For many, the idea of pitching, writing press releases or talking to journalists is daunting.
For all those community projects wondering what PR stands for and how to make your good news reach the press, here’s the Groundwork Community Awards guide to getting your good news published. We have an action plan as well as an FAQ to help you make the most of your media potential.
Why does your group need media coverage?
Getting regular media coverage, whether online, in print or broadcast (TV and radio), is a great tool to get your group known in your local community (without paying for costly advertising). This can help with…
- Recruitment: people seeing your great work in the news will encourage new volunteers to get involved (and event attendees too!)
- Funding: coverage increases your visibility, helping people to identify your cause as a potential for funding pots
- Celebration of success: you work hard so why not celebrate that!
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.
Step one: make your story newsworthy
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
Step two: find the right journalist for you
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.
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 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.
And don’t forget to look for online bloggers and vloggers that might be interested in writing about your work.
Step three: decide where to pitch your story
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.
Step four: get press release and pitch savvy
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.
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. Remember:
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: don’t 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. Keep pitching and sending press releases. Before you know it you’ll be on the front page!
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 the 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.