Getting Your Message Out

Making a Press List 

WHAT IS A PRESS LIST?
A media list is a list of the phone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses of your local media outlets, reporters, editors and producers. Your press list can be as general or as specific as you want to make it.  

HOW TO MAKE A PRESS LIST:
1. The Basics: 

Find general contact information for all of your local press outlets including: daily newspapers, weekly community newspapers, magazines, television stations, and radio stations. 

Then call each of the news organizations on your list to ask for the number, fax number, and e-mail address of the news desk or assignment desk. (You may want to ask if they prefer e-mail or faxes).  This will be the core of your press list. 

2.  Customizing your list: 

Call each of the news organizations on your list ask for the names and direct phone numbers of the news editor, medical or health reporter, legal reporters, and feature editor (you may just want to ask the assignment desk who covers medical cannabis.)  Call each of these individuals directly and ask if they would be interested in receiving news about medical cannabis issues and get their complete contact information.
 
Read your local newspapers and watch your local news stations to see if there is a reporter who might be interested in medical cannabis stories or a specific health show that may want to do a segment about medical cannabis. These and others would be among your target media.

Keep a list of people who write stories about medical cannabis, they are more likely than others to write another story.

3. Keep it current: 

Make sure to update incorrect information on your list. 

Continue to add new reporters who write about medical cannabis and relevant issues to your list. 


Channels of Communication 

Now that you know who you are contacting with your press list, it is time to learn how reporters like to be contacted. 

PRESS RELEASE BASICS
Getting Started. Using 8½ x 14 or 8½ x 11 paper, put the organization’s name, address, and phone number on the top left, and the words "Press Release," or "Media Release" on the top right. Then type "For Release: Immediate" or "For Release: Date.” on the left.  On the right, across from the "For Release" information, type "Contact:" and then the names of the people who will be available to answer questions from the media. Their phone numbers should be included under their names. 

The Slug. The headline on the release is called the slug. The slug should very briefly summarize the topic of the release and utilize action verbs to sound as interesting and as newsworthy as possible. 

The Inverted Triangle. The inverted triangle means that the first paragraph should contain the most important information; the next paragraph should contain less important information, and so on, until the last part of the release is the least important.  It should be possible to cut off the bottom half of the release and still provide journalists with sufficient information. 

The Lead. The lead is the first sentence or paragraph of a press release. It should contain what is known as the five w's: who, what, where, when and why. 

Style. Keep the release succinct - you should rarely go over one page. Always type a release and use wide margins. Double space the release, or at least leave spaces between paragraphs. Keep paragraphs and sentences short. Use exact dates whenever possible. 

Objectivity. Press releases are designed to transmit facts. Opinions should not be included unless they are clearly identified as such. One way to convey opinion is by including a quote from someone in your group. Make certain that the quote is clearly attributed. 

Closing Symbols. At the end of a release, you must indicate to journalists that the release is over. Type “-30-” or “###” at the bottom center of the last page and MORE at the bottom of any page that is not your last page.  

E-MAIL PRESS RELEASES

  • Use plain ASCII text.  Never send press releases as attachments to email. Never email a press release with a blank subject line.
  • Use hyper-links where appropriate.  If there is additional information available on your website, include a hyper-link.
  • Send a test message before distributing your press release.  Always send a copy of the press release to yourself or to a colleague before distributing it. Check the formatting and test URLs.
  • Avoid disclosing the recipients' email addresses.  Always type the recipients' addresses in the "Bcc" field of your email message header, rather than in the "To" or "Cc" field.
  • Post your organization's media contact information on the home page of your Web site. Be sure to keep the contact information up-to-date, and include information on how reporters can be added to your mailing list.

What makes a press release effective: Emphasize what's new about your action. Reporters have already seen medical cannabis patients protesting DEA Raids; think about how your action or event is different. 

When to send press releases: The most critical press release is the one that goes out about two days before the event. But it's a good idea to put one out about ten days prior to the event so that when the journalists get the second one they should be ready to respond to it.

It's also important to send out a third one the moment the action begins, and its overkill to send out a fourth press release saying how it all went. If the action lasts longer than one day, send out a new press release every day, as long as have something new to say. 

PITCHING REPORTERS
The following tips are for orally pitching stories to reporters.  Although the following tips are for soliciting immediate coverage, much of this advice applies to building on-going relations with reporters over the phone. Whether you are calling for an event, or calling to follow up on materials you sent to a reporter, you will want to consider the following: 

To the point.  If you don't know the reporter, you will have less than 30 seconds to get his/her attention. Get to the point quickly. Answer the question: "Why should this reporter be interested?" and tailor your pitch accordingly. For example, look into regional angles, the public health or the science angles of a story as opposed to a straight "patient vs." pitch. 

Practice.  Before calling the media, write out and practice your pitch on someone who is not a member of your organization to see if they understand what you are saying and think it is interesting. 

