• Basic principles
Media relations are an indirect form of communication. The direct recipients of a submitted press release, or the attendees at a press conference, are the journalists or editors involved with particular programmes or publications. Your ultimate goal, however, is to reach their viewers, listeners or readers.
It is therefore essential to ensure that all messages fulfil the criteria necessary to achieve ready acceptance by editors and journalists to maximise the chance of exposure to the actual target audience.
Editors exercise independent control over the content and style of the stories they exploit. You cannot oblige them to use all of the material you supply, nor to reproduce the information exactly as you present it. Consequently, you must do everything possible to make your message interesting, timely, comprehensible, unambiguous and comprehensive – and present it in a manner that makes its transfer to the screen, air or printed page as easy as possible.
Furthermore, journalists are busy people with inflexible deadlines dictated by the publishing process. Also, there is usually considerable competition for their attention. Radio and TV deadlines are usually even shorter than those of the printed press, and their editorial ‘spaces’ more limited. Be prepared to encourage interest by offering interviews or film crew access at short notice.
An approach that has proved successful is for project partners to issue press releases simultaneously in their own countries, giving journalists local contact points for follow-up in their own languages.
Define clear messages
With any communications exercise, you need to define your key messages in terms that will be understandable to the ultimate target audiences. Keep stories simple.
‘The X project is developing fast and cheap methods of detecting liver cancer at a stage early enough to permit life-saving treatment’ NOT ‘The X project is working on highly specific molecular markers for hepatocellular carcinoma currently diagnosed through the detection of neoplastic lesions only in advanced state of evolution’.
Prime essentials are that the delivered information should have a clear subject with a factual basis, be relevant to the audience of the targeted programme or publication – and cover a topic that is either newsworthy in its own right, or relates to a particular field that is in focus at the time of its issue. Also, of course, it should positively reflect the interests of your project.
Present information in a form that meets the journalists' needs
When you are preparing a press release for general distribution, observe the guidelines in the section ‘Produce an effective press release’. If the timing of a news story is critical, check the broadcast and publication deadlines for your target media. Where the timing is also sensitive for project-related reasons, it may be necessary to issue the press release in advance, with a clearly indicated embargo date.
If you are responding to an editorial invitation to supply information, deliver what is requested:
- Concentrate on the topic indicated and answer the specific questions that may be posed;
- Respect any indications regarding the required text length. In general, published articles are quite short, so do not simply send a 5 000-word off-the-shelf article or a printed brochure. This may be more convenient for you, but it wastes the journalist’s time and could result in him/her ignoring your contribution; and
- Wherever possible, take the time to examine the publication and understand its particular approach. It is always desirable to give the impression that your material has been specially prepared.
This last point is also relevant if you are writing an article speculatively for submission to a particular publication.
Ensure that your message is complete, self-contained, and does not leave any obvious unanswered questions. Include figures, where available and relevant. Try to think like a journalist: provide everything necessary to form the basis of a good story that will not require too much time spent on additional research.