As the Public Information Officer at our library, media relations are one of my primary functions. Having a relationship with local, regional and trade media is not something that happens overnight. It is something you have to build over time that takes trust, follow-through and a great deal of perseverance. A handful of luck is helpful, too.
Media relations are different than public relations but play an essential role in the latter. Media relations are the relationship you have with journalists and editors, while public relations are the relationship you have with the greater community. The way to get your library into the news, which remains one of the most powerful forms of communication with the public, is to be top of mind when the media is working on a story. The only way to be top of mind is to be a friend to the media and show them you are a good source for stories.
There are a few items you can do regularly for successful media relations.
- Pay attention. Are you reading the newspaper regularly or watching the news to see where the local media is focusing its coverage? Being aware of the conversations happening around you is imperative to knowing when and where the library can fit in.
- Be helpful. Send a reporter a story idea that includes the library. Call an editor and let them know about something your library is doing is newsworthy. For example, if home foreclosure is an issue in your community and your library decides to do workshops to help homeowners, calling the media and letting them know how what you are doing fits with what their audience wants to know.
- Be responsive. When the media call, respond as quickly as possible. It’s okay to tell the media you need to get back to them if you need some time to get the right answers. Just remember that they are always working under strict deadlines and will quickly move on to something else if you wait too long.
- Make it easy for them. Be sure you have information easily available for the media. Things like FAQ sheets (Frequently Asked Questions) about your library, historical information, press releases, and event calendars are easy to keep updated and accessible through your website and in your library. Do the background work for them and the media can focus their time on the story you want them to tell.
- Be the expert. Offer up information on timely issues throughout the year and remind them regularly that you have experts who can speak on a variety of topics. Soon they will start coming to you with story ideas.
- Target your pitch. Know enough about who does what on your media list and keep it updated so that when you have a story idea you can send it to the right person. Sending a mass email to everyone on your contact list will not ingratiate you to anyone. In fact, it’s a quick way to have your press release moved to the bottom of the pile. Instead, make sure you’re sending your releases to the people who are interested in the topic or who are assigning stories. And don’t send releases to every reporter at the newspaper or local tv station. Often if a journalist gets a good idea for a story from a release but they can’t use it themselves, they pass it along to the right person.
Libraries don’t have an endless supply of marketing dollars but investing in solid media relations is a great way to ensure you get the best publicity possible. The American Library Association offers a Media Relations Handbook for Libraries (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/advleg/publicawareness/campaign@yourlibrary/prtools/handbook) which is a great place to get step-by-step tools for a media relations campaign.