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People often think that any new research finding or upcoming event requires a press release. Although sometimes true, this thinking not only puts pressure on people to write and distribute press releases, but may not be the most effective way to get a program, project, or research into the news. Many times, a media advisory paired with a backgrounder is more appropriate than a release and can yield better results. Here, we have pointers on using these different vehicles to reach your media targets, as well as links to several tools to help you succeed.

Plan Ahead

  • What do you want to publicize? Be sure it’s compelling, new, unique, or particularly relevant.
  • Who do you want to tell, and what do you want them to do with the information? The answer will guide you to the right media.  Determine if you are trying to reach researchers, health care professionals, the general public, or another audience.  In some cases you may have more than one target audience, which means you will want to reach out to multiple media types in order to reach your target audience(s) – for example trade media and consumer media.
  • Once you understand your media target, figure out who you need to contact at each publication or outlet. Start with a handful of the most relevant media contacts and build on that. Most media sources have reporters with specialized “beats,” and if you don’t identify the right people, your efforts will likely not yield the results you’re looking for.  If you are not sure of the right contact, research your contact (online), determine what type of stories they have covered in the past, and their typical interests.
  • Determine whether you need a press release or a media advisory. A press release is generally sent to a broader audience via a PR service that enables it to reach far and wide. A media advisory is usually sent to a more targeted audience, often in advance of an event, and if you expect them to cover the story in more depth. See the samples below to help you make a decision about which is more appropriate for your news or event.
  • Don’t forget about trade media, trade organizations’ newsletters, and online trade and consumer media sources. These are often overlooked but valuable media targets. In addition, newer online media sources, such as RSS news feeds and blogs, can reach your target audience in a unique way.
  • If you are unsure of the right media targets for your audience, ask a few people in your target group to list their most trusted media sources.  In addition, many media sources provide readership data in their media kits, posted on their websites under “advertiser information.”

Write and Distribute

  • Write your press release or media advisory. See the tools, including a guided press release creator, and links below.
  • Send out your information. Two weeks in advance of your event or program (or more/less depending on the guidelines of your target medium), send out an email media advisory that covers the basics of your news—who, what, when, how, why, where.
Follow Up

  • A week after you send your release or advisory, follow up by phone.  Follow the link below and read Andy Goodman’s issue of Free-range ThinkingTM for excellent dos and don’ts of pitching a story.
  • If you sent your release or advisory via a newswire service search for media pickup within 24 hours and for the next few days.  A simple way to search is via Google, using the general search and/or the news button.  Complete the same search under Google’s blog listing (found under the “more” tab in the main search bar.) You may find that an influential blogger has picked up your story, and you can get engaged in a dialogue that touches those who care most about your issue.
  • Keep trying! While we’re not suggesting that you send a release or advisory out for every new finding of your research, we do encourage you to develop relationships with a few key media contacts and keep in touch with them about newsworthy items.
  • Build your relationship with these reporters by volunteering commentary when there is relevant news in your industry.  If you help them out as a quotable source, they are often more receptive to your future story ideas.

Sample Press Releases:

Sample Media Advisory

Knight News Release Workshop is a web site created by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to aid non-profits in developing news releases. The site constructs model news releases, compares well and poorly written headlines, and offers tips on drafting effective quotes.

Advanced Press Release-ology: How to Prepare Releases That Get Results -- and Win the Respect of Journalists by David M. Freedman for Community Media Workshop in Chicago gives excellent advice on writing press releases that get noticed.

Three Steps to Better Media Coverage Nancy Schwartz & Company provides useful tips on not just how to generate a good press release, but when and how to send it out.

Pointers on Pitching from Andy Goodman explores pitching a story to the media from both sides of the release.

How to Get a Reporters Attention Nancy Schwartz & Company has produced this excellent primer on reaching out effectively to the media.

For more information on getting your news into the media, visit Making News

The Hartford Online Communications Resource depends on the active participation of the foundation’s grantees. If you run across a helpful publicity resource, please let us know so we can share it on the site and make it available to the rest of the Hartford network.


Do you have access to your organization’s or institution’s public relations office? If so, introduce yourself and your work—the staff can be a tremendous resource for you. For more information on developing this relationship, check out Strategies for Working with Your Public Information Officer

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