(Read time: 3 minutes, 6 seconds)
I have a confession to make. I don’t know everything.
I thought that I did! I spent 20 years in a TV newsroom. I thought I knew about how the media covers everything, including libraries. And I did when I started my library job five years ago. But things have changed. Now, I need advice as much as the next guy.
That’s what I learned after sending two of my staffers to a media day held in Cincinnati last October. The event was sponsored by the Public Relations Society of America. It included panels on topics including how to think like a journalist, and how to manage crisis communication. My staff members came back with a host of tips. And making those changes worked! Since October, coverage of our events and services by the media rose by more than 50 percent. No kidding. We’re getting more responses and more inquiries.
Put these tips into practice in your own library, along with last week’s free tools to help you do PR better. I bet you’ll see better results too!
Send out news releases WAY early. The reporters and producers told us they like a lot of advance notice, even for small library events. We had been sending releases two to three weeks before an event. I moved that back to four to six weeks before an event. We send a reminder to the media again about a week before the event. This turned out to be the most valuable tip of all. We’ve seen a sizeable increase in the number of responses we get, both when the release goes out and coming up on the day of the event.
Be ready for a response. The reporters told us that we should always assume they’ll respond to our press releases and media alerts! That means having our potential interview sources ready when we send out the release. This was a struggle for me because a different library department books our big author appearances. And I’ve always had to go through that department to arrange media interviews with the authors. But, armed with this request from the media, I went to that department head and made a case. I told them we’d get more coverage if they would be willing to give me direct contact information for the publicist so I could book interviews. They agreed and now I’m able to help the media when they call for an interview.
Write your release as if it were a news story. In fact, write a news story INSTEAD of a release. Include information about whether you’ll be able to take photos of the event and send them out to the media when it’s over. Newsrooms are short-staffed. They want us to do the work for them. And while that might not sound fair, if we send them a publishable piece of content with photos, we win on two levels. First, we get coverage of our event. Second, the narrative is exactly as we want it! We can do the fact-checking and make the important points. We have control!
Find good interview subjects. Arrange interviews ahead of time with people affected by the news item, not with the administration. Reporters don’t like official sounding, jargon-filled soundbites. That’s not compelling. Compelling is a child who finally catches up in reading because of extra tutoring from a children’s librarian. Compelling is an immigrant who got help at his library filling out a naturalization form. Compelling is not your library manager explaining how great the library is because they’re now offering a service. Ditch the official. Find the people, and put them in front of the camera.
Think like a reporter. Reporters asked us to arrange diverse interviews, including people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. They told us their target audience is women, ages 25-54, and that our interview subjects should be compelling to that age group. Pick interview subjects who are comfortable on camera or at least can talk in soundbites. Arrange interviews to meet the time demands of the newsroom. Newsrooms often have crews available are erratic times. If you’re sending a news release and hoping for an interview, make sure you have someone with a flexible schedule who can meet a reporter on short notice.