Alert The Media! How To Publicize Chapter Events
By Scott M. Spangler
The key to success is to have all the tools you need well before you want to use them. One of the many joys of aviation is sharing the joy of flight with those who have not yet experienced it. Many Chapters do this by holding Young Eagles rallies and Flying Start programs. The obvious question is how to inform the community of these events, and the answer is just as obvious—alert the media!A more vexing question is how do you issue this alert? Where and to whom do you send the news release? When do you send it? What should it say? And how can you be sure the media will publicize the event?
There is no real answer to the last question, unless you or someone in your Chapter owns a print publication or broadcast station, but following some simple steps that answer the preceding questions will improve your chances of getting a positive answer to the last question. The key to success is to have all the tools you need well before you want to use them.v
Make a List
Together, print publications, such as newspapers and magazine, and broadcasters, such as radio and TV stations, compose the media. Most of these outlets publish some sort of “calendar of events,” and it’s your primary target because it offers the best course to success because the media are always looking for contributions to it. A separate news story on your upcoming event is your secondary target because success depends on factors you cannot control, such as important breaking news or the availability of a reporter to report and write the article.
With this in mind your first step in publicizing your Chapter’s events is to gather basic information on the print and broadcast media in your area. This makes a good Chapter project, and the Chapter members should get the publication’s name or broadcast station’s call letters, the address, and its main phone number.
Print publications provide this information in the masthead. You’ll find it close to the front or back of a magazine. Newspapers usually print their masthead on page 2 or on the editorial page. Start with the newspapers and local magazines you receive, and don’t ignore weekly newspapers and the free “shoppers” that litter your driveway. They almost always publish information on local events—and people do read them. To make sure you haven’t missed any local publications, visit several local newsstands.
Broadcast stations don’t have mastheads, but they are listed by their call letters in the phonebook’s business pages. Generally, east of the Mississippi River call letters begin with W, and west of the Mississippi they start with K. Reading the phonebook takes less time than listening to or watching all the stations in your area and waiting for catch call letters. As with print publications, don’t bypass any of them because you think they won’t be interested in your event. You won’t know that until you talk to them.
Make it Useful
Before you call each outlet you need to create some way to record—and use—the information you’ve gathered and will gather. There are many ways to do this, but the easiest and most efficient is to create a computer database. Not only does a database allow you to record the information, it allows you to sort it by different a selected variable such as print or broadcast, and print labels. Also, creating your database before you call the media ensures that you won’t forget to ask important questions.
A database is composed of “records,” and each record is composed of “fields” or specific information. The fields are the same for every record, and your media database should include these fields:
- Publication Name or Call Letters
- Print or Broadcast Check-box
- Street Address
- Zip Code
- Main Phone Number
- Calendar Editor (CE) Name
- CE Phone Number
- CE Fax Number
- CE e-mail
- CE Lead Time
- CE Mail, Fax, e-mail Checkboxes
- News Editor (NE) Name
- NE Phone Number
- NE Fax Number
- NE e-mail
- NE Mail, Fax, e-mail Checkboxes
The purpose of each of these fields should be obvious except, perhaps, for “Lead Time” and the checkboxes for mail, fax, or e-mail.
Lead time is important to your success, especially with print publications. Publishing an issue of a newspaper or magazine takes time. Lead time can vary from days and weeks for newspapers to months for magazines, and accounting for lead time plays a major part in successfully alerting the media. If your news release must run in a specific issue, and the publication receives your release after it’s started work on that issue, your release won’t run.
The checkboxes note the preferred way to deliver your news releases. A growing number of print publications prefer e-mail because it saves editors a lot of time and reduces the chances for error. (But this puts the onus on you to make sure your release is deadly accurate.)
With your media database created and the basic information—outlet name, address, and phone number—entered in it, you’re ready for step two, calling each outlet to learn if it accepts the information you want to send—and to whom you send it.
