A Basic “How-To” Guide for Conducting Public Relations

PR and Your Point Person

There are many definitions for and many different ways of conducting public relations. Public relations provides an organized and effective way of establishing positive relationships, as well as communicating with and sharing information with local media who may be interested in your work.

Public relations generally tries to provide relevant, timely information to the media and the community they serve. It is important that you keep this in mind when planning your campaign and budget your time accordingly.

To generate a sense of excitement or “buzz” around your event, it is important that everyone involved is kept informed.

Dependent on the size and resources of your organization, it is advisable to designate one person as the PR point person. The PR point person will be the primary contact and consistent information source for local media.

Since this person will be communicating with many different people and will be on call to the media, it is ideal to choose someone who may already be familiar with the local media.

The PR point person will need to be available to rapidly respond to reporter inquiries, attend the event and perhaps even provide interviews.

Developing and Using Key Message Points

You’ll find your conversations/interactions with reporters need to be very brief and focused. Becoming familiar with and communicating consistent key message points to all media will help your PR efforts.

These messages will be useful when you are customizing press materials for your event and when you have a media interview scheduled. It is important to become familiar with the messages to an extent that you are delivering them but also putting your own spin on them. The best media interview is one where you or your spokesperson sounds and acts natural, knowledgeable, and excited.

It will be critical to the success of your PR efforts for you to be consistent in your message use. Once you have decided on the message that works, continue using that message throughout your PR campaign.

When crafting your message, think about:

  • What makes this event special?
  • What impact will it have on the community?
  • Who is the artist? Are they well known? What are they known for? DO they have a local connection?
Developing a Press List

An accurate media list is one of the most valuable tools used in public relations. A media list is a compilation of newspapers, other print media, TV stations, radio stations, and other electronic media in your area. The list should include:

  • Contact person at the publication or station
  • Contact person’s title/responsibilities
  • Contact person’s mailing and email address
  • Contact person’s phone, cell, and fax number
  • Additional section containing any pertinent information on the reporter/producer you are contacting (i.e., area of interest or beat, best time to contact, best way to contact, etc.)

In the arts, people most likely to cover a story include: Arts Editors, Community/Social Issues Reporters, and Feature/Lifestyle Writers at print publications. At television and radio stations you should contact News Directors, News Assignment Editors, and Producers.

  • Compile a list of the media in your area that you think may be interested in your story.
  • Find out who generally reports on the same types of stories. You can do this by physically looking, listening to, or watching the media source. Or, you can go to their website and do a little research.
  • Add that person to your list. Make sure they are coded in a way that allows you to pull them for a specific campaign (ie. dance reporter vs. visual arts).
  • Make sure they receive all pertinent information about your organization – not just press releases. Include them in any email blasts you think might have relevance, including email newsletters (don’t forget to allow them to opt-out!)
  • Make personal contact. Most successful press campaigns are built on personal relationships.

Note: Reporters and producers tend to move around often in their positions. It is important before beginning any media outreach to call or email all the contacts on your list to confirm or update their status at that organization.

Establishing and Maintaining Relationships with Local Media

Effective public relations is ultimately a function of building and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with the media in your area. This is a process that takes time. However, making the effort to know a person’s beat or writing style in advance will result in more efficient media outreach for you and a better chance of coverage.

A good rule of thumb is to try to be a resource to a reporter or a producer. As much as time permits, read, watch and become familiar with the format and style of their publications and programs. Understand and be aware of any social issues they may cover. If there are other events taking place in your community not directly related to your project or the performing arts that might interest a particular media representative, take the opportunity to make a brief, focused phone call or email and pass on the tip.

When you are ready to approach the same reporter about your project, you’ll probably be remembered as someone who is a good source of information, have his or her ear/sense of trust, and be better prepared to offer him or her a valuable and interesting story.

Most importantly, the easier you make your contact’s job, the better your chances of coverage. Electronic transmission of press releases, media alerts, and other written material mean that very little editing can produce a story quickly and efficiently for the print media. Photos sent via email or easily downloaded from your website make the whole process much less time consuming. Remember, you need the media to get your message out there – make it easy for them to do so!

