For people who don’t work in communications or PR, the idea of pitching, writing press releases or talking to journalists may feel a little daunting.
If your community group does not have a dedicated PR lead (or has someone with limited knowledge of communications and needs a bit of help) Groundwork's PR and Communications Officer, Stacey has written this guide to provide a plan of action for getting your community group in the media, as well as answering any questions you may have about press releases, journalists and embargos!
Why does your group need media coverage?
It’s a good question!
Getting regular media coverage – either online, print or broadcast such as TV or radio – is a great tool of getting your group known in your local community.
Paying for advertising can be costly – so getting positive news stories about your work can help to get your group 'out there' and can ultimately get you free advertising for your group.
This can help with…
Recruitment: Get more volunteers/members for your community group. By seeing positive news, people may be more inclined to want to be a part of it.
Funding: Coverage can help to get your group more well-known which can help with you being more visible to potential funding pots.
A stronger community presence: You work hard for your local community – why not tell everyone about it! This will also help to get good attendance rates at events.
So – your community group has recently held a successful event, project or has made a difference to the local area and you want to shout about it…but you’re not sure how.
Consider: what makes your story 'newsworthy'?
To ensure that your story makes the cut with a journalist, it’s important to make sure that it has a strong 'hook'.
Find the human interest angle: Emotion helps to sell newspapers and gets listeners tuning into radio. But this doesn’t need to be all doom and gloom. Did you community engagement project help 81-year old Barbs get out the house and make new friends? Has your nature walk event helped six-year-old Luke get more interested in local wildlife? Will your summer fete help to bring the community together? These are positive outcomes that have been made possible from the work of your community group and including case studies and ‘real life’, relatable content will increase your chances of getting coverage.
Facts and figures: '1,000 local children get a taste of the great outdoors thanks to local community project' has a much better hook than 'Children get a taste of the great outdoors thanks to community project'. Putting a figure in a sentence instantly shows a successful outcome without the journalist or reader having to read any further than the headline.
High-quality photos: Newspapers – especially local press – don’t have huge budgets for photographers, so by including a couple of high-quality images with a story can improve the chances of it getting picked up. People in photos create a much more engaging visual – so, for example, if your story is about the success of a local litter pick, a photo of people looking happy with litter picker sticks is more likely to be used than a standalone photo of a litter picker stick or an empty crisp packet. That said; don’t feel pressured into buying an expensive camera as most smartphones are more than adequate for taking good snaps.
Be realistic: For something to be considered newsworthy will depend on the publication or radio or TV show you are pitching to. For example, if you are a local group in Coventry pitching a local story about a local event that affects and involves local people, the Coventry Observer will most likely be interested. The Guardian? Not so much.
Get clued up on current affairs: What’s happening in your city, town, country or even the world that you can hook your story to? Awareness days, social media happenings and popular news items ‘that people are talking about’ can help to get your story picked up. For example, if you have a story about your community group promoting sustainable transport, research when ‘Cycle to Work Day’ is. Having a regional hook on a national topic that is current and relevant can help to sell your story into local press.
To remember all this – just think TRUTH…
T – Timely/topical
R – Relevant
U – Unusual/unique
T – Tragedy/triumph
H – Human interest
Finding the right journalist for you
Before you get started, it’s important to do a bit of research into what type of media outlets you want your community group featured in.
Local press vs national press: Local press refers to media outlets that are dedicated to covering stories that are relevant to a certain region. National press mostly has a much wider reach and cover stories that affect all people, from Wales to Cornwall to Birmingham, although some local stories can be included, depending on the wider impact or interest the story provides.
For most community groups, targeting local press is the most successful way of getting media coverage as the content is most appropriate for the readership and listenership as it has a local hook. In order to gain national coverage, your story will need to have a significant angle that is wider than regional area to ensure it’s picked up nationally.
Do your research: If you are unsure about what local press you have in your region, finding your local press can be as simple as typing 'local press [insert region here]' into an online search engine, such as Google. Most regions will have a BBC radio station and sometimes a few local radio stations as well as a couple of local newspapers that will more than likely have an online site also.
Remember to put your search a little further, for example, if your community group is based in Staffordshire, you can also look under ‘West Midlands’ press to ensure you are capturing all relevant outlets. This applies more to television and radio stations, for example, ITV Central and BBC Midlands Today cover the whole of the West Midlands from Coventry to Shropshire.
Remember to also look for any online bloggers or vloggers that may be interested in writing about your community group.
Broadcast vs print vs online: Think carefully about what your story offers before deciding whether to pitch to broadcast, print or online.
A story that can provide a great story in newspaper or online article doesn’t always mean it will translate as well on the television or on the radio. For television; producers and journalists want strong visuals and short/snappy interviews with people. Similar with radio, it relies solely on sound and would want strong interviews and stories that work without a visual aid in order to be considered newsworthy.
Let’s get cracking!
Now we have our angle and we know who we want to pitch the story to. Now it’s time to get down to work.
The key to press releases is to keep them concise, informative and engaging. Remember – journalists do not have hours to sift through information to find the story, so having the important information at the top of the release will help in getting it picked up.
