Last Saturday morning, over a breakfast of eggs and grits (my husband, the native New Yorker!) and the healthful alternative of oatmeal and craisins (me) I asked my husband for suggestions for Bubble Room subjects. His first idea: a discussion on media relations. After all, effective and strategic media relations is an essential part of any marketing plan.
Ask the management at any library that’s battling a lawsuit or budget crisis if it is true that ‘all news is good news.’ In fact, it is not true. But neither is it true that all good news, is necessarily helpful news.In much the same way as any other part of your marketing plan and brand management, your earned media efforts targeting newspapers, television, radio and online reporting should be thoughtful and deliberate.
An intentional media plan begins with building relationships.
Make it personal: Know your community’s news gatekeepers. Learn who reports on library issues in print, radio, television AND online. Make a phone call and extend an invitation to sit down one-on-one with those individuals for coffee or tea. When you meet, find out what ties those folks have to your community and be prepared to share the same information concerning yourself.
Be prepared to also share information about a few events or programs that are coming up at the library. (But hold back a few as well.) This meeting shouldn’t be so much an information dump as it should be an opportunity to build a professional relationship. If you are friendly with your local reporters and editors, you are more likely to get the reportage you want and receive some benefit-of-doubt when a crisis occurs.
Never send a reporter home empty handed. When you meet with a reporter, make sure she leaves with your business card, a brochure or even a mug emblazoned with your library’s logo. You want the reporter to have a visible reminder that you exist and your library is a leading institution in your community.
Prepare a media list and incorporate it into your email contacts. You want names, telephone/fax numbers, email addresses and mailing addresses of each contact. Include all newspapers (daily and weekly and even school-based publications), radio stations (that broadcast news or community events) and television stations. While you may never send an advisory out to all these news outlets at the same time, you don’t want to be searching for contact info when it’s time to make an announcement.
It’s okay to make a lot of good news. But the news you make should reflect the mission of your library and fit into the timing of your additional marketing efforts.
Before you send out a news release, prepare informal talking points for yourself which answer the following questions:
This program/event goes to the heart of our library’s mission by____________.
This program/event is very timely because________________.
This program/event is unique because_______________.
This program/event will have a positive impact by_____________
(If you can’t answer these questions when you pose them to yourself, how will you respond to a reporter?)
Make the reporter’s job easy.
A former boss of mine always said: "reporters are lazy." If you are having a program or event at your library that you want featured, take the time to put together a simple media advisory. In a very brief paragraph, explain the ‘Who,’ ‘What,’ and ‘Why.’ Also, be sure to include and prominently highlight with bolded, underlined text, the date, time and location of the event. Include your contact information. If the advisory is well written, the reporter may not even call and just print your text verbatim.
Know to whom to fax or email your advisory. (Ideally, these are people you have already met in person.) If you are faxing, print (hand-write) the name of the media contact at the top of the page.
Avoid embarrassing errors: Read the final draft of your advisory or press release no less than 10 times before you send it. What you are looking for is confidence that the document is error free. Consult your AP Stylebook and Libel Manual often.
Make your library known as a repository of experts.
Encourage your staff to be visible in the community through public appearances at schools, seminars or discussion-type events. The next time a reporter is seeking out an expert in literature, history, science or technology he may skip the local University professor and opt for instead to consult “Bob” at the library. While you should be careful not to extend your “experts” beyond their capacity to answer questions, you know that if they can’t answer directly, they will always know where the answer can be found!
Don’t forget the bloggers!
In our community mommy bloggers are a powerhouse. We are currently planning to hold a special event just for them to meet our director and learn more about how our staff and our collection can be of help. Homework Help Centers!
What to do with all that good news?
Especially in the age of social networking and online media, the value of your good news can extend well beyond its initial run in the daily newspaper or on the 6 p.m. news.
1. Clip and catalog your prize articles carefully.
2. Create a news section on your website. Write your own headline and hyperlink to the original sources online at the TV, Radio or Newspaper websites. Use your facebook and twitter accounts in much the same ways.
3. Keep the content fresh and check those hyperlinks often to make sure the news agencies haven’t rendered the links inactive.
At our library we don’t issue press releases, we rely almost exclusively on our media relations. So on our site we post the results of our work, not the releases themselves. A recent listserve suggests to me that this is not common in libraries.
I’ve been responsible for media relations through good times and bad. The ultimate secret is honesty and — the pivotal word — relationships. After all, reporters live and die over content, packaging that content to make it easier for them is an important part of the job.