Preparing & Distributing Press Materials

In the Sample PR Materials section of the Toolkit, you will find several examples of sample press materials for conducting your public relations efforts. We’ve constructed fictional events to give you a sense of the interactive tone that can be used when talking about your event/project. Using these templates as a starting point, you can fill in the information pertinent to your local news event and most interesting to your local media.

Press Release: A press release is a tool that will help you get coverage for your event in newspaper and print publications. Press releases always include a “lead” or “headline” that outlines what is happening and who is involved in one sentence. More detail can be added to the lead by use of a “subhead.” Press releases should also include background information on the program or event taking place and the people involved. Press releases can include supporting quotes from people involved. Quotes are useful in making sure those involved with a project, either as collaborators or sponsors, have a voice in the article. Finally, press releases end with a “boilerplate” that is consistent language describing all organizations involved. The first thing to get the axe from the editor will be the “boilerplate.” That is why a quote is often helpful in retaining the voice of the project’s supporters. Press releases can be distributed email or mail anytime from two weeks to three days before a news event. Many small newspapers or web media outlets will lift the entire press release and use it as copy if sent electronically. Be sure to include your PR person’s contact information with your press release.

Media Alert: A media alert is a one-page document outlining the who, what, where, and when of an event taking place. It is intended as a quick reference for media who may be interested in attending or covering your event. It should always include pertinent dates, times and locations, as well as the name and number of a contact person that can be called for more information. Media alerts are most important on the day before and the day of an event. They should be distributed email as the material contained in them is time sensitive. Television stations most often rely on media alerts to become aware of events with good visual opportunities for coverage. It is usually a good idea to follow-up with your contact to make sure the media alert has been received and to see if you can expect coverage of your event.

Radio Public Service Announcement (PSA): Radio PSAs are broadcast as a service to the community. Generally, a 15-30 second script is drafted and sent to local radio stations. The announcement is read verbatim during local news broadcasts. Send your radio PSA directly to radio station managers and call to follow-up and note their schedule for running PSAs.

Captioned Photos: “A picture is worth a thousand words” and much of what interests the media is visual. Think of how a breaking news or major world story is made much more pertinent and real by being able to see what is going on. Important things to remember about photos:

  • Photos should show some kind of visually compelling activity.
  • All photos submitted for publication must have a photo credit, should name those in the photo, and should include a description of the featured activity.
  • You should submit your images in several different formats (jpg, tif, png, etc.) for use by the media.
  • You should also have several different layouts on hand if at all possible. Some papers may need a horizontal shot while other may prefer vertical.
  • You can also post your images to a page of your website so that the media can download them on their own.
  • Be sure you have photo releases from the individuals featured in your images.
Contacting Local Media

Getting your materials into the hands of the correct media is a crucial step in the PR process. The next major step is following up with or “pitching” local media that you would like to cover your story. Like anything else in PR, your pitching is best accomplished by following a few tried and true techniques that will make your contact with the media efficient and effective.

Be aware and sensitive to the fact that most reporters/media representatives operate on tight schedules with daily deadline pressures. Realize that you have limited time to sell the reporter on the idea of doing a story. An effective sell to a reporter should be clear and brief as well as demonstrate that the story is newsworthy.

Reporters generally determine newsworthiness by the following criteria:

  • Relevance to their audience: Determine what information in your story would interest a particular reporter the most and tailor your pitch accordingly. For arts editors/writers/newsletters show why this project/event is a priority for your organization. For local editors/writers/newsletters, show how this project/event will affect your community.
  • Timeliness: Outdated material is useless to reporters. You must keep them updated on events/news surrounding your performances on a timely basis.
  • Emotional Appeal: Often, the most compelling stories contain a very personal, human element.
  • Local Interest: Is your project/event a significant local story? If so, then use that angle. How does it affect your programming? How about that of the community around you?


Print (Electronic and Hard Copy):

  • Make sure they have received the information you’ve sent and ask them if they prefer to receive phone calls or email. Most print reporters, due to daily deadlines, are only free for phone conversations a few hours during the early part of the day.
  • Briefly and quickly pitch your story and ask them if they have questions or need further background materials on your organization, project, or artist.
  • If appropriate, suggest an interview with your artist or a member of your organization that is well-versed (and well spoken) in your arts program and its goals.
  • Finally, if a story does run, obtain a copy of the published article for your press coverage files.
  • Do not call print reporters after 4 p.m. as they are usually filing their stories at that point.


