Making A Difference
Newspapers, magazines, television and radio offer you the opportunity to reach large audiences with news or feature stories about medical librarians. Favorable stories demonstrating how medical librarians have assisted a consumer, provided a physician with valuable information or otherwise made a dramatic difference can raise consumer awareness and build support among other health care professionals.
To get good publicity, it's your job to let appropriate media know when you have news or feature ideas, and to be available as their source of information if they have an interest in your story.
A media list is a list of your hometown reporters, editors and broadcast producers who you would like to interest in your story. When you are ready to contact media, it's important to think about the kind of media that would cover health care stories.
To determine who to contact, the first step is to get to know your local media and what types of stories they report. You should know if there is a feature segment that runs during the evening news or a radio program that interviews local business or community leaders. You should read your local papers or watch local news to see if there is a health reporter who might be interested in how medical librarians can help people find accurate health care information. These and others would be among your target media.
You shouldn't contact everyone and hope you'll get coverage. Nothing irritates a busy reporter more than receiving a news release or a call from someone whose news is not appropriate for his or her "beat" (the topics a reporter is assigned to cover).
If your library is open to the general public, you may find reporters who would be interested in medical librarians, including health, medical and fitness reporters and those who cover features or women's news. If you are participating in a time sensitive event, such as a health fair at your institution, then you also should contact news reporters and assignment desks at local television or radio stations to let them know you have a story coming up soon that they might want to cover.
To develop your media list, you can begin with the local telephone directory or library reference books of media outlets. Your media list should include:
Call each of the news organizations on your list to obtain the names, direct phone numbers and fax numbers of the news editor, medical or health reporter, feature editor, public service director and others. Call each of these individuals directly and ask if they would be interested in receiving news about medical librarians or events in which you or others will participate.
Compile your media list of those who say "yes."
Additional publications to consider for your media list are the employee and member newsletters published by area businesses, industries, health organizations and hospitals, schools, churches and community groups. Call active organizations in your area to determine their interest. Your local Chamber of Commerce should be able to help.
Once you know who to contact, you are ready to begin developing professional relationships with media. This does not mean a friendship, but rather means that you get to know the people who would cover your news and you make sure that you call them or send them information ahead of time so that they may consider covering it. It also means that you call them back immediately if they call to ask you a question about your news or to ask you for a comment on another trend or news item related to evaluating health care information.
There are several components to media relations that may be used together or separately to generate publicity. They include materials such as a press kit, query letter, news release, fact sheet, editorial backgrounder, photo, photo caption and/or graphic, and public service announcements.
Reporters prepare for their stories or broadcasts with varying degrees of thoroughness. Some will request background material prior to the interview so they feel comfortable with the topic being discussed. Others will conduct research on their own, reviewing newspaper clippings and magazine articles to gain a better understanding of the subject. Still others will come into an interview cold, expecting you to provide everything they need to know about the topic.
An informed reporter conducts the most productive interview because reporter are able to ask more intelligent, insightful questions if they are prepared. Reporters will welcome having up-to-date information when they write an article or compose interview questions.
You will have greater control over the direction of the interview if you have supplied the background information being used by the interviewer. The result will be a more accurate story. It is essential, however, that you read the material thoroughly before sending it to a reporter so that you are familiar with the information and agree with any statements made.
Typical components of a press kit are: query letter, news release, fact sheet, editorial background information, and a photograph, illustration or graphic that illustrates your story. You can supplement these basic press kit materials with other information such as a biography of your local spokesperson, mat stories or educational materials such as the "Deciphering Medspeak" brochure available through MLA.
When you prepare a press kit, you should always include a date, contact name and telephone number on all press kit materials. Don't assume a reporter will keep all materials together.
A query or pitch letter is a simple and effective tool to whet a reporter's appetite for your story. A query letter tells a reporter the gist of a story and why it is of interest to the audience or readership. Sometimes a query letter is sent to a reporter on its own, without a press kit, and other times it is enclosed in a press kit, with additional background information such as a news release or editorial backgrounder. The most effective query letters are no longer than one page.
A news release is a one or two page written piece that gives a reporter all the facts and figures of your story in a nutshell. The first paragraph, or the lead, is the most important part, since many reporters make up their mind about your story after reading only the lead. The best news releases:
View a sample of a news release.
An editorial backgrounder is additional background information prepared to help reporters better understand your story. It is helpful to provide editorial backgrounders with a news release, especially if the reporter is unfamiliar with the topic of your story.
A news alert is an abbreviated version of your news release and is meant to be read quickly by an editor, reporter or producer to get the story in a "nutshell." It is no longer than one page and includes a headline, contact name and only the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW.
A photo alert is written in the same format as a news alert, but its purpose is to advise print and broadcast media of photo or video opportunities.
View a sample of a photo alert.
A fact sheet provides brief, bulleted information, details and statistics on a particular subject, usually a subject referred to in the news release. A fact sheet is written in "quick-read" format to make it easy and fast for reporters to zero in on key points and statistics as they put together their stories.
View a sample of a fact sheet.
Both print and television reporters appreciate receiving photos or graphics or visual ideas to further illustrate your story. It's one thing to talk about your medical library. It's another to see a picture of a librarian helping clients at an AIDS clinic or talking with a physician during grand rounds. With television especially, it's essential that you consider what the viewers will see when they are watching your story, and tell the reporter about possible "visuals" when pitching the story.
A photo caption tells what is going on in a picture and identifies by name and title all people in the photograph. It should be no longer than three sentences and answer the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY and HOW for the reader.
View a sample of a photo caption.
Mat releases are "pre-printed" feature stories, often with photos or graphics, that are presented to editors in a newspaper format that can be pasted on a page, photographed and used as is. Mat releases are most often used by smaller daily or weekly newspapers that don't have big enough reporting or photography staffs to cover these kinds of features. Because mat releases are so "user friendly" and have mass human interest appeal, small newspapers use mat releases all the time to supplement the stories their reporters write for their feature sections.
After you've sent the pitch letter or press kit to media, a key element of media relations is follow-upcalling reporters to ensure that they received your materials and to answer any questions.
Follow-up provides you with the opportunity to see if a specific media contact, such as an assignment editor or health reporter, is interested in pursuing a story about medical librarians or sending a reporter or a camera crew to cover your story.
It also gives you a chance to answer questions, remind media about your upcoming story or, if they're unsure about whether to cover the story, to add something new that might interest them on the spot. Follow-up is also the first step in building long-term media relationships, and you should remember that a reporter who is not able to cover your story today, could be planning a story in the future.
You should make a record of all contacts with the media for your own reference. You also should make a point of seeing the coverage that runs so you can drop a thank you note to a reporter who does a particularly good job, or correct a story that has incorrect information.
Medical Library Association
Last Updated: 2007 July 13