Respect Deadlines.  Media calls are best made in the morning or early afternoon when most reporters are not on deadline. Always ask if the reporter is on deadline before you begin. If they are, ask when a better time would be to call. Exceptions to the rule are radio and TV talk shows. Call when the show is not on the air. 

Be Direct.  Tell the reporter why you are calling - "I saw your story on... and thought you might be interested in something my organization is doing about this problem," 

Be Ready.  Have your talking points and the appropriate information in front of you, including statistics and spokesperson information so you don't sound disorganized. Be specific. 

Relate.  Tie the story to something timely or newsworthy. 

Truth.  If you don't know the answer to a question the reporter raises, tell them that you do not know but that you will try and find out for them and call back.  Don't make up answers or speak off the cuff. Anything you say is on the record so choose your words carefully. Say something like, "I'm not sure about that. Is it alright if I find out and call you back?" 

Be Flexible.  If a reporter is on deadline and is brusque, don't let that shake you. It is essential in this situation that you respond courteously to their situation by offering to call back, ask when would be the best time to call back, find out if you can fax the information, etc. Others may be brusque even when not on deadline. Don't take it personally. 

Your Info.  Offer to provide additional information and background materials. These should expand the portrait of your organization and its activities, as well as the positive role played by the entire sector. 

Their Info.  If the reporter asks you to fax something, confirm their fax number. Many organizations change their fax numbers frequently. Follow up with a fax immediately. 

Follow Up.  When not working on a same-day press briefing, make a commitment for the next step: set up an interview, send/fax follow-up materials, call the reporter back with more information after a certain time period, etc. 

Try and Retry.  Share what is working about your media "pitch" - and what isn't working - with your colleagues. It may take a couple of calls to get your pitch down, and when you find what works, share it. 

Know Your Stuff.  Be prepared to have conversations with reporters who know a lot about the issue. If you finish your 30 second pitch and cannot answer reporters' inquiries, you won't be able to sell your story.  Reporters want to be sure you know what you are talking about. Remember that your pitch should be simple, interesting, short and clear. But, your knowledge should go to a deeper level. 

Track it.  Keep a log with good notes about your press outreach. Record reporters' interests, key questions; note what the next steps are. Does the reporter want more information? Do you need to make a follow-up call in a few days? Record any follow-up activities on the log. 

Abort? Retry? Fail?  If a reporter says no, respect it. Do not keep harping or bothering him/her about the same story or angle. No doesn't mean "don't ever call me again." It just means don't call again with the same pitch/story. Don't be afraid to call another time with a new story, a very interesting new angle, breaking news, etc.

FIELDING INCOMING CALLS
When receiving press calls, make sure anyone who may answer the phone is prepared to take careful messages. Get the name, number and organization calling, as well as their deadline. If you do not have the information right in front of you, do not hesitate to ask the reporter if you can call right back with some answers, someone to talk to, etc. Always remember: an imminent deadline should receive an immediate call back from the appropriate spokesperson. 

Also, when receiving calls, you may have the opportunity to try a new angle, or tell the longer story to further interest a reporter, or to get them to cover your side of the story more in-depth. Other reporters may call you looking for information to write a story when they are unable to attend. 

LEAVING MESSAGES
Reporters are hardly ever at their desks - although your chances are best in the morning. Don't hesitate to leave brief messages for reporters outlining your pitch. You can do this more than once, but try not to leave more than two messages. Try to keep your pitch very short, ask them to call, offer to fax info, and say that you will call back. If you wait until you get every single reporter on the phone before giving your pitch, you may face an empty press event

(Adapted from Green Media Tool Shed ) 


Media Events 

Several factors should help you determine what media event is most appropriate.  Press breakfasts or luncheons are more appropriate for non-breaking news, whereas a press conference may be more suitable for breaking and urgent news.  You should also consider your financial and human resource constraints when deciding the details of a press event.  Timing is another important factor to consider.  It is important to work with reporter deadlines when deciding the details of a press event.
  
IDENTIFY YOUR EXPECTATIONS
It is important to ask yourself what you expect to get out of the media event.  Set goals.  How many reporters do you want at your event?  How many stories would you like to have written?  Clear goals will help you appropriately design your media event. 

CHOOSE THE APPROPRIATE TYPE OF EVENT
Press Conferences should only be used for breaking news.  Breaking news may include the release of a report, an event, a reaction to another story or event, or other issues of immediate interest to the public.

Press Briefings are designed to provide greater background information and question-answer sessions for reporters. 

Tele-Conference is a much less resource-intensive press event.  Tele-Conferences can be used for breaking news when reporters are outside the local area.

Interview: A phone interview or in-person interview may be an alternative to conference calls if you wish to work with an individual reporter who is locally accessible. 

BE PREPARED
Whichever press event you select, you should be prepared with in-depth knowledge on the event and the issues.

Press Packets are useful for providing background information, such as the history of your organization, staff biographies, and any other background information that a reporter may need for a story.

Planning press events will help you determine which event to choose, who your spokesperson should be, timing, and what information you need to firmly backup your position and story.

(Adapted from Green Media Tool Shed )