Death of a News Release: 10 Common Mistakes To Getting Media Coverage

It can be hard to get the media to cover your stories, but it’s even harder when you’re annoying reporters and editors with PR mistakes.

As a PR professional, my time working as a reporter and editor (in both print and broadcast) was very eye opening. It gave me a look into the world of journalism, and insight on what to and not to do to earn media coverage.

So now I’m sharing the irks of my newsie days. Here are 10 common complaints about media coverage requests I heard over and over (and over and over) in the newsroom:

1. Get over yourself, I don’t want to talk to you

“The story won’t be that big— I didn’t get to talk to anyone involved.”

Reporters need sources, and they’re looking for the most relevant key players. That isn’t always you. In fact, it’s probably never you if your main function is as a PR or marketing representative. If you want to help your story get covered, connect reporters to the most relevant players in the story— a CEO, a decision maker, someone impacted.

You might be the mouthpiece of the organization, but you need to learn to talk through other people. It would be beneficial to give media spokesperson training to all the main decision-makers in your company. If you can’t, provide interviewees with key points. If you have a message you want communicated, make sure your crew knows it inside and out, and can field questions and stay on topic.

This counts for news releases, too, by the way. Attribute your quote to someone involved in the story.

2. Your quotes are redundant and boring

“Why put things in quotes, when you don’t say anything?”

A quote is the most compelling part of formulaic journalistic writing. The media seek “color quotes,” or quotes that really add a human element or interest to a story. Stop beating them over the head with dull, trite phrases like:

  • “We’re very excited…” (Duh! Most. Overused. Phrase. Ever. We’re desensitized to it.)
  • …said the representative (Who? Is this a robot?)
  • “We’re building a new…” (This is not quote-at all. It’s just a fact.)

Tell the audience what a journalist can’t. State opinions. Add analysis. Talk about a personal reaction to the story. Be creative, descriptive and interesting.

And be edgy. It’ll make you stand out.

3. I don’t know if we’re covering it

“Can we just come up with a recorded response to this?”

Don’t call the newsroom to see if anyone will be covering your event or story. Even if they’ve assigned it, they can’t be sure that something else won’t come up, so they can’t tell you yes or no.

It is, however, okay to call early and remind the media about your story idea before their morning assignment meetings. Try to learn when these are for media you target frequently.

4. I don’t owe you anything in return for freebies

“They sent us a coffeemaker. I call dibs!”

Companies send free things to newsrooms all the time. It gets divvied up in a matter of minutes, and everyone forgets it happened.

But journalists LOVE freebies. You just have to use them strategically. Only send freebies to media outlets that are actually likely to cover the story. Free tickets for media to community event are one example of a well-used freebie (and they double as a relationship-building tool.)

You can also try to ensure the coverage before you give the goods. And if a reporter contacts you to ask for a free trial for a piece, always say yes.

5. But I’m not paying for anything, either

“$10 to get in? Do you know what I make?”

Part of the perk of being a reporter is free entry to events. It almost makes up for the hectic insane schedule and minimal pay. Don’t just let them in. Let them stay and hang out, have a beer or two. If you want something covered well, let the writer get the full experience.

6. If my audience doesn’t care, neither do I

“I think it’s cool, sure. But who else in their right minds would watch this?”

I blogged earlier on the 7 elements of newsworthiness to get a reporter’s attention. You have to think in terms of their audience. That’s what they do. Every media outlet has tons of information about their average viewer, and they cater to those audiences very specifically.

Before you make a pitch, make sure it’s something that will resonate with (or cause controversy among) the media’s audience.

7. I’m not printing your PR crap

“Did you remember to cut out the sponsor list paragraph at the end? “Always do!”

Your boss might be pushing it, but sponsor names have no place in a release unless they are somehow relevant to the story. Especially in the lede, where your words are already limited and where an editor gets his or her first impression.

If you want to get your sponsors some media mention, brainstorm with them about ways to actually be creatively involved in the story in a meaningful way.

For example: a local fruit company is sponsoring your homelessness awareness fundraiser? Not newsworthy. The local fruit company is donating an assorted fruit bag to the local shelter for every person in attendance, so the public can actually be a part of increasing the donation and earning the fruit for people who need it? Now it’s worth a mention.

8. I can’t get ahold of you? Fine. I have better things to cover

“I called once. No answer. Story’s dead.”

Unconfirmed information does not get published or broadcast. Every bit of information requires attribution to shield the media outlet legally, and some newspapers and TV stations have rules about how many sources need to be contacted for feature pieces.

Always provide contact information so reporters can get ahold of you. On your cell. At any time. Be available, even when you aren’t available. Pick up the phone even if it’s to reschedule a time to talk, or to direct them to someone else who can get them the info they need.

9. Stop making me read so much

“Send me a release that looks like this:
Why your audience will care:
Come have free cake!

…and I will love you.”

Keep everything in your releases concise (try to keep it to one page), and highlight main points and times and put them closer to the top. Send out short media advisories, too, that just cover the basics.

10. It takes me an hour to edit your release

“Your story wasn’t important enough for me to cover, but I want to put it online so it looks like we cover more than the competition. But I don’t have the time to edit your horrible press release. So nevermind.”

Write consistently in journalistic style, and save editors time.

Writing journalistically means using “Inverted Pyramid” style. Put the most important information first, then move gradually to the least important information. (That way, readers get the relevant information quickly, and editors can cut from the end without worrying about deleting crucial detail.)

The general style for the first 3 paragraphs is:

  • Lede- The opening paragraph should be 1 sentence that describes the main point in no more than 30 words.
  • Nutgraph- the second paragraph should explain the other main details (the nuts and bolts) in 1-2 sentences.
  • Quote- The third paragraph should be a relevant and intriguing quote to add a human element to the story. (Attributed to a person with a name and title, not a “representative,” and preferably someone directly involved, not a PR or marketing specialist.)

And the AP Style Guide is our writing Bible. Buy an official, updated copy. Use it. Always.

So make a mental note, DO NOT make these mistakes if you want to get your message out through the media.

What tips do you have to get media coverage?