Working with the press is an important responsibility for elected officials and city staff members. Whether it is broadcasting an event, getting out a formal press release or being interviewed for a story, providing a positive message in an accurate and efficient way can be challenging.
Positive Media Coverage
The following are tips to help your city strengthen the connections with local media representatives and ensure a positive message is delivered.
- Familiarize yourself with local media. Be familiar with the local editors, reporters, feature writers, producers and news directors, and what they produce. Tailor your material to meet their need and keep a file of which reporters are covering which topics. Be proactive in keeping reporters up to date on issues, even if they are not calling with questions.
- Establish a style and stay consistent. Keep your press release simple and clean. Make sure that the most important information is first and provide contact information. Make your work as easy to edit as possible, it will increase the chances of your release running the way you wrote it.
- Accuracy counts. Double check your spelling, especially the spelling of names, and make sure to check your dates. Before you send the release, make sure that any links you use will take you to the correct place for further information. Always have a second pair of eyes proof your work.
- Availability. Be available if the reporter or editor needs to call you to check details in your release. If you send a release and know you will be unavailable for questions, be sure to include the name of a contact who will be available to take a call. Have instructions on your voicemail as to how to get in touch with you after office hours, in an emergency.
- Don’t over do It. Formal press releases are a great way to provide your local media with important information. However, use them sparingly so reporters know you have real news to report when they receive a release from you. A formal press release does not need to be sent for every issue that the city encounters.
- Anticipate their needs. Be familiar with deadlines. Know what kind of visual material reporters can use. Work with photographers and camera crews to give them good material to shoot. Suggest photo opportunities and make your events visually appealing.
- Determine your spokesperson. Establish ahead of time who the spokesperson or people should be in your city and determine who will take calls from the media. It is a good idea to have a written policy on this. Be sure that the spokesperson is responsible for letting others in the city know if a story is breaking.
- Be prepared. When asked to comment on a story that a reporter is working on, make sure you know exactly what the story is about, who they have talked to, and the focus or angle of the story. Ask whether they are looking for something in particular from you.
- Assume nothing. Anything you or anyone else says to the media, regardless of whether you specify that it is “off the record” has the potential of being used. Choose your words carefully. Do not assume that a story will run just because a reporter has told you it will. There is always late-breaking news. Remember you are competing with other news stories every day.
- Remain in control. There will be times when you will have to handle a negative situation in the media. Speak to your city colleagues, establish a message and stick to it. If you are surprised by a reporter with a story you weren’t anticipating, do not get flustered or show panic. Respond by letting them know you understand this is an important issue, you want to look into all of the facts, and you will get back to them later. Creating relationships with the media during positive times will help you in handling negative situations.