The Five Ws: Have you ever heard of the 'five ws'? When it comes to writing press releases it’s a simple, yet important rule to remember when planning the layout and flow of your writing.
What? When? Where? Why? Who? (and How)
Aim to get all this information in the first paragraph of your release. As a rule, try to keep you release to no longer than two pages (including Notes to Editors).
Quotes: Including quotes in press releases helps to give a press release that personal and provides a real life opinion to anchor the story. If you do include a quote ensure that you have permission from the person you are quoting before issuing the release.
250 school children have been given the opportunity to get involved in a local community garden project run by the community group, 'Mix it Up'. The group is mainly run by retired people who were keen to get more young people involved in volunteering.
The 'Mix it Up' project has also given members the opportunity to socialise and feel less lonely and isolated.
Following the success of the project, the 'Mix it Up' group are going to engage with more schools and nurseries to get them involved.
Example press release
[Include your community groups logo if you have one]
[Insert day, month, year]
For immediate release [or add embargoed date]
[TITLE HERE] – Local community project helps 250 school children to get involved with gardening
Community group, Mix it Up [who] invited 250 school children to join their community garden project [what] on Tuesday 30 January [when] at the Flowerfield allotments, Halesowen [where] to help engage young people in gardening and to open their volunteering opportunities to a younger audience [why].
The group, which has members aged between 52 – 81, were keen to get more young people involved with their gardening project in order to help get the younger generation involved with gardening, increase their volunteer numbers and help get people of all ages involved in the group. [Further elaboration on the above]
The group have been working primarily with Meadowhill School, Halesowen and are pleased by both the engagement from pupils and encouragement of the teachers who have supported the project. The project has also been a successful example of the benefits of intergenerational learning. [Adding context that can be removed without losing any key facts about the story]
Doris Kettle, 79, Mix it Up coordinator, said: "It’s been a real delight to have worked with such an inspiring and hardworking group of children.
"We think that it’s vital that more young people are encouraged and allowed to get involved with local projects and it’s important to get them interested from an early age. We look forward to working with even more local children – they keep us young!" [Engaging quotes to help bring the story to life]
Marion Winter, Headteacher at Meadowhill School said: "It’s been a true delight to see our pupils get involved with the local gardening project. It’s allowed them to take learning outside the classroom and get to meet and speak to people that they might not normally interact with. We are keen to get even more of our pupils engaged with the project." [Helping to bring the perspective of the school]
Alex Bobble, 9, who is a pupil at Meadowhill School, said: "I’ve enjoyed learning all about how vegetables are grown – it was also fun to use a spade have a go at digging!" [The young person’s perspective that helps to sell the story]
To find out more about the project, please call email Doris Kettle: firstname.lastname@example.org [Add contact details/web addresses etc. for further information]
Ends [This indicates that the release has finished]
Notes to Editors [Contact information and further group/project information]
For media enquiries, including interviews please contact [insert name of contact, telephone number and email address]
About Mix it Up [Can include information about the group, why/when/how it was founded].
Pitching – written and verbal
If you have an upcoming project or feel confident to speak to a journalist without sending a press release, a verbal pitch (or a short email) can also work for selling in a story.
Before contacting the media: Rehearse your conversation (write it down if this helps) and keep your ‘pitch’ brief. Journalists are busy people and you will be competing with a busy news agenda – work on the assumption that you will be getting 15-30 seconds of their time or attention span at most.
Be enthusiastic: Having a genuine interest in the project is a key selling point, so don’t hide that. Having passion for your project both written and verbally will help in getting journalists interested in the story.
If you do call the media: It’s always good to give the journalist a good amount of time, especially if your local newspaper is a weekly title. Try to speak to journalists between 9-11am and 2-3pm but bear in mind there is no 'good' time of the day as they usually have hectic schedules. You can then offer to send the journalist your pre-prepared press release or further information via an email. Make sure you take their contact details.
Keeping the momentum going
Remember not to be disheartened if your press release or pitch is not picked up by the press. Depending on the news agenda it can be that a more pressing, topical or timely news story was chosen instead.
You can also offer a follow-story/photos etc. to see if these are of interest.
Behind the jargon
Don’t get bamboozled by technical words and phrases! Read and learn some popular PR terms below.
Pitch: persuading a journalist to cover your story. Can be both verbal and written
Press release: a statement/written information about something that is sent to media outlets
Broadcast: audio or visual outlets such as television and radio
Print: written publications, such as newspapers and magazines
Online: this can include online news sites, or blogs
Coverage: your press release, pitch or story appearing in the media
Embargo: if something is 'under embargo' it’s a note to the journalist to hold back a story until a chosen date. It’s a way of giving information in advance so that journalists can plan how they want to cover a story in good time. A good example of this would be if a report is being published as it allows for findings to be read ahead of the official release date.
Putting an embargo on a press release cannot guarantee that a journalist will not reveal the story sooner – but it’s likely that an embargo will only be broken if a story is high profile.
Notes to editors: this is usually background information about the subject the release is about or the organisation that the press release is sent from. This is a good opportunity to also add contact details, website information or to provide any facts, figures or case studies or elaborate further on any points made in the main press release.
Post by Stacey Aplin, PR and Communications Officer
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