Tools, Tips and Tricks of the Trade

Pitching and placing

Now that you have a plan, you need to dig in. Since you are planning to spend a fair amount of time with reporters, it’s helpful to know what a journalist’s life might be like and why they end up sounding curt on the phone, when they are actually on deadline. But just like all library staff don’t keep the same schedule, neither do journalists. These aren’t hard-and-fast rules, but they are situations you’re more likely to encounter.

  • 9 a.m: Daily newspaper journalists read not only newspapers but websites and other sources they get their news from. Most also attend morning editiorial meetings with editors and teamembers to discuss daily assignments .
  • 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. or so: Calls, Scheduling and arranging interviews
  • 2 p.m.: Final Interviews and writing time
  • 3 p.m.: Editors start wanting finished copy.

What should you take from this?

  • While your schedule may be best suited for calling daily newspaper journalists around 4:30 or 5, the best time to call them is generally from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
  • Weekly journalists work much the same, but their deadline is generally on a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday. Find out which day the weekly journalists have to file by and try not to call them on that day, or the day before.

TV and radio producers work a lot like daily newspaper journalists, but their schedules vary, depending ontheir programming schedules.. You would be surprised how much of a live show does not come together until seconds before it is aired.

  • Morning shows generally have producers running as soon as they get to work, generally as early at 4:30 a.m.
  • Try to avoid calling a producer two hours before a show is scheduled to start (one hour for a radio program) and for the hour afterwards.
  • If a morning show ends at 9 a.m., producers are generally open to talking after 10 A.M. If an evening show doesn’t start until 5 p.m., you will probably be able to reach your producer in the late morning.

Now that you have a plan including a time line – and you know a little about the people you are going to pitch, you can start thinking about what types of listings and pieces you would like to come to fruition. This begins with ongoing research as you create and/or update your media list. Lists are the backbone of your media work and should be kept up-to-date since journalists change jobs often and lists become outdated quickly. If you are in regular contact with journalists, make changes as you hear of them so that the list is fresh. Before you go to the lists found on the Internet and from other sources, think about your personal list. This is an ongoing process. Here are a couple of ways to start:

  1. Envision the stories and media placements results you would like to see. Read through the information below to understand the kind of placements you might want. Keep track of the names of reporters and writers who you see covering these issues – and then contact them to cover your story.
  2. Continually collect names of local and regional media contacts. This includes newspapers (dailies, weeklies, monthlies, etc.,) radio, cable and television stations and programming and Internet sources from websites, to blogs to chat rooms. Consider keeping a notebook, or a database of newswriters and reporters to approach.
  3. Keep a short media “Key Contacts” list right by your phone. If you have the names, phone numbers, email addresses, and fax numbers of the key reporters and news directors, sympathetic columnists, and others – they’ll be accessible when you need to reach them quickly for breaking news.
  4. Remember to go to Spanish-speaking media. If you are looking to reach the Hispanic families in your community, go to the Spanish-speaking media outlets, or community centers with your Hispanic spokespeople.

What kind of placements are you looking for?


News is a report on something timely that just happened or will happen soon. This would include an expansion of your library or the receipt of a grant or large donation. Announcing an upcoming event is not as likely to be covered as a news story.

