A well-written, succinct and effective media advisory, news release or pitch letter can inform and also generate interest and excitement about your event, campaign, or happening. Materials can be used both to entice the media and constitute your press kit. In many cases, media will want factual pieces before they commit to reporting on your event, activity or issue. It may be as simple as emailing them an electronic press kit. A nicely organized, clean-cut press kit can be distributed to media at the planned event and should include both general items and those specific to your purpose.
The press now expects to be able to access your materials at any time. If you create an online press room with up-to-date electronic press kits, you won’t be caught empty handed. This should be very accessible to media—preferably a click on your home page. If you don’t already have one, here are some hints:
At a minimum, your online pressroom should contain contact information (phone, fax, email) for your communications staff member.
Also consider posting and archiving:
- Every press release you issue;
- Downloadable artwork, logos and photos.
- Feature library videos or podcasts
- Fact sheets about your library (how many books are there, how many staff, etc.);
- Bios and photos of your director, board members and key staff;
- Photos of the library;
- Media stories you have generated; and
- Information about upcoming events or legislation that is affecting the library.
Fact sheets and backgrounders
You can create a series of standard fact sheets and backgrounders to use over the long term, whether for a year or until the facts and details change. These can include general information or specific programs for children or adult services – or your capital campaign. The fact sheet is typically bulleted facts and statistics; the backgrounder is typically a short narrative. Make each of them brief but informational, and make sure they support your position. For example, if you are trying to enlist support for a local ballot initiative for funding, come up with a fact such as “the annual cost an average property owner will pay in taxes to support the library is the equivalent of a Happy Meal or two movie tickets a year.” And, the fact sheet will help dispel myths or inaccuracies that your opposition may spread. Feel free to distribute general fact sheets and backgrounders to both press and supporters. Your supporters can use the content to become informal spokespersons for your library.
A Quotable Facts about Libraries brochure is available in both English and Spanish for your use:
Quotable Facts about Libraries (PDF)
Datos citables acerca de las bibliotecas de los Estados Unidos (PDF)
A media advisory alerts the media, in a concise manner, to upcoming events and developments pertinent to your library and community. Think of it like an invitation and answer only the important questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
- It should be brief and to the point, typically not more than one page.
- Many reporters cut and paste information from advisories, so to increase your chances for publication please make certain that your materials follow AP Style guidelines.
- It should contain a headline detailing the most important information.
- It should include the five Ws mentioned above. The When should say, “For…” and the date the press should take notice.
- It should include two contact numbers or email addresses. The first for reporters to call to get more information and the second, the contact information to be published if the advisory is for a listing.
- It should include a boilerplate, which is basically a brief description of your library, located at the end of the advisory. If there is only a little room left for this, you can shrink the type size of this paragraph.
**Do not send email materials to reporters as attachements, usless the reporter requests you to do so. **
A news release has a different purpose from a media advisory. It should read like an article, with quotes and facts, to stimulate possible pick-up by small papers and to generate print and broadcast reports at larger outlets. Where a media advisory offers basic information to entice reporters, a news release creates an image and story that journalists can use alone or as background when writing a story.
Many reporters cut and paste information from press releases, so to increase your chances for publication please make certain that your materials follow AP Style guidelines. Also materials should include an inverted pyramid style of newswriting—with a headline and the most important information at the top.
Include quotes from spokespeople.
Use your library’s letterhead when faxing, mailing, or using press releases within event press kits.
The length of your release should not exceed more than 2 pages.
The Format of a News Release
- At the top left side of the page write NEWS.
- Underneath write For Immediate Release and under that write the date.
- At the top right side of the page include your contact information.
- Type ### or -30- at the end of your release to indicate the end of copy.
- Be sure to print out the release on your letterhead, and if longer than one page include (more) at the bottom of page one. Page two should have “page 2” and the release title in the top left-hand corner.
Pitch letters are short introductions to a story. They serve as teasers that can be used to pique a journalist’s interest. Pitch letters should explain why you want them to cover this story, why they need to read this press release, why they really need to interview you about this topic. Unlike press releases or media advisories, there are no hard-and-fast rules for pitch letters. Many are rather formal letters, others are tongue-in-cheek, such as “Top 10 Reasons You Should . . .” If you are pitching profiles of key volunteers, include a short list of three individuals with a sentence about each. When mailing pitch letter factual materials such as backgrounders, Q&A’s, and bios may be included. Do not send support materials when emailing pitch letters to press members. Email attachments should only be sent upon request. Pitch letters must be short—absolutely no more than a page—and it’s best to keep in mind that their intent is not to give the full picture, but an interesting glimpse.
