Consider the following when identifying opportunities to get your message out:
Advertising/ Community publications/ Editorials/ Feature stories/ Letters to the Editor/ Media advisory/ News conference/
News release/ Op-eds/ Public Service Announcements/ Radio & TV Talk shows/ Story pitch
If funds permit, do what commercial advertisers do: buy space or time in your local media. It’s hard to ignore a full-page ad or an announcement that is broadcast repeatedly over a number of days. Paid advertising allows you to control the placement and timing of your message, which may be critical in cases such as an election. Friends of the Library, a business or other partner may underwrite the cost.
Consider where your target audiences get their information. Ask your partner organizations if they would be willing to carry news or feature articles about the library in their newsletters or magazines. Offer to supply articles for legislators' district newsletters, the campus newspaper, alumni magazine, PTA and other publications.
Endorsements from influential newspapers can be powerful both with officials and voters. To seek an endorsement, you may request a meeting with the editorial board of your newspaper. The editorial board generally consists of the editorial page editor and other key staff. See the paper’s Web site for contact information. These meetings—usually about an hour—are an opportunity for you to make the case for support and to answer questions. You will want to take two or three of your most articulate and influential advocates, fact sheets and other briefing materials. Be prepared to make a brief—about 15-minutes—presentation and to answer difficult questions. Some radio and TV stations make endorsements too.
Feature stories do not have a strong time element. These are generally longer than new stories and can explore an issue in more depth. Feature stories might profile noteworthy people or report on the local impact of a national trend or issue, e.g. shrinking tax dollars. Watch for national news stories on topics such as literacy or censorship that you can tie into. National observances such as National Library Week may sometimes spur a feature story on the library. See Sample Feature Story.
Letters to the editor
Writing a letter to the editor is an easy way to show your support. Most newspapers and some electronic outlets carry letters to the editor as a way for their readers/listeners to voice their views on items in the news. For example, if your library has a referendum coming up, you may wish to write a letter-to-the-editor saying why you think it is in the community’s best interest. If the library is being unfairly targeted for cuts, you may ask members of the board or Friends to write letters expressing their concern. Check the paper or Web site for guidelines.
Send an advisory well in advance to alert news/assignment editors to events or developments of wide interest. The media advisory can be a simple outline highlighting the 5W’s (Who, What, Where, When, Why—How), availability of spokespeople, photo opportunities and contact information—no more than one page. Follow up with a phone call or e-mail to request coverage and to answer any questions.
You may wish to hold a news conference or briefing but only if you have an announcement of such magnitude or urgency that it is best released all at once to all media. This is rarely the case. Exceptions might be the immediate and unexpected closing of a library, announcement of a major fundraising campaign, a ballot referendum or a policy change with major impact. Make sure your spokespeople are to answer both the obvious and more difficult questions and have handouts ready.
A release should have the most critical information in the first paragraph with facts of lesser importance in descending order. It should be concise—no more than 2 pages—and include the name of a contact, telephone and/or e-mail. Be sure to cover the 5W’s. You will want to have a contact person(s) at each media outlet. These contacts may be different for different topics. You will want to know guidelines, deadlines and whether it is best to mail, fax, or e-mail copy. Most publications and stations post this information on their Web sites. Be sure to mention photo opportunities, especially for television. Some smaller newspapers may accept photos that you submit.
Op-eds are guest columns that appear opposite a newspaper’s editorials. Clearly representing the viewpoint of the writer, the op-ed is an opportunity to get your message before a larger audience. While library staff may help draft the piece, it is often better to have it submitted by the board president, faculty member or other respected figure. Check the publication or its Web site for word length (usually around 700 words) and other submission guidelines. Be sure to include your name, affiliation and contact information. Send copies of the published piece to those you are seeking to influence—elected officials, the college president or school board. Some radio and TV stations also will air guest opinions. Check the Web site or call the news or public affairs director for information.
Public Service Announcements (PSAs)
Most radio and TV stations air community calendars and/or public service announcements free of charge for nonprofit community groups. These messages generally focus on events or announcements of wide community interest. They are run at the discretion of the station when free airtime is available, which is usually not during prime time. The spots run around 30 seconds (75 words) but may be shorter. Target your message. Don’t bother sending an announcement geared to seniors to the local rock station. Be sure to include contact information. Check the station’s Web site for guidelines.
Radio/TV talk shows
Talk shows producers are often looking for guest speakers to interview on topical subjects, e.g. "Beyond the Web"/"What the Internet can and can’t do." Or "It’s Critical to Your Child’s Education—and It’s not their Teacher." Send a letter or e-mail proposing your topic, its relevance to their audience and the qualifications of the guest you are proposing. Follow up with a phone call. Make sure your spokesperson is comfortable with the broadcast media (see "In front of the microphone"), understands the nature of the program, is prepared to adapt the message for a particular audience and can answer any difficult questions. When you listen to talk shows, look for opportunities to bring libraries into the discussion.
Pitching a story simply means suggesting or "selling" a story idea. Journalists are always on the lookout for stories, but they are also bombarded with suggestions. If you know an assignment editor or reporter, simply pick up the phone and call. When sending an e-mail, be sure to include an attention-getting subject line. In either case, be brief. Focus on what is unique or newsworthy. It may help to generate media interest if your story is tied to an issue in the news or a national observance such as National Library Week or School Library Media Month.