5) Your Focus, Their Focus
In a perfect world, I'd also include what an audience focuses on - that way a successful release could be seen almost like a Venn diagram with a story emerging in the middle of three focus circles (yours, theirs, the audience). But for now, let's examine your focus versus that of a journalist/writer or news/content producer. It starts with a clear idea of what you want as an outcome from your release. How do you imagine the headline? Next is figuring out what's likely to emerge as a headline from the release. Does it align with your hopes? Can it align? How do you get that alignment. One of the key things I always looked for as a newsroom editor/producer was 'impact for the largest audience.' I sought out stories that connected in one ore more of these areas: health (and security), heart, pocketbook (money). In pitching a story, identifying those themes helps in breaking through the clutter. Knowing a content producer's style, area of expertise (if not a generalist) and story history also helps. Just remember, never fall into the trap of telling such writers what the story is or what their competition has already covered - that will result in a quick dead end.
4) Availability For Interviews
I'd be a wealthy man if I had a dollar for every time a story was lost because a call to the number at the bottom of a news release wasn't returned. Even worse for a communications professional is not being prepared to link a reporter to a key contact. Interviews are vital. This means you have to expect a call or email from every organization that receives your release. And be prepared - the other part of availability. Practice ahead of time for interview questions. What do you want to stress? What do you want to avoid? Anticipate questions and know how to redirect with your answers. You can never issue a release and then expect to hide.
3) Targeting Your Audience, Identifying Media Outlets
This seems simple enough as a concept but in my experience, some pitches fail to connect because a simple question isn't asked - 'What's the target audience of the outlet receiving the media release?' If it doesn't match you intended audience, your efforts may be better spent elsewhere. As an example, working as an editor in an all news radio station the stories we focused on would mostly be for busy, working commuters - those travelling between the suburbs and the downtown. That was for the radio side - the station also had a growing concentration on its digital/social media content and that was often a different audience and demographic. Content would be repurposed for the different media pillars. At times, radio, web and digital content would differ completely.
It goes without saying that you need to understand where and how your intended audience engages with the message. Much of this has already been mentioned but in a social media dominant world, consider and focus on who will share your story and why? Which organization has the greatest reach and credibility with those you care about?
Also, there are organizations (trade publications), influencers, bloggers and journalists who align with your message and may be more eager to focus on what you want to convey. Connect with them. Follow up, Note their interactions and track their stories. These actions need to become a key part of your communications plan.
Every piece of advice, planning and preparation can unravel if you release your information at the wrong time. Some of this is out of your control. Some isn't. Let's look at those things you need to ponder.
Your calendar or day-planner. Although there are 24 hours in a day an seven of those days in a week, not all hours and days are created equal. You must consider when reporters/writers, influencers and others work and when your audience is most likely ready to consume the content being produced. It's okay to ask a reporter, 'When do you anticipate this story being aired or published.' For potential national and international stories, remember time zones and working hours in different places. Even holidays can be different.
Weekends. I've talked about this in other forums but news continues on the weekend and there are many advantages to sending a release on a Saturday or Sunday. These are days when content producers may have fewer competing stories - ergo, the content's lifespan is longer. Still, you have to know which organizations staff on weekends and if your audience is more or less likely to read or hear your.
Current headlines. 'Read the room.' A story or pitch can be easily lost if timed during a breaking news story or major event. Such pitches may also hit content producers at a time of increased stress or even anxiety. Moreover, the tone of your story may be 'off' in the face of current news. A day with a major disaster is unwelcoming to lighthearted content. Pro-tip: some major news can be anticipated ahead of time. Think major world events, court verdicts, election results and notable government announcements. Plan ahead by considering how your story or pitch will work in the current environment. Should it be delayed? This means being a keen consumer of current events on all scales.
1) Follow Up
You can't manage what you don't measure. Your communications plans must include key metrics for knowing the results of your actions. An important part of this is monitoring all the places where your news releases result in stories. Note the impact of such stories and work that intel into future plans. Follow up on any errors or inaccuracies - this happened from time to time in the newsrooms I worked in and I never had an issue fixing problems from spelling mistakes to factual errors. Also, note where the resulting exposure has had the greatest return.
To be sure, these five areas are only a starting point. Media releases, in themselves, are part of a comprehensive plan - a tool or starting point for contact. Never underestimate the importance of planning or using the expertise of those within or outside your organization. News releases are an important tool in your communications strategy but like all tools, you need to know how and when to use them.