  • TV and Cable: Look closely at the program line-up for the station—there might be a public affairs show such as “Meet the Leaders” or “What’s New?” and you can invite the chair of your Board of Trustees to appear with your Executive Director.
  • Radio. Know and listen to all your local stations. Radio news is becoming less and less local, but it may still be possible for you to get coverage if you have actual news about budgets or groundbreaking changes at the library. Keep in mind the newscaster will usually have to tell your story in 10 to 15 seconds (around thirty to forty words) unless it’s a feature.
  • Internet. Most national and local news sites have their own website, and plenty of us turn to the Web when we miss the local news. (In fact, some studies estimate that up to half of people in their 20s and 30s used the Internet as their primary source of news.) Does that mean everything on ABC World News Tonight will also be on No. And everything on doesn’t make it onto CNN either. Internet sites also carry news that isn’t covered in print. The same is probably true for your local station, as well. Some news sites are only on the Web. This can include national sites like or, as well as local sites like, a site focusing on local politics, in this case New York City. You must contact these sites individually, and generally their contact information is available on their website. In some cases, these sites are listed in Bacon’s. Keep in mind that others get their news on the Internet from blogs and electronic discussion lists and even through forwarded emails.
  • Wires. Wires are independent news organizations that provide dispatches to multiple papers or broadcast organizations. Common services include the Associated Press (AP) and Thomson Reuters.. Many daily newspapers are owned by companies with wires (for example, the Chicago Tribune/Tribune co.), so that an article that appears in the Chicago Tribune also may be picked up in a dozen other papers that subscribe to Tribune content. .. Similarly, your local paper may subscribe to one or more wire services. If so, you will notice this at the very beginning or end of an article. Always include wires in your outreach.


  • Print features: These tend to feature a particular person (an outstanding volunteer, for example) or issue (literacy) and are not necessarily driven by something timely. Feature stories are sometimes called “evergreen” because they can sit unpublished in the hopper for many moons. Once interest has been established, you may have to push the reporter to publish it. Notice how features writers publish fewer stories than news reporters and aren’t seen as frequently. They may be found in special sections as opposed to every day.
  • TV features: Watch your local news to find out about their daily or weekly features. Perhaps once a week, they feature a “neighbor” or a person “making a difference in the community.” Consider contacting the producer of that segment and ask them to feature one of your library’s staff, a dedicated volunteer, or an intriguing patron. Features also can include the darker side of library news. Perhaps the paint is peeling away on a wall in the children’s reading room. A local anchor and his or her cameraperson may be interested in shooting footage and interviewing you about the problem. In most cases, you would not pitch this story to producers. They may come to you. Before cameras arrive, you need to figure out your message and what your spokesperson can say on camera to assure the community that the problem will be fixed.
  • Talk Radio. There are local, regional, and national radio shows. These programs usually discuss issues, not events; hence, they are considered features. Perhaps your library was active in opposing the PATRIOT Act or fighting budget cuts. You or one of your library’s representatives might be a guest on a show to discuss one of these issues. Tailor your pitch to the particular venue. If the station’s audience is in your area specifically, know the effects or potential effects in your area.
  • Public Service Announcements (PSAs). Public service announcements are free ads made available to nonprofits as a community service. The announcements are submitted by you and published or aired by newspapers, magazines, radio stations, internet sites free of charge. Deadlines are often three to four weeks ahead of airdates.

    Radio announcements are generally 30 seconds in length (about 75 words) but may be shorter. When they do run, it is generally not during peak listening time. Most PSAs are 15 or 30 seconds, roughly between 35 and 75 words. Each digit in a phone number, which for broadcasts is best repeated twice, counts as a word, and include your Web address. If a radio station commits to sponsor your event or activity, they will definitely include your PSAs more frequently.

    Community newspapers and local radio stations are ideal targets for print PSAs although unlike paid ads, they are not guaranteed to run. When they do, they are free ways to reach larger audiences when you don’t have an advertising budget. PSAs are intended to provide information, and are inappropriate for “calls to action.”

PSA wordcount key:

10 second 20-25 words

15 second: 30-35 words

20 second: 40-50 words

30 second: 60-75 words

  • Listings/ Community Calendars. You might ask a paper, radio station, local TV or cable network if they have a place you can list an upcoming event or announce something the public needs to know, such as a change in library hours. These can be called listings and community calendars and may even have a Web link. Check the outlet carefully to read or hear the directions for submitting information. Be sure to take note of deadlines, formats and criteria.
  • Wire Services. Wire Services should not be confused with wires (such as the Associated Press). Wire services are services that allow you to pay to post your press releases and then mass distribute the releases to hundreds of journalists. It’s a good way to get out national news to hundreds of outlets at a time—but it’s less effective for local news.

