An effective relationship with the press is a low cost way to counteract expensive industry campaigns and misinformation. The press can help you broaden awareness of your issue, or publicize the activities of your group, helping you build membership and political influence. Use the press to get maximum exposure for your events, for your group's opinion, or for the most recent atrocity of industry or government, such as the logging of one more "last place."
A press release is a news story. Reporters are very busy, so you should try to do most of the work for them. If your press release is well written, a reporter might use much of it verbatim. The more work you do, the more likely it is that your story will get placed. Prepared sound and video footage can help you get your story on the radio or TV.
Try to think of the "hard news" angle. Ask yourself if your story is really news. Include the "Five W’s and an H": What, Where, When, Who, Why, How. Supply your own quotes—make a statement that embodies the point you want to get across and write it into the release.
Use a bold press release letterhead that won’t get lost on the reporter’s desk, and write the words "For Immediate Release", "For Release After (date)", or "For Release on (date)," in bold type. Use the last sparingly, however, as it may reduce the chances of your piece being used.
Put the name and contact information of one or two press contacts from your own organization at the top of the release. Try not to make it the same person quoted in the body of the piece.
If your release is two pages, number the pages and put part of your headline on the top of the second page so if it gets separated from the first, it will be identifiable. Also, write, "-MORE-" on the bottom of the first page, and "-END-" at the end. Double-space the release with wide margins on one or two pages. Double spacing and wide margins allow the reporter to edit the piece quickly and give it to the layout department. For releases submitted electronically, consider including a photo.
Often a series of releases, which progressively cover an unfolding event over several days or weeks, can increase the appeal of a story in the mind of a reporter. Try to make all of your releases of top quality so that reporters will feel that they can count on you for a good interesting story, and that you aren’t wasting their time with uninteresting stories.
Because big media is not much different from entertainment, they often shy away from true controversy. Cute stories have a way of breaking through—so big media might be easier to reach if there is a funny or "down home" story that includes a dash of your "real" story—forest destruction. Older people and/or children may help you get your story across in this way. TOP
Send your press release to local, regional, and/or national press contacts, depending on the nature of your story, via email, fax or mail. You'll either need to develop your own press list), or get one from Save America's Forests or another established group.
Timing is critical to the success of your press release. If you're announcing an event that you want the reporters to cover, you should send a series of press releases as the time draws near. For example, you might send a very general announcement a month ahead of time, then one with specific information about a week in advance. Of course, if you want press to report on an event you're trying to expose, get the release out ASAP. TOP
You’ve written your press release, and emailed or faxed it to your press list. Now, get on the phone! Call everyone. Ask them if they received the release. Will they be at the event, or are they going to cover the story? Try (gently) to get them to commit and to make them more interested in the issue. Send additional information quickly if needed (press people can usually foot the bill for couriers or express mail if they need it right away).
If you get an assistant or an answering machine, leave a message —it may be your only shot. Many of them will say they never got your release, so send them another one, then call to make sure they got it this time.
If you're publicizing an event, get back on the phone the day before. Remind them about the event, and that you expect a good turn out. Ask them if they want more information. Set up a reception table for members of the press at the entrance to the event. TOP
If you are holding a rally or press conference, make a press kit with a written statement by each of the speakers that the reporters can lift directly into a story. Also, include another press release that tells the whole story about the day’s events. Include other factual and supporting materials separately in packet. You may even want to include a photo or two (one color and one black and white) -- this can be done online, since media needs digital images now. Don’t weigh down the reporters, but give them enough materials so that they can learn more if they want. Always put the most important things first. Have one person stand at the press table and hand out packets to reporters and record their names and what publications or stations they work for. Remember to send future press releases to these reporters. TOP
If possible, have one last release ready to go immediately after the event. This is important at rallies so that you can assert the true number of attendees as quickly as possible. If you passed a petition, substantiate the size of the event by saying how many signed. Email this out to your new "hot" list of reporters.
When your story hits the press, it is nice to send a thank you note to anyone who did a positive piece. If you find a negative piece, respond to it in a letter to the editor (see Letters to the Editor). Educate rather than insult the reporter. Bad press will indicate things can improve for next time. TOP
If your story is national in scope, we can help you get a nationwide press list. We also have some regional and local press contacts. You should build your own press list around the geographic area you wish to organize—neighborhood, local, regional, national. At each level there are vast possibilities to be explored. Other established groups can contribute press lists to you if you ask nicely! Be sure to update your press list with specific environmental contacts or others who you want to receive your releases directly.