Before I worked in library marketing, I spent nearly 20 years as a broadcast television journalist.
I was a newscast producer for a local TV station. I created a nightly newscast from scratch. I decided which stories would be told, who would tell them, how long they would be, and more.
Every day, I was part of the newsroom decision-making process. I know why certain stories get airtime and others don’t (ratings). I know why important facts end up “on the cutting room floor” (time constraints). I know why online media outlets and newspapers write sensational headlines (clicks).
For the last eight years, I’ve been on the other side of that world. I’ve been the one sending press releases and asking, sometimes begging, for coverage of my library or for the libraries I work with in my current job.
But let’s be honest… media coverage can be great for your library.
So here are my top six tips to help get more positive press for your library.
Did your library get amazing press coverage? How did you do it? Share your story by clicking on the feedback button in the lower left-hand corner of your screen.
Send news releases early.
For events like author visits, grand openings, and other programs, send press releases four to six weeks before the event. Then, send a reminder to the media again about a week before the event.
If your library is unveiling a new service, send your press release one to two weeks before the new service launches.
For big announcements, like awards, send the press release one week before the official announcement and include a line that embargos the release. That means the news outlet can’t cover the story in print or on air until the day the embargo ends. Put the embargo right in the sub-headline of the press release, to be sure the journalists see it.
Write a news story instead of writing a press release.
If you send the newsroom a publishable piece of content with photos or video, you win on two levels.
First, you’ll increase the chances that your library will get coverage. Second, the narrative is exactly as you want it! You make the important points. You have control.
So, write a story which the media outlet can copy and paste into a script or column. Use Associated Press style and these four basic journalistic principles:
- A catchy lead sentence;
- The who-what-where-when-why sequence, interspersed with a quote or two;
- Clear writing without library jargon or technical terms. If you must use a technical term, explain it clearly. And,
- A concise ending.
Make your quotes sound like they come from a real person.
Reporters and editors can spot a manufactured quote a mile away.
I know a manufactured quote is often a necessity in libraries. So, if you must make up a quote from your director, don’t write: “Our dynamic approach to customer service is central to our strategic initiatives. We are scheduled to implement more of these forward-thinking tactics.”
This is so much better: “We are adding an online, real-time reading recommendations service because we wanted to do a better job of answering our patrons’ questions and help them find the books they want. We’re hoping to really shake up the service experience. But mostly, we want to make it easy for people to get personal attention and a great book.”
Don’t send your press release in a mass email.
A reporter is much less likely to follow up with you for a story if they are part of a large group of journalists who’ve all received the same story. Journalists want the “exclusive,” even on small things. So don’t let on that you are also sending your release to other outlets.
When you create your list of media contacts, include information about that outlet’s target audience, the kind of stories they usually cover, and the reporters with whom you have a personal connection.
Then, match your potential story with the right reporter rather than sending your release to every reporter you know. It’s a better use of your time and energy, and you’re more likely to get media coverage.
Find good interview subjects ahead of time.
Reporters are looking for compelling quotes that add depth to a story.
They’ll love a quote or a soundbite from a child who finally catches up in reading because of extra tutoring from a children’s librarian. They’ll jump at the chance for a quote or soundbite from an immigrant who got help at his library filling out a naturalization form.
Arrange diverse interviews, including people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. Most newspapers, TV, and radio stations will tell you their target audience is women, ages 25-54. Your interview subjects should be relatable to people in that demographic.
Pick interview subjects who are comfortable on camera and can “talk in soundbites”. That means they can make a point in three to four sentences.
Respect the reporters’ deadline.
When I was a journalist, it was frustrating to call an organization hoping for an interview or answers to questions only to be told that the person was out of the office or wouldn’t be able to call me back until late in the day.
If a reporter is calling you, chances are that they’re working on the story for today’s edition or newscast, which means they’d really like to have all the elements by early afternoon at the latest, to give themselves time to craft the story. Tomorrow is too late.
Move heaven and earth to accommodate the reporter as much as possible. When you do that, you’re more likely to get coverage every time you ask for it.
Newsrooms often have crews available at odd hours, like 10 a.m. or 8 p.m. Sometimes reporters will squeeze in a story during a very limited window in their day. They may call you and say they can come to the library in 10 minutes. Make sure you and your interview subjects can accommodate those last-minute requests.
I have a special request.
I’m putting together a conference presentation and I’m looking for some examples.
- Libraries that have reopened and have had some success drawing people back into the physical branch.
- Libraries who believe they’ve figured out the hybrid program model.
- Libraries who are trying to turn their pandemic digital users on to other services now that the library has reopened.
I’ve created a form so you can brag about your library.
I know you are doing amazing work. I want to highlight you on a national stage! Thank you in advance.
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