How to research, build and organize your list

Most publicists organize their lists by outlet type (e.g., print, radio, TV, and the Internet) then alphabetically, by outlet, broadcast show, or print section; and then by journalist. In addition to the regular contact information—address, phone, fax number, email address, beat, and deadline—you may want to include comments about your last interaction with the journalist or recent stories he or she wrote (for example, “Wrote about our 2006 summer reading program.”).

Make sure you have the correct names of daytime, evening, and weekend staff at both print and broadcast outlets if they differ—and cell phone numbers, if you can get them.

Consider asking volunteers, Friends, or support staff to update portions of your media list several times a year, even as you input individual changes. It’s best to do this well in advance of a planned distribution, when you’re much less likely to get the email address, zip code, or name wrong. Be sure your lists include the correct job title and the spelling of a journalist’s name. Sending a news release to CITY EDITOR is like sending a piece of personal mail to OCCUPANT. It is likely to end up in the trash, or in a SPAM file. As with other data, it is essential to keep backup copies of your data.

Common databases such as Microsoft Access, Excel, or Filemaker might be good formats to use for your lists. Make sure that the program can print out labels, or call lists with the information you desire.

Adding to your list using media guides

Consider consulting any of the following media guides:

  • CISIONPOINT® (Newspaper, Magazine, Television/Cable, Radio, Internet, News Services and Syndicates)Is a Webdatabase that is updated daily. Formally known as Bacon’s Information, Cision, which lists itself as the leading global provider of media research, distribution, monitoring and evaluation services with over 40 locations throughout the world. This is a great online resource. Contains detailed, updated journalist profiles, and information about individual outlets and shows – and also includes a robust editorial calendar feature. Contact: Cision US, 332 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL 60604,, Phone: 866.639.5087.
  • FINDERBINDER News Media Directories—Published annually. A detailed information and rate directory covering media services in selected metropolitan and state areas mostly in the west and in Florida. Also Hispanic and African American media listings. Contact: Finderbinder News Media Directories News Media Directories National Support Center, 5173 Waring Road #8, San Diego, CA 92120, ph: (619)582-8500 fax: (619)582-3396, toll free: (800) 255-2575
  • GEBBIE PRESS: The All-in-One-Directory—Published annually. Directory listing all United States newspapers, TV, radio, magazines, Black and Hispanic media, syndicates, and networks in print, disk, or CD-ROM. Contact: Gebbie Press, PO Box 1000, New Paltz, NY 12561, (845) 255-7560,
  • LEADERSHIP DIRECTORIES: NEWS MEDIA YELLOW BOOK—Updated quarterly. A quick guide to Who’s Who among reporters, writers, editors, and producers in the leading national news media. It contains an extensive listing of journalists by title and assignment and provides contact information to reach the leaders of major United States government, business, professional, and nonprofit organizations. The Media Yellow Book is also available online and on CD-ROM. Contact: Leadership Directories Inc., 104 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10011, (212) 627-4140
  • MM Performa: Formerly called MediaMap, this online database is now part of Cision. See above.

Building supplementary Lists

Should you buy advertising space or find free space?

Ads vs. free space. When you pay for an ad, it is guaranteed to run; calendar listings and public service announcements are not. Paid advertising actually may be a very inexpensive way to get the word out about a specific program, and you can build it into your budget when appropriate and cost effective. In fact, some media outlets offer nonprofit rates that can be affordable. If you DO decide to place a paid advertisement, you may need to provide camera-ready graphics or they will do the layout for you at a cost. Whichever you decide is right for you, create and keep these lists separate from your regular media lists.

Do you have official sponsors?

Did you ever consider bringing on media sponsors for events and activities? If not, consider reaching out far in advance of a planned program to appropriate stations, Internet sites or print publications that reaches one or more of your designated audiences. Your list will probably not consist of the news or feature teams, but a community affairs director or public relations office. Try to build a relationship with them and then after they have become more familiar with how you benefit the community, invite them to sponsor an event. If they do, other stations may not cover the event, but you may just get the visibility and support you need. Additionally, dedicated sponsors will hopefully deepen their commitment and involvement over time. Once you have a track record, they may offer their news anchors or station celebrities as hosts or emcees for events, and you may get great coverage on at least the sponsoring station, rather than a media bust.

