Top ten tips for approaching the media

PR stands for public relations, and is a term used to describe the techniques used by organisations or businesses to communicate with the public in order to create and maintain a positive image.

Although the term PR is often used to refer to the process of securing media coverage, public relations is a much wider field that also encompasses communication with the public directly rather than through the media. Such public-facing activities that your group might consider include: hosting a ‘Come and Sing/Play’ event taking a stand or participating in local events, such as fetes or festivals or teaming up with a local charity to host a fundraising event.

The area of public relations that involves working with the media is specifically called media relations, and it is this area that we’ll be focussing on in this information sheet. The following ten tips will help you build your list of journalist contacts and get your group’s new commission, forthcoming concert or other project into the media.

Please do keep Making Music informed of any coverage you get – this can help us build up a picture of our members’ achievements and spread your story further. Please contact george@makingmusic.org.uk

Contents

  1. Remember that it's called media relations
  2. Do your research
  3. Get the angle right
  4. Perfect your press release
  5. Time your approach
  6. Offer more than just a press release
  7. Follow up everything you do
  8. Don't be precious
  9. Spend time online
  10. Don't be scared to approach local TV or radio

1. Remember that it's called media relations

When you’re promoting something, it can be tempting just to write a press release and send it out to any journalist whose email address you can lay your hands on. This kind of ‘spray and pray’ approach is normally ineffective, and the best media relations come from consistent output of relevant information addressed to the right people.

As the name suggests, media relations all about building relationships with the media. Rather than hitting send to a long list of journalists and hoping for the best, you’ll have much more luck finding two or three journalists who are actively engaged in your area of interest, and personalising your approach to each of them. Which leads us to point 2…

2. Do your research

Good contact lists are essential to good media relations, and in a press campaign you should spend as much time on researching, checking and setting up distribution lists as you do on press release content. Journalists need news, so you needn’t worry that you’re wasting their time by approaching them. The key is to do your research to make sure you’re approaching the right people.

Find out who writes the entertainment articles and who edits the news section in your local paper.

  • Who is the reporter most sympathetic to the arts?
  • Are there any local freelance journalists who might be interested in your story?
  • Are there any magazines about life in your area?
  • Follow any suitable journalists’ work and aim to approach them with thought and imagination.

Make sure you also think about newsletters or mini-magazines produced by schools, colleges, clubs, local authorities, residents’ associations, churches, membership organisations or special-interest groups in your area. Don’t forget online writers – there may well be blogs, websites and social media pages about life in your local area that would be willing to cover your group.

3. Get the angle right

Newspapers and magazines exist to make money, and most publications make far more money from advertising than from cover price. As a result, they are not in the habit of giving advertising space away for free!

  • Find the story behind your concert, so that any article about it will be news rather than just an advertorial. ‘Music Society Gives Concert’ is not a reason for giving coverage – it’s about as newsworthy as ‘Garage Fixes Car’.
  • You should think about different angles that make your performance standout. Maybe you are you giving the premiere of a new work that you’ve commissioned? Perhaps it is your conductor’s 100th performance with the ensemble? Does your concert feature a promising young soloist or pupils from a local school?
  • The things that make a concert interesting to a journalist are the same things that will interest potential audience members, so if you really want to boost your box office receipts, try planning a story into your concerts from the start. You could find an interesting venue to perform in, team up with a local dance or theatre group, or even just programme a concert around a particular theme.
  • Try to find the relatable, human side of the story you want to tell. If there’s an event you want to publicise, are some news-worthy human interest stories from your members that you could use to catch people’s interest? Make your concert the backstory, not the focus. We humans are social animals and we love to hear about each other’s’ life experiences!

4. Perfect your press release

A good press release should be able to condense all the important information into one page of A4 in size 11 font. If you find your press release is longer than this, go back and edit! You can also use our template to get you started. Here’s how it breaks down:

Press release

It might sound obvious, but do write this at the top!

Date

This should be the date of your initial announcement. Don’t change it if you send the release out to more journalists later on (unless information changes) – it helps to know when the news was announced. If you want to send ahead of your official announcement you can add ‘Embargoed until…(whatever date and time you want the news to be reported).

Headline

Summarise your story as succinctly as possible. Imagine it as a newspaper headline – what would make you read the article?

Story

Start your release with core information, answering six basic questions in the first paragraph: who, what, when, where, why, how. Then deal with secondary topics of the issue: how much, how often. Any negatives which need to be pointed out, such as a change or cancellation to information previously offered, should be left to later in the release.

Contact details

Give details for at least one person who can contacted for further information, and be sure that any contacts you give are willing to answer questions, can be easily reached, and can offer further information on the topic. Include a very brief description (100 words max) about your group under a ‘Notes to Editors’ section at the end of the release.

Notes to editors

Add any extra information about organisation and useful background information. If your release is to do with something related to Making Music (e.g. a project or opportunity) you can also include the following paragraph about Making Music.

About Making Music:
Since 1935, Making Music has championed leisure-time music groups across the UK with practical services, artistic development opportunities and by providing a collective voice for its members. Making Music now represent over 3,200 groups made up of comprising around 170,000 musicians of all types, genres and abilities. We help them run their group so they can get on with making music! www.makingmusic.org.uk

5. Time your approach

The press is always in a hurry and works to strict editorial and advertising schedules. Timing can be the single reason why your press release is ignored, so it’s vital that you know your press deadlines. An approach that is too early will be ignored; a late approach will just be frustrating for everyone. Furthermore, every publication has a different schedule, and feature writers and magazine editors plan much further ahead than news and diary writers.

