Springfield, MO

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How To...

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by Clarissa A. French

There's a million stories in the naked city ... but not all of them will make it into the public eye. With so many stories to be told, how do you get your message across to the media and obtain press coverage?

According to a poll of the SBJ editorial staff, the keys to garnering media attention include focusing on the facts, making your point quickly and strongly, knowing your media outlet, being timely, being accurate and being available for comment.

Hundreds of thousands of press releases traverse the newsroom in a year. And in that clamor for attention, the news releases that stand out are the ones that provide straightforward, detailed information with a minimum of "fluff," i.e. empty public- relations hype.

?Focus on the facts. News outlets look for information that addresses journalism's "five W's and H": Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

The news release, from the media perspective, is the launching point of a story but only if that release provides enough information to indicate that something newsworthy is going on.

Hit the high points and hit them at the top of the release, not way down in paragraph 4. Time is a precious commodity in the journalism business, and a deadline is always looming. If you don't get to the point, you may have to get out of the way.

?Know who you're sending the release to. Knowing a media outlet means knowing its focus. For example, since SBJ is a business-focused publication serving southwest Missouri, announcements regarding art shows and museum openings in Kansas City go straight into the trash, pausing only long enough to waste the time of the person who sent it, the mailman who delivered it and the staff member who had to open and review it before tossing it.

Likewise, since our features focus on businesses and businesspeople, human interest stories are only of interest to us when they relate to business.

And in the pet- peeve department, knowing the media outlet means knowing how to address the media staff. Correspondence and news releases addressing our editorial staff as "Gentlemen" or "Dear Sirs" are greeted with pointing, hooting and snarling, since five out of six SBJ editorial staffers, including the publisher, are women. It's a little thing, but it really separates the pros from the amateurs.

?Know where your news fits. Once you've identified a publication or station whose focus suits your needs, you need to target your information to that media outlet.

For example, at SBJ, we have standing features specifically focused on such topics as new hires and promotions (People in the News), professional certifications, awards, milestones, grants awarded or received, and professional accomplishments (Awards & Achievements) and a column devoted to new business openings, business relocations and business expansions (Open For Business).

If something big is happening, send the release Attention: News.

If you have a recommendation for an Ozarks Profile, Business Spotlight or In the Spotlight story on a specific person or business, send your release to the attention of that feature, i.e. Attention: Ozarks Profile.

If someone has a story that is not necessarily breaking news, but is of relevance to a particular industry sector, the release should be directed to SBJ Focus.

In order to know where and when in our editorial schedule your industry-specific story might fit, contact SBJ at 831-3238 to receive our editorial calendar, which outlines our weekly focuses for the year.

At SBJ, the more clearly targeted your release is, the quicker it can be processed, typeset and appear in print. Putting Attention: People in the News or Attention: SBJ Focus on the envelope saves a lot of time, especially when the alternative is waiting your turn in a stack of generic correspondence.

?Be timely. It is vital that the information arrive at the media outlet with consideration for deadline restrictions. Contact the publication or station to find out how much lead time it needs to present your information in a timely manner.

For the Business Journal, editorial deadlines are 10 days before the publication date of the issue in which the submission is to appear.

In the case of calendar items, the longer the lead time, the more likely it is to appear in the appropriate issue.

?How do you spell that? Misspelling names, of people or of companies, is death in journalism. Misspelling of names on news releases is even more appalling, since the PR person who sent the release is either:

a. a direct employee of the company or individual being promoted; or

b. being paid to represent that company or individual on a contract basis.

If the information you send us is wrong, we will:

a. laugh at you;

b. resent you;

c. question the credibility of anything you send us from that point on; and

d. be much more likely to get it wrong ourselves. We're not perfect and we don't catch all our own errors, much less yours.

?Is there really a contact person? A news release that lists a contact person who cannot be contacted ("I'm sorry, he's out of town until March") is a problem. And embarrassing for all parties involved is the "contact person" who is not only unaware of the contents of the news release, but has not been informed that he or she is listed as the contact person.

?Is there really a news release? Recently, a large national company sent SBJ a news release regarding a new product available in Missouri. The release implied, but did not spell out, that the product was available in the Springfield area.

When our story ran, the company's representatives in Missouri were irate, wanting to know why we ran a story about something that they were not ready to announce in this region.

"Because you sent us a news release," was the answer.

The moral of this story: If you're not ready to go public, don't issue a news release.

?Know the difference between advertising and news. The difference between advertising and news is not just that one costs money and one is free.

Advertising is, by its nature, biased in favor of the person paying for it its purpose is to sell.

News is what is happening, reported as truthfully, concisely and with as much objectivity as possible its purpose is to inform.

Many companies drench their news releases in superlatives regarding their service, products or personnel, but don't count on your company appearing in a news story as "the best," "the biggest" or "the first" unless you can back up the claim with documentation.

Also, generalities like "we're the best" tend to come across as weak (unless documented). A specific statement, like "we broke $5 million in sales last year," is solid, has impact and shows the quality of the company rather than telling about it.

Good news releases are a vital part of our mission to provide information to our readers. And a well-written news release can do wonders for promoting your company, your staff, and your products and services. It is hoped that these suggestions will help you get your story into the public eye.

To submit a release to the Business Journal, fax it to 831-5478, or mail it to PO Box 1365, 65801.


The news release is

the launching point

of a story but only if that release provides enough information

to indicate that something newsworthy is going on.[[In-content Ad]]


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