What about community groups?

This list might include local Parent-Teacher Associations, a Rotary Club, religious organizations, or school boards. Speaking engagements, library tours, or exhibits can be an effective way of reaching key audiences who share particular interests or concerns. You can also create a one-time or ongoing partnership with a community group. For example, if your audience is children and/or teachers, try to arrange for one of your library representatives to visit local schools to talk about the library benefits, programs and activities. This will give you access to teachers, students and, by extension, their parents. It will put a face on their library—and a personal connection.

Don’t forget decision-makers

Many staff and board develop relationships with opinion leaders, elected officials, and their staffs. These lists can be cultivated over time through personal, one-on-one contact, but many times a first introduction is in the form of a letter or brochure. Once you become familiar with their offices, you may find that phone calls are appropriate and more effective than email. Keep track of their preferences. After you’ve made that first contact, it is essential to follow up with a phone call or visit. When you DO speak or meet, let your elected official know how many of his or her constituents support and use your library. In any case, when you do write or speak to your legislator, do so from the heart. Avoid clichés and try to be brief.

Media events, news conferences and press briefings

Below are several types of events/campaigns that can be planned for visibility purposes:

Guest speaker or seminar: If your library is hosting a guest speaker or an evening event and your mission is to get the word out, determine what media you will use, their deadlines and best times for them to attend events, and fashion your time line accordingly.

A ballot initiative or referendum: Perhaps a referendum concerning your library is on the ballot. If so, plan as far ahead as possible. While you might not take action immediately, planning ahead will give you the option. Create a flexible time line that includes specific goals along the way. When do you want letters to the editor to appear in your local paper? Should you or one of your representatives talk to the editorial board of your paper? If so, when?

Closer to Election Day, your time line might be choreographed quite tightly. For example, the night before the election, a predetermined number of supporters receive phone calls and emails reminding them to vote the next day. Then, on Election Day, be sure to call or email them to ask them to vote—turning out your voters will be a key to your success. Someone from your library will need to spearhead this effort by organizing a phone tree or scheduling the volunteer callers and lists of callees. You also need to plan and coordinate the email blast.

Be sure to note who is responsible for taking each step along the way and for monitoring progress. Provide your staff or volunteers with tools to meet their goals, such as telephones and a list of supporters with directions on how to keep track of responses. Have a substitute in place in case someone becomes unavailable.

News conferences

First, ask yourself if the topic is worth a news conference or is a press release sufficient?

  • Is your topic newsworthy, or is it merely noteworthy? Newsworthy information can carry an entire dinner conversation; noteworthy information can only carry on for a minute or two.
  • Do you have video component for TV, graphics/charts, or a celebrity or personality?
  • What will you gain from a question-and-answer format?
  • Could an event (for example, a TV crew on a tour of the library) convey your story better?

If you decide to go ahead, here are some tips:

Choose a convenient time:

  • Try to avoid conflicts with other big events by:
  • Looking at schedules in your local paper.
  • Surfing online for upcoming events.
  • Asking friends in media re: conflicts.
  • Best times
  • 10 a.m.– noon for all press
  • Weekends are often good since “news hole” exists with less competition—but fewer crews and journalists are available, so your event must be newsworthy.

Choose an accessible location: Your site should be:

  • Familiar to media;
  • Connected to your topic—such as in the library online room for a technology event; and
  • Easy to get cameras into and, when possible, wheelchair accessible
  • If the location isn’t yours, make sure you get any needed permission in writing beforehand.

Contacting the media

  • Send an initial notice, save the date or advisory
  • Draft
  • Send/fax and email major news directors, assignment editors, wire services, etc., one week to three days in advance of news conference.
  • Also send to individuals who have covered the topic or related news conferences.
  • Call assignment editors, metro editors, city desk editors and radio news directors an hour before your event to check on attendance. ● If you are in the state capital or major city, go to the state House or city hall press room and talk to journalists to deliver your materials in person.
  • Offer to provide phone interviews or voice feeds for those who can’t attend.

