-By Angelica Wedell–
The matters of local government are solid, hard news to local media outlets. City plans, decisions and events have direct impact on the lives of residents – and are thus top fodder for journalists looking to write a good story. And yet, many jurisdictions experience a disconnect with their local news media. Sometimes municipalities feel like they are throwing their press releases into a void, despite the fact that local government work literally shapes the community. So what’s the deal?
As a former news journalist, I can assure you that the goings-on of local government often qualify as headlining, A-Block stories. When news tips fall on deaf ears, the reason may not be as simple as disinterest. In fact, the way you write and distribute a press release can affect whether your local paper runs the story.
The headline is your first opportunity to nab attention to your news tip. News assignment desks scan through hundreds of press releases every day, starting (and sometimes ending) with the headline. A ho-hum or hilariously bad headline is the quickest way to kill a good story. Make sure that yours is short, written in active voice, uses strong verbs and adjectives, includes numbers when appropriate and accurately sums up the rest of the press release.
Short, Snappy and to the Point
Place the most important details at the top of the body of your press release. Answer the Who, What, Where, When and Why questions from the start, so the reader doesn’t have to hunt for crucial information scattered throughout chunks of text. It’s also good to keep your press release short and indicate where more information can be found (if needed). One page is good. Two pages are OK, I guess. Three pages are way too many.
Yes, the journalist can and should call you for a quote, and in reality, that doesn’t always happen. Including a good quote or two in your press release will greatly increase its value and chance for success. Quotes should not be dry facts, but rather relevant commentary, insights, opinions – anything reporters can’t say themselves. Remember to give the name and title of every spokesperson you quote.
Photographs, logo images, charts and infographics can make your press release pop and contribute to the narrative. Including them also makes the news producer’s life easier, which makes them more likely to run your story, which is ultimately a win for you. So if you have visuals, use them!
Clear Contact Information
It’s always unfortunate when a great tip arrives at the newsdesk with no contact information associated with it. Make sure it’s clear who is behind the press release and who should be contacted for follow-ups, interviews and fact-checks. That contact person should also be available for media inquiries once you send out the press release. Journalists will be looking to reach an expert. So if your news tip has something to do with water sanitization, it’s a good idea to have a quote and contact information for the Director of the Public Works Water Treatment Department in your press release.
Make it Timely
If you send out your press release too early, it’s likely to be forgotten. If you send it out too late, it’s old news already and nobody will be interested. Is your news tip about an upcoming event, an award or a new program? The best time to distribute is the day before launch. This ensures your news tip is still a fresh, hot topic and journalists have enough time to write up the story.
Easy to Find
It’s a good idea to have a contact on file for each of your local news outlets. This person can help push your press releases through. You don’t have to be besties with the city council beat reporter. Most news outlets have a link, email or phone number listed on their website for tips, updates and releases from the community. Most importantly, make your press release easy to find on your website. Journalists will often scour the official municipal website for story ideas. They will start on your home page and look for a menu link like “Media,” “News,” or “Press Releases.”
You’re Not Done Yet!
So you sent out your press release, uploaded it to your website, answered a few phone-calls and saw the story in the paper. Job well done… but don’t walk away from the story yet. The purpose of your press release is to help you reach as many residents as possible and to promote your city brand. Good articles about your city should be distributed across other communications channels, including social media. Some of your residents don’t heed the local news anyway, but they may be following you on Twitter.
Don’t Rely on the Local News to Tell Your Story
Even if you have great rapport with your local media outlets, don’t take it for granted they’ll paint you in the best light. It’s not their job to make you look good, it’s yours. Publish your own blogs, videos and print articles based on your own press releases and distribute them across all your communications channels. Always remember that nobody can tell your story the same way you can.
Well-written press releases combined with smart distribution will get your story out. A press release from the City of Franklin, TN utilized the elements and tips described above to publicize the launch of their 2016 citizen survey. As a result, multiple news outlets picked up the story the next day. Franklin also ran their own story on the official City website - written especially for residents, using the City’s brand and voice.