  • Be clear what sort of coverage you are looking for: feature, preview, review, diary item, news coverage or interview.
  • Previews are always more useful than reviews, especially with a colour photograph. That way your publicity can attract audiences, not just tell people what they missed.
  • Timing is also vital when you’re calling a journalist – it is not a good idea to ring a writer for a weekly or monthly publication on their press day. If you’re not sure when the press day is, ring the switchboard to find out. For daily publications, always call in the morning, as deadlines tend to be in the afternoon.

The Press Association supplies entertainments listing information to many publications including The Guardian, The Times, Visit Birmingham, Visit London and The View network. Submit your event via the web form and Press Association will distribute listings to the relevant regional press. 

6. Offer more than just a press release

Images

A picture can be a gift to a page editor when space is short and the publication of a picture with a short caption (one or two columns) can be as beneficial to your group as a written article.However, you should not send pictures with your press release, whether prints (usually thrown away) or as email attachment (they clog up mailboxes). Instead, you should indicate in your release that photography is available on request. If possible, offer a choice of small low resolution files for online use and large high resolution files for print. Print images should be saved as 300dpi .jpeg or .tiff files. If you don't know what those technical terms mean, get in touch with the team at Making Music, who’ll be able to help.

Interviewees

Journalists are always looking for a human interest element to a story, which is why it’s always a good idea to offer people for interview, for instance your musical director, a longstanding member of the ensemble, or a devoted audience member. If you’re employing professional soloists, try offering them for interview – most professionals will be happy to spend five minutes on the phone to a local journalist, as long as the arrangements are cleared properly first.

Tickets

If you’re promoting a concert, always offer journalists two complimentary tickets. If they take you up on your offer, make yourself known to them on the night and make sure they are as well looked after as your soloist. If they have a lonely and unenjoyable evening, they probably won't help you again.A picture can be a gift to a page editor when space is short and the publication of a picture with a short caption (one or two columns) can be as beneficial to your group as a written article.

7. Follow up everything you do

Journalists receive a huge number of emails. A journalist for a national broadsheet might receive somewhere in the region of 600 emails a day! Don’t assume they have seen yours.

With every press release you send, you should call the target journalists you have identified and cultivated and attempt to sell the story by checking they have received the release, by stressing aspects and angles of particular interests, and by offering some additional element of information or interviewee.

Be brief and clear about why your information is of interest, be ready to answer questions about it, and confirm that your contact details have been noted. Make sure your contact with journalists is personal and regular, but don’t be a nuisance – there is no point in ringing up every ten minutes or every week.

8. Don't be precious!

Be prepared for the fact that a promised feature can shrink to a couple of lines by the time it is printed. The hours you spend pulling together the information, interviewees and pictures a journalist might have demanded are not part of some fair bargain in which you get a fair return.

If editorial space shrinks or a better story comes along, your efforts can result in little or no coverage. One tactic is to become a good recycler and try again with a slightly different angle or try again with another publication.

9. Spend time online

The importance of the internet and social media as a tool for successful media relations cannot be overstated. One of the best tools for building relationships with journalists is Twitter. If any of the journalists you’re targeting are regular Tweeters, make sure you follow them. If they post a query, respond. If you happen across a general that story you think might interest them, tweet it to them.

The more helpful you are, the better your chances when you do make your approach. As with personal communication with journalists, avoid overdoing it – you want to be helpful, not a nuisance.

In addition, the more prominent and active you are online, the more likely journalists are to take notice, so you should take time to develop your group’s web presence, including a clean, modern looking website and active, engaging social media accounts.

10. Don't be scared to approach local TV or radio

Radio and TV operate in a similar way to the print sector, and all rules for dealing with the print press broadly apply to broadcast media. One difference is that press releases are largely wasted on broadcast media – a proposal is needed for a broadcast item. It may include an interesting interviewee, activity or event, which will entertain the audience with the ‘added value’ that may not be required for a print story.

In particular, develop your links with local radio, including the newsroom. Don't ignore commercial or pop stations. They will often give out information which will bring you a new audience. Think of developing competitions and quizzes with them.

Also consider trying a for regional TV news piece. Although they can be hard to develop, good relationships with local TV reporters can be invaluable; they like ‘good news’ stories and a music group can often offer them a painless way of showing that they cover the region. 30 seconds on TV is worth a page and a half in the paper.

Whether on TV or Radio, be prepared to fall in with broadcasters needs. TV and Radio are often broadcast ‘live’, which means broadcasters can have very inflexible demands. And remember that the nature of live broadcasts means things can go wrong.

Whether you go to the studio or take part by phone on the radio, brace yourself for your name being mispronounced, your organisation wrongly described, or unexpected questions being asked. Don’t be sidetracked; you don’t want to waste the time allotted to you correcting the presenter. Remember the core things you want to communicate and make sure you talk about these.

Breakfast shows are usually the most listened to programmes on radio, and as a result they can be the most competitive to get your story on to. But it’s worth a shot – a really great U-turn story could get your group’s name out there.

If you would like any more advice on your group’s press campaign, please contact George Acock, PR and Publications Manager at Making Music at George@makingmusic.org.uk.


We hope you find this Making Music resource useful. If you have any comments or suggestions about the guidance please contact us. Whilst every effort is made to ensure that the content of this guidance is accurate and up to date, Making Music do not warrant, nor accept any liability or responsibility for the completeness or accuracy of the content, or for any loss which may arise from reliance on the information contained in it.