Planning the actual news conference


  • Draft a press release to go in the press packet summarizing news with key quotes and contact names.
  • Plan to have appropriate background materials, such as event press release, fact sheets and brochures for attendees to take with them.
  • Plan to use a colorful banner or poster behind the podium that has a logo or message pertaining to the subject of the press conference. Have a banner for the podium with your library logo. The best signage is non reflective, so investigate using cavas banners.


  • Plan on no more than four speakers.
  • Keep it short (Total time should be NO LONGER THAN 15 minutes) and to one point. Speakers who are succinct will have their key sound bite recorded and more likely to make the news.
  • Brief all speakers beforehand (initially by phone and, if possible, in a group prior to the press conference). Talk to them about time, focus and likely questions.
  • Choose someone to do introductions, direct questions, and end the news conference.

Room setup

Work with site hosting the event to ensure you have the necessary room setup items. These may include:

  • Sign-in table outside or immediately inside the room.
  • Table to place background materials.
  • Easels for posters or charts.
  • Place to hang library banner.
  • Podium or table with podium for speakers.
  • Proper or desired type of microphones, one for speaker and others for Q&A.
  • Some may prefer lavalier microphones that clip onto clothing.
  • Mult-box: this is an audio unit that radio and television stations can hook their audio plugs into so that the sound comes directly from the podium microphone. In cases of breaking stories—where you want to see a lot of microphones at the podium—it’s best not to ask for mults, just have media tape their microphones to the podium mike.

The event

  • Distribute the press kit with the release.
  • Distribute at same time to state House or city hall media if at legislature.
  • Have back-up documentation, photos, and statistics available to help in answering questions.
  • Take attendance at a sign-in table. Note who asked sympathetic questions during the news conference. Write down unanswered or poorly answered questions.
  • Ask reporters if they would like to do one-on-one interviews for more in-depth coverage.


  • When the news conference ends, call people who said they would attend and did not to set up phone or in-person interviews or another way for them to get the story.
  • Fax, email, or get releases to key outlets that didn’t attend and may be interested.
  • Get back to anyone who asked an unanswered question at the news conference.
  • Fax and email releases to weeklies or others who normally don’t send people to cover events.
  • Monitor press coverage—possibly use clipping service and distribute best clips online to an electronic discussion list, etc.
  • Thank those who covered well—supportive criticism also is appropriate.
  • Incorporate any new names, email addresses, phone, or fax numbers into press list.
  • Review entire event to determine what went right and wrong. Learn from experience!

Media Briefings

When you don’t have breaking news, but you have new and exciting information to share and discuss with a group of media, you may consider holding a media briefing or a media breakfast. This would include a few researchers, volunteers, and/or spokespeople and five to 15 media people who are very interested in your issue.

The only caveat with such a planned event is that media schedules are very fickle and outlets are suffering from limited resources—so only consider this type of event if you know a critical mass of your media contacts would be interested. For every two journalists who say they’ll attend, expect one to cancel due to last-minute priorities.

Media Tours

Media tours are a series of meeting with media professionals from generally geographically diverse areas. They are mostly used by national organizations that want to reach the local public, and will strategically choose cities to meet with individual reporters. The goal is usually to generate many articles with local angles.

One-on-One Media Visits

Nothing beats face-to-face contact. It’s easier to convey any message in person than it is over the phone, or by just email. But these meetings are often the hardest to get. As media professionals’ jobs become even more demanding, they have less time to spend in face-to-face interviews. However, when working with journalists, especially journalists who you expect will cover multiple stories about you or your library, in-person meetings are invaluable. Try to set them three to four weeks in advance, then confirm the day before.

