greater purpose:
A seemingly negative situation is suddenly transformed because the angle emphasizes a positive result. Even though the result may not be the one you planned for, it may nevertheless possess a quality that shows the project has significant value.
Here's a story with an angle:
When hunting for angles, carefully survey where every angle may lead (the angles within angles). Look for related topics and dig up possible conflicts. Beware of side effects, but remember that not all side effects are bad. In the case of our intrepid publicity executive, a 90-degree change in his angle was sufficient to save his neck and end up with a great public demonstration. No matter what the angle is, never leave out the essential facts that are related to your organization, your mission, or your event.
Who'll Tell My Story?
The press can be your ally and your foe. It can help you promote your state project, generate public and private support, and rally community opinion behind you. Approach the press incorrectly or send the wrong message and it can tear you down and pit public opinion firmly against you. History is littered with failed projects with good intentions and lousy press relations.
The press communicates via print (including newspapers and magazines) and broadcasting (including television, cable, and radio); referred to collectively as the media. The most important thing to remember about the media is that each news organization has its own style and ideas on what to report. The folks charged with the responsibility of maintaining this editorial focus are called editors.
It's the editor's job to monitor and control the content and subject matter of all the stories. In smaller organizations, one person may split the task of editor and reporter. Larger ones can afford a full staff complete with a flurry of titles, subtitles, and more.
You can get a sense of where a journalist is on the organizational ladder by paying attention to his or her title. Here are some greatly generalized descriptions for titles you may come across that deal specifically with print.
In broadcasting, some titles stay the same. Here are some that are completely different.
Watch, read, and listen to the kinds of reports that are communicated and tailor your press releases accordingly. With a little extra effort you can get the name of a reporter or editor who specializes in topics related to your organization (actually, it's quite simple ask the receptionist for a beat list).
Once you've made contact, consider these suggestions:
The printed version of this guide included a list of about 700 press contacts for newspapers, magazines, radio, and television. You can download a TXT (PC-type) version of the list for your personal use. Note that due to frequent personnel changes, contact names (editors, reporters) have been replaced with the slugline "EDITOR" or "ASSIGNMENT EDITOR." Note also that the file can be reformatted as a database.
Preparing the Message
The most common way to communicate a message to the press is by issuing a press release. Press releases are like letters to the editor, but they have the format and organization of professional news copy. The grail of all news writers is The Associated Press Stylebook. You may want to acquire a copy for yourself. Try a local campus book store at a school where communications or journalism is taught.
Be sure that the editor can easily determine the major facts from your press release. As part of your preparation, organize your facts using the age old "5Ws" method:
You may want to write a simple press release in the above manner, using complete sentences to explain each "W" plainly and clearly. Format your document as a press release using the attached Sample Press Release). If you want to tackle a full-blown press campaign, try using the three-step plan outlined in the next section.
Working an Angle
Don't be surprised if it takes several press releases before an editor finally calls you back. Never send more than one copy of the same press release to one editor. Some public relations practitioners send the same press release to several editors and reporters of the same organization - a practice that is not well appreciated. An older method suggests staggered timing for different press releases that emphasize different aspects about the same event. This is called "working an angle."
Working an angle is actually among the oldest sales tactics. "If the customer doesn't want to buy a horse because he doesn't like to shovel manure, tell him the horse produces fertilizer and he'll buy two of them," goes the old huckster saying. By changing the angle and spreading your message out over several press releases, you'll also maximize the chances that editors will notice and remember you.
Now you're ready to ply your angles and lay down a press campaign. Here is a simple three-step press plan that covers six weeks of press release activity.
Anatomy of a Press Release
The content of basic press releases is really not much different from that of business letters. Use straight, to-the-point language and try not to stray into excessively technical jargon. Avoid using conjunctive phrases (such as wasn't and isn't), and keep a lid on hyperbole ("It's the most fantastic event of its kind"). Most of all, be factual and be timely: Don't guess your facts and don't distribute old information.
Many writers forget to properly define abbreviations or acronyms for organizations, objects, and so on. The result can be an alphabet soup that few people will understand. Perhaps you'll want to review this oft-forgotten and misplaced rule: The first mention of an abbreviation or acronym should be spelled out. Exception: USA, AFL-CIO, NASA, and similar familiar acronyms. The abbreviation should be enclosed in parentheses after the fully spelled name: General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). Use the abbreviation throughout the rest of the story.
Observe proper press release presentation and formatting. Avoid printing releases on letterhead. Use plain white paper only. Leave a 1-inch margin all around and double-space the body copy (the story content). Here are format suggestions (see the Sample Press Release):
Package Your Message
You may also create a press kit to hand out to editors and other interested parties. A press kit puts all the essential information about your organization into one tidy package. Anything worth mentioning about your project is worth putting into a press kit. You can use a press kit to send to your press contacts or to prospects. Be cautious about including clippings from other publications when sending a kit to an editor. You'll find that journalists are a jealous lot and they don't like to repeat a story that may have been run by a competitor.
Here's a menu of items that you may want to include in your press kit:
Ready, Set - Press!
Now all you need are some names and addresses so that you can distribute your release. I've included a list of newspaper and magazine for you to use for regular snail mail distribution. Download the list HERE). You may also want to try the "wire services" -- they send press releases via fax or data wire approved by most press organizations. Try PR Newswire (http://www.prnewswire.com) and Business Wire (http://www.businesswire.com). There are also some web-based services as well. Try the Internet News Bureau (http://www.newsbureau.com). Fees for these services can get a bit pricey, ranging from about $200 to $600 (depending upon the demographic 'spread' you select), but they're still more cost-effective than labeling, stamping and stuffing envelopes yourself!
Before you go off into the wild world of public relations, remember that you are asking the press to pay attention to you. So, as the Boy Scouts always say, "Be Prepared." When a journalist comes a callin', keep in mind that they are likely on a tight deadline. Deal with the reporter as you would any other important contact. Be prompt and efficient. Organize your thoughts and speak plainly, don't use a lot of hopped up jargon or hyperbole. Pace your comments so that the important facts are presented first. You may want to memorize key phrases and important concepts so you can work them into the conversation. Think "sound bites" and keep your responses to questions short. And always, always, always -- maintain eye contact, smile, and give a firm handshake.
Here's a list of final dos and don'ts, last words of wisdom that may help you avoid the most common PR pitfalls.
Original NetDay Document found athttp://www.netday.org/how-to/
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