Television:

  • Television stations operate primarily off media alerts and press releases since these are tools that allow them to look at information in a quick, focused manner.
  • It is always a good idea to email or fax the media alert a day or two before your event and again the morning of the event to television stations.
  • Understand that television needs a visual opportunity to make a story happen. When contacting a television story editor, include as part of your story what will be taking place – make it visual.
  • Television newsrooms tend to be even more pressed for time than the offices of print media. Do not be surprised if you have to speak to more than one assignment editor or forward your materials several different times and to several different people.
  • Make a follow-up call several hours before your program begins.
  • Generally, a station representative will let you know on the phone if they are able to send a camera crew to your event.


Radio:

  • When you are following up with radio stations, they should already have been sent copies of your press materials along with your PSA script.
  • You will need to follow up with the Station Manager or PSA Director to see if your item will run.

Radio stations are generally open to both in studio and remote interviews. This is helpful when doing advance PR work for an event.

Preparing for and Participating in Media Interviews

In the Sample PR Materials section of the Toolkit, you will find several examples of sample press materials for conducting your public relations efforts. We’ve constructed fictional events to give you a sense of the interactive tone that can be used when talking about your event/project. Using these templates as a starting point, you can fill in the information pertinent to your local news event and most interesting to your local media.

Press Release: A press release is a tool that will help you get coverage for your event in newspaper and print publications. Press releases always include a “lead” or “headline” that outlines what is happening and who is involved in one sentence. More detail can be added to the lead by use of a “subhead.” Press releases should also include background information on the program or event taking place and the people involved. Press releases can include supporting quotes from people involved. Quotes are useful in making sure those involved with a project, either as collaborators or sponsors, have a voice in the article. Finally, press releases end with a “boilerplate” that is consistent language describing all organizations involved. The first thing to get the axe from the editor will be the “boilerplate.” That is why a quote is often helpful in retaining the voice of the project’s supporters. Press releases can be distributed email or mail anytime from two weeks to three days before a news event. Many small newspapers or web media outlets will lift the entire press release and use it as copy if sent electronically. Be sure to include your PR person’s contact information with your press release.

Media Alert: A media alert is a one-page document outlining the who, what, where, and when of an event taking place. It is intended as a quick reference for media who may be interested in attending or covering your event. It should always include pertinent dates, times and locations, as well as the name and number of a contact person that can be called for more information. Media alerts are most important on the day before and the day of an event. They should be distributed email as the material contained in them is time sensitive. Television stations most often rely on media alerts to become aware of events with good visual opportunities for coverage. It is usually a good idea to follow-up with your contact to make sure the media alert has been received and to see if you can expect coverage of your event.

Radio Public Service Announcement (PSA): Radio PSAs are broadcast as a service to the community. Generally, a 15-30 second script is drafted and sent to local radio stations. The announcement is read verbatim during local news broadcasts. Send your radio PSA directly to radio station managers and call to follow-up and note their schedule for running PSAs.

Captioned Photos: “A picture is worth a thousand words” and much of what interests the media is visual. Think of how a breaking news or major world story is made much more pertinent and real by being able to see what is going on. Important things to remember about photos:

  • Photos should show some kind of visually compelling activity.
  • All photos submitted for publication must have a photo credit, should name those in the photo, and should include a description of the featured activity.
  • You should submit your images in several different formats (jpg, tif, png, etc.) for use by the media.
  • You should also have several different layouts on hand if at all possible. Some papers may need a horizontal shot while other may prefer vertical.
  • You can also post your images to a page of your website so that the media can download them on their own.

Be sure you have photo releases from the individuals featured in your images.

Documenting Public Relations Results

Your entire public relations process will be more efficient if there is a system in place for documenting the results of media outreach, follow-up calls, event attendance and anything else that takes place as part of your program.

One of the simplest and most effective ways of keeping track of PR results is a media contact/tracking form. We’ve included an example the Sample PR Materials tab. As you make calls, filling out these forms diligently will help greatly in writing up and being aware of your successful results if you should receive later inquiries and requests for copies of stories written about your program.

When stories you have pitched appear in a publication, you should obtain the original electronic copy or link and keep a file of your results. If the story appears in hard copy, obtain a copy of the publication for your files.