Phone Pitching

Calling the media on the phone is one of the most important aspects of media outreach, but many times is the first thing that drops off your list when you’re busy. Think about carving out a set amount of time each day all year round to contact and develop relationships with media who will be able to deliver when you need to get some visibility for your programs and services.

The importance of following up after you have made an initial contact cannot be overstated. You may have to contact a journalist/editor/producer several times and each time remind him or her why you are calling each time. If you depend on your media contact to call or email you back, you will have limited success. Don’t be afraid to be persistent, but respect his or her wishes if the person you contact insists that he or she “doesn’t cover that” or is “not the person to contact.” In that case, feel free to ask him or her for a recommendation for whom you might contact.

● CREATE AND PRACTICE THE PITCH. In order to ensure as much success as possible for your media event, activity or story, it’s helpful to write and then keep a phone pitch in front of you while talking to media on the phone. Think about the event you are trying to get coverage for and create a short description of the most important points you want to convey to the journalist. If you are nervous or haven’t done much pitching before, take some time out and practice your phone pitch with a co-worker or friend. The more you say it out loud, the more comfortable you will feel when it is time to speak with the media.

● CONSIDER DIFFERENT ANGLES. Make sure you have thought about different angles to offer the journalist. To be safe, practice two or three different ideas.

● PITCH THE RIGHT PERSON. Most importantly, you want to make sure that you are talking to the appropriate person. If you want a photographer to attend your event, make sure you are calling someone from the photo desk, not the technology desk. If you get in touch with someone who doesn’t cover that beat any longer, ask if they know of anyone else in the department that you could speak with.


Proceed with your pitch. Have a media advisory and other materials ready to go. Often the person you are speaking with will ask you to email or fax the information to them. It’s ok if you don’t have all the answers to their questions. BUT, make sure to write down the questions they ask and get their phone number [if you didn’t call directly] or email address and a good time and way for you to convey the right information. Be sure to follow up if you send them info.

● KEEP A PHONE LOG OF ALL YOUR CALLS. Mark down what day you called and whether or not you left a message or sent information over. This will come in handy when you are making your second or third round of calls.

Granting an Exclusive

What’s an exclusive? You’ve probably heard about “exclusives” or “scoops” in the news business, but what is one and how can you use them? An exclusive is when one media organization, such as a newspaper, is able to publish a news story with information that no one else has. News organizations love exclusive because it forces people to buy their paper or tune in to their station for news they can’t get anywhere else. An exclusive could be beneficial because news organizations generally give exclusives more space, and other news organizations will be scrambling to cover what they missed.Where can it work? If you’re a library in a two-newspaper town, like Seattle or Miami, you’ve probably heard a lot about competition between the papers. You’re in an ideal situation to give an exclusive.

When can it work? If you have newsworthy information that’s not yet public and you’re the only source that can (or will) make it public, consider giving an exclusive. The times exclusives are particularly helpful are:

  • You’re afraid the story might get buried; or
  • You want to build a stronger relationship with a journalist.

How is it done? What are you looking for?

  • Approach a journalist you trust or with whom you want to build a stronger relationship.
  • When weighing giving an exclusive, you should find out what you get in return for the exclusive. Front-page coverage? Top of the evening news? Guaranteed coverage of your pet project in a few weeks? If the deal is good enough, go ahead. But be careful not to overuse exclusives.
  • When you begin discussing the story, tell the journalist you’d like to offer an exclusive. If it interests him or her, try to get a confirmation that their editor or executive producer has committed to covering the story. If you’ve worked with the journalist many times, a verbal yes is all you’ll need; otherwise, ask for a short email to confirm.

What’s your obligation? You absolutely cannot tell another journalist about the news until that journalist’s piece is public.

What about the journalist? Conversely, a journalist may discover some news, or for other reasons, ask you for an exclusive. You’re not obligated to do so. Besides, if the news is big enough, why only let one media outlet cover the piece when you could have two—or six—outlets covering it.

There are many benefits to exclusives, but please keep in mind that such a practice can create barriers with other press members. Other news organizations may be put off by you offering an exclusive to their competitor.