Harnessing the power of the media
News releases are the most basic public relations tool you can use to convey your message through the media to the general public. The successful news release will meet the informational needs of the editors, writers, and broadcasters who may want to use the information you are offering. Reporters, editors, and broadcasters cannot be conversant with every topic, especially one as complex as aviation, so they rely on expert sources. If done properly, news releases can help establish your organizations credibility as a source of reliable, accurate, and authoritative information on aviation.
Topics for News Releases or What is News?
One dictionary defines news as "information about recent events or happenings, or new information of any kind." To judge whether an item is truly newsworthy, ask yourself, "Is this information that we didnt know or couldnt have known yesterday?
News releases can announce upcoming events, the availability of new services or publications, or the addition of new personnel to your organization. News releases also can be used by your group to comment on new developments in your area or regional or national trends. In every case, it is important to explain in the news release why the news is significant.
For organizations trying to place a story with a media outlet, the newsworthiness of a news release is in the eye of the beholder, the newspaper or magazine editor or the radio or TV producer or news director. Therefore, when drafting a news release, you need to ask yourself the following question: "Why should a media person care about this subject?"
You must make the subject interesting to those not conversant with aviation. If you are uncertain what would be of interest, consult the media guides in your local library. These reference books often contain the types of stories that each publication cover.
Better yet, call your local newspaper or TV or radio station and ask them what type of aviation stories they are looking for. Generally, emphasizing the local angle of the story is best for local media, but emphasize the regional or national significance of the news if you want wider distribution.
Unfortunately, many general-interest publications only cover aviation accidents, but others are interested in the financial or economic impact of aviationhow many jobs or how much revenue an airport generates for a community.
Broach with editors of general-interest media the possibility of using one of the members of your organization as an unpaid consultant who can speak knowledgeably and authoritatively about general aviation and airport topics.
Editors see dozens of news releases each day, so if yours is not well crafted, it could easily end up in the circular file.
Construct your news release using the "inverted pyramid" structure. You must gain the readers interest immediately, or they may not read the entire piece. Therefore, critical facts must appear at the beginning (also known as the "top" or "lead") of the story. The remainder of the news release serves to explain or amplify the main point, which should be in the first sentence or paragraph. Remember to answer the basic journalistic questions: who, what, why, where, and how.
Avoid technical termsincluding acronyms and abbreviationswhenever possible. One of the greatest challenges is to explain complex aviation concepts in terms that the general public can understand. This is especially true in accident reporting. How many times have we heard general press interpret an aerodynamic stall as the engine quitting? Work closely with editors, reporters, and broadcasters to ensure they understand aeronautical concepts.
Be objective, first presenting the basic facts and then discussing the impact of those developments by quoting authoritative sources. Try to include quotes from experts whenever possible. Reporters prefer to have quotes included in the basic news release because that eliminates the need for them to conduct follow-up interviews. When discussing controversial issues, make sure to quote people accurately. Make clear that the position stated is that of your organization and represents a specific point of view.
Format and Design
The top, or " header," of your news release should use a design that is consistent with your organizations letterhead, which means that it should include your logo and the same colors that appear in your groups other printed materials. Also, use the same typefaces.
A headline, not more than two lines long, should appear below the header. The headline should be in a bold typeface that is larger than the main text of the news release. Capital letters also can be used.
Below the headline, but above the main text of the release, include pertinent information about your organization: name, address, phone number, fax number, e-mail address, information release date (usually "For immediate release"), and the person to contact for more information about the subject. The designated spokesperson should be easy for a reporter to reach and should be able to respond quickly, concisely, and coherently to questions from the media.
The main text or body of a news release should be double-spaced, with wide margins that reporters and broadcasters can use to write notes in. More leading (space between the lines of type) enhances the readability. Keep paragraphs shortone or two sentences each. Before the first or lead paragraph include the date and place (city/state) at which the information is being released. For example, an organization based in Des Moines should include the words "Des Moines, Iowa, September 15, 1998"
If the news release is more than one page long, put the word "more" centered on a line by itself at the bottom of the first page. The second and subsequent pages should include the headline at the top of the page (below the header) and the page number.
The closing paragraph of the release should be a brief description of your organization. For example, "The 2,000-member Flying Zambian Doctors Association is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 1956 to promote the use of general aviation aircraft for medical purposes in Zambia."
At the end of the release, the word "end" should appear on a line by itself at the bottom of the page below the last line of text.
If you are going to publish news releases on a regular basis, you may want to establish a numbering system so you can easily identify an individual release in the series should an editor call seeking more information at a later date. The simplest system would be to use the year and a sequence of numbers, starting with one, in chronological order. For example, the first news release issued in 1998, could be 98-1.
Accuracy is Paramount
After you have finished composing a news release, always have at least two people within your group proofread it, looking for both misspelled words and erroneous statements. Be mindful of double-checking numbers and formal names. Typographical errors or factual mistakes can irreparably harm your organizations credibility.
If time allows, the best thing you can do after you have finished writing a news release is to set it aside and re-read it the next morning before sending it to the media. You will be amazed at how a fresh look 24 hours later will help you discover mistakes, redundancies, and ways to improve the text.
Photos, Audio, and Video
If you decide to provide photographs along with a news release, remember to caption all pictures, providing essential information that briefly explains the images, including identifying all the people in the picture, the time and place the photo was taken, and how the picture relates to the story told in the news release.
If the expense of distributing photos to all media outlets is a concern, include a line at the bottom of the news release saying that photos are available on request. That will save money by ensuring that you only distribute pictures to those who are interested in possibly using them.
Publications prefer to use 8- by 10-inch black and white or prints. Slides are more difficult to deal with (i.e., not as easy to scan). Check with radio and TV stations to determine their needs and requirements for audio or video clips.
Timing is Everything
Be sensitive to editorial deadlines. Daily newspapers may be able to pick up your news release and use it immediately. However, weekly, monthly, and quarterly publications have long lead times. So if you want your message to get out in a timely fashionespecially if you are trying to generate publicity for an upcoming eventyou must plan ahead and draft a news release so that editors will have time to review your material and assign the story to a reporter, who in turn will need time to research and write an article.
Ideally, you should time the release of information to have the greatest impact with your target audience. For example, if the local weekly newspaper is the primary outlet, make sure you get the release to the editor in enough time so that a story will be published close to the date of your upcoming event.
Media Lists and Contacts
A variety of guides that are available in your local library provide comprehensive lists of media outlets: newspapers, magazines, TV, and radio stations. In addition, large regional and national aviation trade groupssuch as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the National Business Aircraft Associationhave extensive media lists. Consult with their public relations professionals to see if they can help you develop a list for media outlets in your area.
While it is important to identify media outlets that may be interested in your news release, it is equally important to direct the release to a specific person. Call a targeted newspaper or radio or TV station to get the name of the current of editor, reporter or producer who handles aviation subjects. Try to forge an ongoing relationship with that person, even if you do not regularly have news he or she can use. That way, when you want them to do a story that is important to your organization, hopefully your contact will be more sympathetic to your cause.
If practical, hand-deliver releases to members of the local media. For expediency, consider developing a computerized mailing list and broadcast fax or e-mail capability.