With your database fired up before you, call each medial outlet during normal working hours and ask to speak to the person who edits the calendar of events. Tell the editor who you are and what you’re doing. Most likely, the editor will appreciate that you’re working in advance, not trying to get in a last-minute calendar entry.
Next, step through your CE database fields, starting at the top to confirm the information you already have. When you get the information you need, ask the calendar editor for the name of the news or assignment editor, and if the CE can connect you to this person. Then, ask the questions that will fill your NE fields.
Throughout your conversations with the calendar and news editors, make notes on any pertinent information. This could be anything from when the calendar runs or is aired to the format for the information you submit. End your conversations with both editors by giving them, or a member of their staff, a standing invitation to attend any of the events you will be publicizing.
If the media outlet or one of the editors isn’t interested in receiving your press releases, strike them from the list. You could send them a release anyway, but most likely you’ll be wasting the postage because your release will probably end up in the trash.
What to Say
Before you can use your now complete media database complete, you have to craft a news release about the Chapter event you want to publicize. Don’t let this scare you. All you need to do is answer five basic questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why?
Some media outlets prefer to receive just this information in a simple list, and creating this list is a good way to write your release. For example.
- Who: The general public
- What: is invited to attend EAA Chapter 12345’s free Flying Start Program
- When: on (the date and time)
- Where: at the airport (be specific, give directions if the location is hard to find, and note if signs will point the way)
- Why: to learn why flying is fun from someone who’s just become a pilot; to learn what’s required to become a pilot; and to meet instructors from area flight schools.
Using this information, your finished release might read something like this:
The public is invited to attend Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 12345’s Flying Start Program at 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 14, 1999. There is no admission charge for the program that will be held at Anytown Airport, 123 Flying Fun Drive, and “Flying Start” signs will direct people to Hangar 4. Flying Start is for anyone who’s always wanted to fly but didn’t know where to start. Ima New-Pilot will describe her flying adventures. and local flight instructors Joe and Josephine Teacher will discuss and answer questions about what’s required to become a pilot. For more information, call [designated Chapter source] at 555-1234.
The key to writing a successful news release is to be clear, concise, and to include a few items that increase local interest, such as the names of the area resident who are key participants. Releases that wax rhapsodic about the joys of flight and benefits of the event are too long and often end up in the trash. Give the calendar and news editors the essential information only. If they want more information about the event, or about sending a reporter to cover it—they’ll call you.
But the editor’s can’t call if they don’ t know how to reach you. Make sure your name, day and evening phone numbers, and e-mail address (if applicable, and only if you check it several times every day) are clearly shown on the release. Also, if holding an outdoor event, such as a Young Eagles rally, make sure you include a rainout date and number to call to verify that the rally will take place.
Print your release double-spaced on a single sheet of paper, and use Chapter letterhead (if your Chapter has created it). On separate lines write “For Immediate Release,” so editors will know it is a news release and not a letter, and the date you sent the release. And, once again, don’t forget to give your name and phone numbers.
Alerting the Media
With your system in place, using it effectively increases your chances of successfully alerting the media. After your Chapter plans an event, sort your media database by lead time, and then print labels (or prepare the fax or e-mail list for media outlets that prefer these methods of delivery) for the applicable publications and stations. “Applicable” means those outlets whose lead-time requirements your release will meet. If you plan an event four weeks in advance, there’s no sense sending a release to an outlet with a six- or eight-week lead time.
Send a release to both the calendar and news editors because you can’t be sure that one will give a copy to the other. After you send your release, don’t harass the editors by calling repeatedly to see if they received your release or to encourage them to run it. Editors usually have more to do than time to do it, and they view such calls as harassment—and they have long memories. There is, however, nothing wrong with calling the editors about a week after you send them a release for the first time—just to make sure the name and address you have in your database is correct.
Should an editor call you for more information, fulfill their request immediately if at all possible. For some reason, editors always seem to call when they are on a short deadline, and if you can meet their pressing needs, they’ll remember that, too. And being known by editors as a ready, reliable source of news that doesn’t make their life difficult is almost as good as owning your own publication or station.