I have a revelation to share with you.

You don’t always have to send out a press release to get media attention.

I KNOW, RIGHT!!

Now, don’t get me wrong. You should not stop sending press releases completely. In fact, often, they are the best way to get a story to the news media quickly. They can make sure that the facts of an important story are published correctly. Here’s a case in point: this week, my library system had to close one of our branch libraries due to significant damage to the ceiling. This branch happens to be in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. We have many ways to communicate with our cardholders, including our website, social media, and email. But the folks who use this branch don’t always have access to Wi-Fi. So it was imperative that we send out a press release so those users could learn about the closure through non-digital sources, like TV and newspaper. The story contained accurate information on things like where we are re-routing holds and returns. It gave us some control over the story. There’s one advantage to the staff shortage crisis in newsrooms: outlets will usually copy and paste your press release and publish it verbatim.

My library used to send out a press release for literally everything. We sent releases for every contest, new vendors, and initiatives large and small. We were sending up to two releases a week. In theory, it sounds like our library was “killing it” in the PR department. But it turns out that kind of constant press release barrage translated to noise to most newsrooms. This is something we learned at the Cincinnati Media Day last year. We got to spend a day mingling with local reporters and asking them all kinds of questions about what we could do to increase our chances of coverage. (Check your local PRSA chapter-they may put on a similar event in your city. I recommend you attend-it was incredibly helpful.)

After Media Day, I vowed to take a hard look at our press release strategy. Which releases were getting coverage and which were ignored? After a careful audit, we’ve decided to stop sending press releases for things like our summer reading program, some of our exhibits, and small service initiatives, like our Tiebrary. This is a new service rolled out in May of this year. We allow cardholders to check out ties and scarves for job interviews. It’s my library’s first foray into the Library of Things realm, and we were really excited.

So why not send a release? We decided to take a personal approach instead. My staff made phone calls to key members of the local media, explaining how the Tiebrary works and why we were doing it.  Yes, it took more time. But it worked. We got coverage in some form on three of the four local TV stations and requests for a written follow-up, which were printed in local papers. Those written versions of the story were personalized by my staff to the audience of the publication requesting the story, which the publications loved. We also received a mention on the local NPR news radio station.

You will want to send out press releases for about 90 percent of the stories your library pitches to the media. But that last ten percent can get media coverage with a more personal approach. I know many library administrators expect you to send a press release, so I urge you to make the case, when you feel passionate about it, that a personal phone call to a news reporter will be much more effective. The end goal is more media coverage for your library. Libraries should be flexible in our approach with the media. We should deliver facts to reporters in the form that is most compelling to them and their readers. And for many reporters, a personal conversation is that form. So if your library administrators insist on sending a release for everything, feel free to print out this post and show it to them. They can even contact me to talk about it further.

And, if you do decide to write a release, I have some suggestions for you on how to increase the chance they’ll be picked up for coverage. These posts are all written after speaking with media professionals.

Lessons from the Greatest Press Release Ever Written

Reporters Reveal How to Get More Press Coverage

Eight Secrets for Library Press and Media Coverage

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