Q&A or FAQ
A Question and Answer or Frequently Asked Questions sheet is a place where you can both create and answer questions about a specific topic. Try to create Q&As to answer some of the questions you think journalists might ask. If you have a new executive director, this could take the form of an interview.
Letters to the editor
These are short, time-sensitive letters written by the public that the paper can select to print and sometimes edit at its discretion. The letter may be a comment from your library director, your board chair, a volunteer, or a supporter in reaction to an article in the paper or even a political issue in your community. Your newspaper will have specific guidelines for submitting one. If you or another member of your staff submits one, be sure to identify your affiliation with the library. Note: Letters to the editor can usually be submitted by email and are best if submitted within 24 hours of the appearance of the original comments – just check with the paper. If mailed or faxed, submit on your stationery. In all cases submit with a phone number to reach you so they can verify your identity and get approval for any edits. In most cases, they should not exceed 250 words, but some outlets only take as few as 100 words or even more than 250. Read examples to see what your paper runs.
Op-eds (stands for opposite the editorial page) provide a place in papers, some magazines, television and radio commentaries, for readers to express their views. A good strategy is to be a contrarian, be timely and present evidence to make your point. Before writing, consider: Will this help the cause? Has the idea been overdone? Can you add a new perspective? New evidence? New solution? Are you an authority?
- It is generally wise to call the editor of the op-ed or editorial page and explain your idea briefly as well as your affiliation with the library.
- Think about who might be the best author(s).
- Most op-eds are short pieces of 500 to 2,000 words, or 400 words for radio, but you should contact the publication to ask about length.
- You can turn a print op-ed into a radio commentary by shortening it and then submitting it to a station that accepts them. Your local NPR or Marketplace might be perfect.
- Read it out loud to make sure it’s suitable for a listening audience.
- When submitting your op-ed, include a proposed headline. Don’t be surprised if the headline changes or the editor makes minor edits to your piece.
- Op-eds are viewed as exclusives and once placed should not be offered to other publications.
Newsletters and other internal items such as annual reports, brochures and calendars can be distributed to media as part of a press kit. They give journalists valuable information about the ‘happenings’ and ‘highlights’ and help to spread the word about your library.
These are opinion pieces in all types of media written by one or more members of your newspaper’s editorial board that reflect the opinion of the publication. One of the ways to influence an editorial board is to schedule an editorial board meeting, which is outlined in the Library Advocates Handbook (page 10.) Editorial board meetings can be ideal when you either believe the newspaper could editorialize on an issue you’re facing (like budget cuts) or when you believe the board will write in your favor. If you’re facing a local newspaper that has been historically against your causes, this may not be the best tactic.
A photo-op (or photo opportunity) is any situation that would yield a good photo in the newspaper or on TV or Internet. It’s always a good idea to have a designated photographer at your event so that if the news photo desks don’t show up, you can try to submit them to news organizations as soon as the event is complete.
Photo ops provide you with an opportunity to get attention for your activities when there isn’t a big news story involved. They work best when they’re appealing for a quirky or sentimental reason. Photo ops of kids are often effective. One unusual example is when a local school had a contest to raise money. The principal promised he would kiss a pig if the students were able to raise a certain amount. Of course, they did raise enough money, and the photo of the principal and the pig made all the papers.
- Plan your photo-op with photos in mind. Have a library sign very visibly displayed. The Campaign for America’s Libraries has a super-sized library card available on its website. Ask participants to dress colorfully in case of color photos.
- When planning a photo-op, make sure that you include a VISUALS section in your media advisory to describe exactly what will be available for media to cover. Include directions to the site and phone numbers that will be staffed.
- Make sure your media list contains the photo desks to contact that can cover your event or arrange for coverage.
- Start your calls a few days before the day of the event. Most people will want the information sent to them the day before. You might have to make calls the morning of the event as well to confirm that the photographer knows the correct location and time.
Also several news websites provide vistors with the opportunity to upload event photos.
Video or radio news release
(VNRs or RNRs). You may want to issue a press release as a taped message for either television or radio. These can be created as if you were a news producer, and you may consider hiring a production company to help you create them. Once produced, you can send them to stations as news. This is typically more costly and time-consuming than a print release, but if you find donated services and your local stations will consider your submission, it may be a great way to place a story.