It’s ironic that a former broadcast journalist can find herself without a good plan for getting more positive news coverage for her library.

And yet, that was the situation I found myself in last year. I run the content marketing team for a thriving library with high circulation numbers. We win awards. We are constantly looking for ways to improve the customer experience. And yet, the only times we found ourselves in the news, the coverage was for negative developments–an increase in drug overdoses, a fight over the sale of a library building, or the arrest of patrons.

I had worked a news desk. I remember getting off the phone with organizations asking for coverage of positive news. I would respond politely. But I knew the score. After I hung up, I would often shake my head and say, “Unless someone dies in your building, we won’t ever cover that.”

And now I found myself on the other side of that unspoken rule. I found it frustrating and humiliating. So, I decided that my team was going to do something about it.

The process of creating more positive news coverage for our library was a long one. It’s taken about a year. It involved changing our methods in some areas. But one of the big changes we made was also one of the most basic: we fixed our press release. We changed both the look and the content.

It worked. At my recent performance review, senior leadership acknowledged an increase in positive news coverage for the library. I want to share what we did so you can get the same results.

Simplify the look. We changed our press release template. Our past template was pretty and branded. But it was hard for my content specialists to use. The header and footer design made it difficult to type more than one page. It looked messy. It also took too much time to load on newsroom computers or smartphones.

Our preview releases looked messy and were difficult to format.

So, while it may seem counter-intuitive to transition to a template with less branding, it’s turned out to be a good move. Our new template has a cleaner design. It loads faster. We can fit more on the page. And it’s easier for the media to copy and paste the text to use in their stories.

Our new format has a cleaner look. It’s still branded but it’s easier to read.

Stop embedding photos. I don’t know why this was a thing but the library marketing team embedded their accompanying photos into press releases long before I got there. The photos made it difficult to format text correctly and required captioning in teeny tiny text, which is difficult to read. The photos were also incredibly small and were never used by the media. Reporters had to email us to ask for the high-resolution version. That adds to the workload of my team and it’s a barrier to news coverage. So, we’ve changed our policy. Now we just attach the high-resolution photos to the email we send with the press release. The media can easily download and use the photos.

Write better headlines. I noticed our headlines were long. We tried to convey the entirety of the information in the headline. And we used a lot of puns. I asked my team to write shorter, engaging headlines. We use action verbs if possible. We eliminated subheads. And NO MORE PUNS.

Write clean, conversational sentences and shorten paragraphs. The media is an audience, just like the audience for our other customer-facing content. They are pressed for time. They need a clear lead and information. And, like customers, they are not well-versed in library-industry terminology.

Now we write shorter paragraphs. We explain any library term in clear, concise language.

Less manufactured quotes. I never, ever used the provided quotes from news releases when I worked in news. I’m sorry, guys. That’s the truth. If it doesn’t sound like something a real human would say, it’s not a real quote. They know you’re making it up.

However, I know that this small portion of the news release is not always something you have control over. Fight for quotes that sound more like a real human. And if you lose that fight, it’s okay. A manufactured quote won’t disqualify your library from getting coverage if you’ve done the rest of these steps.

Include contact information for the people who can actually answer the media’s questions in a timely fashion. This was a pet peeve of mind when I worked in journalism. A press release without contact information forced me to do extra work, and that makes it less likely I’d cover the story.

Many marketing and public relations professionals fail to add contact info. It’s amazing how many times I’d contact the person listed on the release, only to learn that I needed to make more calls to other people within the same organization to find the answers I need.

The contact info you provide must be the most direct line to the information the press needs. We include contact info for my content specialist who is in charge of public relations. She takes the media’s information and question and finds the answers. The media only has to make one phone call. They’re more likely to cover your story if your organization has a reputation for finding their answers in a timely manner with few hassles.

Don’t mass send your release. We used to send one mass email with the press release to all available media. That wasn’t working. It sounds silly, but it makes your news feel less exclusive. Newsrooms will make decisions about whether to cover something based on what their competitors are doing. And by mass sending the news release, we were also sending information to media outlets that had no interest in our content.

Now, my content specialist matches the promotion to the media she feels would have the most interest in the event. Then she sends separate emails to those media members. It’s more time-consuming, but it’s more effective. She can personalize the email with the media contacts name. She can tell them exactly why our new information is relevant or interesting to their audience. She can also offer up interviews or video and audio opportunities to radio and TV stations that are specific to their show schedule. It makes our work with the media feel more like a partnership and less like we’re constantly trying to “sell” them on our stories. And it works.

More ideas for improving your library press relations:

How to Get Media Coverage Without a Press Release

Lessons From The Greatest Press Release Ever Written!

It’s Not Personal: What to Do When Your Library Gets Bad Press

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