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Free Publishing Guide

Following Protocol for Contacting the Media

Media contacts take the form of mailings, faxes, e-mails, and phone contacts. Some basic protocols apply to all media contacts, but these different forms of media contact also have some unique rules of their own.

Contacting by Phone

Personal contact with reporters and editors is a great way to forge stronger relationships with the media, but it requires some finesse and fine-tuned management. Follow a few basic rules for phone contacts:

  • Don’t call a reporter or editor to tell them you’re going to send them a media kit, news release, fax, or e-mail. They receive hundreds of these contacts daily, so your call to announce the arrival of yet another media piece won’t be welcomed by a busy reporter or editor.
  • Workers at daily newspapers are always busiest in the morning, so you’re unlikely to make personal contact with reporters there before noon. Morning calls are more likely to simply annoy the editor or reporter and damage what might have been a valuable contact.
  • Practice what you want to say ahead of time; write down what you want to say and read it out loud until you feel comfortable that you’ve “learned” your script.
  • Learn to wind your way through the “layers” of personnel within the media outlet to reach the appropriate contact. Don’t be hostile with the receptionist or administrative assistants you encounter; simply tell them who you are and what you’re calling about, and ask them who you should speak with. Be pleasant and persistent.
  • Persistence is critical, but don’t slip into the realm of harassment. You can count on being directed to voice mail; leave a brief, but complete message (again, practice ahead of time). If you’ve left two or three messages and receive no reply, accept that the editor or reporter isn’t interested in following up on this contact, and move on.
  • Keep a record of the calls that you’ve made, including the media outlet, individual you’ve contacted there, and the date and time of your contact. Note the nature of your contact, as well, including its purpose and content. This information will prevent you from duplicating contacts and will be a handy reference if you receive a follow up call or contact.
  • If you hit a brick wall, don’t take it personally. Your ability to focus on the work ahead rather than past disappointments is critical to keeping your public relations work positive and on track.

Faxing Media Outlets

Faxing is an efficient way to submit a single news release to selected media outlets, but spamming media outlets with advertising faxes sent to a bulk mailing list is not only annoying and counterproductive, it’s illegal. According to federal law, using a fax machine to advertise a product, good, or service is illegal, unless you have the express written permission of the recipient prior to sending the fax. As we mentioned earlier, any notice you send out that contains pricing or ordering information is considered an advertisement. Sending a fax to an agency or individual that has requested that you stop sending faxes to their number is also a violation of federal law. Finally, faxing news to retailers or private individuals is also considered advertising, and is therefore illegal; news releases can only be sent to appropriate media outlets.

For all of these reasons, you must carefully consider the wisdom of sending a news release via fax to anyone. If you do fax a news release to an appropriate news outlet, follow our previous advice and keep the release to a single page of double-spaced type with no text boxes, illustrations, or other graphics that will tie up the fax machine and use excessive toner.

E-mailing Media Contacts

Although many editors and reporters accept contacts through e-mail, it’s another potentially damaging form of contact to incorporate in your public relations campaign. The same rules against spamming that we’ve just mentioned in relationship to faxing apply to e-mail. Many media outlets will not accept or open e-mail attachments, to avoid the danger of computer viruses.

We don’t recommend that you e-mail numerous media outlets as part of your general public relations efforts. If you do decide to send news releases via e-mail, follow the formatting advice offered earlier and send the text of your news release directly in the e-mail message itself. Use an informative subject line, so the recipient immediately understands the nature of your message. And make sure you do a virus scan of your press release file before you send it. The last thing you want to do is inadvertently infect a reporter’s computer with a virus.

And again—do NOT send pricing and ordering information or any other content that could be perceived as advertising. Don’t e-mail individuals or retailers, either, and make a note to cease all e-mails to individuals or agencies that ask you to take them from your contact list.