ASPA's Public Relations toolkit has been prepared to help Chapter and Section leadership enhance your group's image and improve its public relations. The information below provides guidelines to promote and expand awareness about activities, events and issues of interest, as well as how to build relationships with local media. Public relations is an important component of your Chapter/Section's goals to build an image and increase awareness about your group in the broader community—as well as your industry community.

Chapters and Sections are encouraged to organize and host activities or events that can introduce you to the community. These resources provide a starting point for initial contact with the media, as well as developing a model for Chapter/Section outreach. The toolkit is divided into two sections, Best Practices and Tools. The emphasis is on sharing tips for good public relations and the best ways (tools) to achieve the goal. There are also samples that demonstrate proper style and technique.

Promoting an Event/Issue

Social Networks

Social networks are growing in popularity and in effectiveness as tools for communication and promotion of events and issues. After connecting with friends and family as the major reason most use social networks, the second reason was to connect around a hobby or interest. These two factors provide opportunities for chapters and sections to connect with their members and potential members. Many of your members are already on social networks while other potential members may be seeking opportunities to connect around their hobby or interest. 

Chapters and Sections are encouraged to create social profiles that can be used to promote your events and activities. You do not have to create a presence on each network; rather, choose those that are most useful to your goals. Below are guidelines on the major pros and cons of each network.  

Facebook: 
The most popular social network among adults, this network is useful to provide real-time communication to members and promote your group to potential members. Facebook offers a medium for dialogue and displaying your successes such as awards, scholarships, photos of events and blogs.

LinkedIn:
A network that emphasizes professional connections, individuals use this network to connect with others of similar interest. Chapters/Sections are encouraged to use this site to communicate career opportunities, industry trends and contributions to the field. It can also be a useful member recruitment tool. 

Twitter:
A micro-blogging site, Twitter has grown in popularity for its access to celebrities and public personalities. Chapters/Sections are encouraged to use this network to identify key personalities in their field, locally and nationally. 

The Media Advisory

If you’re trying to get members of the media to attend your event, it’s a good idea to send out a media advisory three to four days in advance (for TV outlets, one to two days in advance). This document enables you to communicate to your media contacts the necessary information about your event and leaves out enough information that they will want to attend.  It’s a good idea to follow up the next day to be sure they received the advisory. This is also an opportunity to let them know about any additional information that might entice them to attend your event. Be sure to pay close attention to the media preferences section of your state media contacts list to see how and when members of the media want to be contacted.  Pay close attention to deadlines, and if it says “don’t call,” respect that. 

The Press Release

The press release is typically sent out the day of the event. If you’d like to use only one document to generate media coverage, the press release is it. If you use it in lieu of the media advisory, send the press release to your media contacts in advance but note at the top that it is “embargoed” until the day of your event, meaning that the reporter should not cover the event until that day. This alerts your contacts to the event and can serve as an invitation, but protects the newsworthy aspect of your event until the day (it also saves time by allowing you to produce only one document!).  

Use ASPA letterhead (not your personal or company stationery) or the ASPA logo along with a statement of what ASPA stands for (also known as a boilerplate). There is a sample press release, with logo, included on this page. As with the media advisory, it’s a good idea to follow up the day after submission to ensure that your contacts received the document.  Again, note the reporter’s contact preferences.

Op-Ed/Letters to the Editor

Opinion-editorials (also known as op-eds) and letters to the editor are tried and true tools for pushing a particular position or issue. These are particular effective tools for organizations that are focused on issue-specific subjects, like ASPA sections. Each has different benefits and should be used to achieve different goals. 

Op-ed:  Consider an op-ed/commentary if there is an issue in your community that relates to the work on your section or chapter. By submitting an op-ed/commentary you draw attention to the expertise and skills of your organization while promoting an issue that is close to your mission.  

Letter to the Editor:  Usually much shorter than an op-ed, a letter to the editor is a response to either an article or current issue in the news. These are often very timely and should be considered for time-sensitive issues.

Local Public Radio/TV Station

In sending out information on your events, activities and awards, pay special attention to local public programming. These media outlets are often more interested in issue oriented news and information that expands on basic community issues. Consider reaching out to the local program manager to inquire about community calendars and commentary opportunities.  

PR Tools

1-pagers serve as helpful background information for reporters on certain topics. ASPA typically uses a 1-pager on the Society in all press kits. This is a helpful document for members as well when speaking to nonmembers or the media about ASPA. You may find it helpful to create a 1-pager about your group, a certain event, or an issue that is important at the local level.

The Q&A document seeks to answer any questions a reporter or member of the general public may have. It includes anticipated questions about your topic and answers. Topics can cover general public administration questions or can address topics that you are covering in a media interview.  It’s a good idea to include Q&A documents in your press kit, as well.

Boilerplate

A boilerplate is the descriptive paragraph that is found at the end of most press releases. It provides background information on the organization hosting an event or activity and can be very helpful for reporters. Please include the ASPA boilerplate in all your press releases. (This information does not have to be included in media advisories). It may be a good idea to create your own boilerplate for your individual chapter. Should you choose to do so, your chapter boilerplate would come first, followed by the ASPA boilerplate at the very end of your release. ASPA's boilerplate is as follows:
ASPA is the nation's leading public service organization advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and nonprofit administration. For more information about ASPA visit www.aspanet.org. 

Press Kits

If you have an event that will be attended by the media or if a reporter is interviewing you, provide press kits.  Press kits include relevant biographical and background information on the event and its speakers (as applicable). 

How to Create a Press Kit

For an Event:  The press release about the event should be the first document that the reporter sees when opening the folder. As background, it is helpful to include any 1-pagers (ASPA national 1-pager, chapter 1-pager), the Q&A document about public administration, any brochures that you may have, and your business card.

For an Interview: The focal point should be your biography, with accompanying information including 1-pagers, Q&A and past press releases (reasonably current), brochures, and your business card.


Top Ten Tips for Maximizing Media Coverage

Have a strategy.

Tailor your strategy for each public relations opportunity. Think about the audience you want to reach and how to create excitement. An effective part of your strategy should be to enforce your organization's core messages in all news releases.

Have a good story.

A news story must have a compelling beginning, middle, and end. Journalists recognize a strong story within seconds, so tell your story quickly and succinctly.

Know your audience.

You wouldn't follow up on a potential business opportunity without knowing something about their business, so don't call the news media blindly. Before you pitch to any media outlet, study their work. Read the publication, watch the show and listen to the radio broadcast. Get familiar with the characteristics of the media outlet you are targeting. Find out about their main audience and their likes and dislikes. (Internet message boards and social media channels are good for this.)

Invest in relationships.

The more you know about the media organization and your target editor, the better and more confidently you can pitch to them. Building relationships now means editors will be more likely to take your call when you've got an important story to tell. Best of all, even if they can't offer you coverage on this particular story, they may refer you to another reporter who can. As with any relationship, building trust is critical. Keep your promises and be on time. Be upfront about what you can and can't do. You might not be able to do everything, but reporters will appreciate your honesty.

Look for a unique angle.

Look for personal stories that can spur news media interest. Unusual stories and angles that affect a media's audience are more likely to get media coverage than mundane ones.

Follow up.

Many potential leads are lost because public relations people fail to follow through. If a reporter tells you to call back another time, make sure you do! Also, if a reporter doesn't answer your email immediately, do not assume they are not interested.  They might not have had time to respond to the large volume of emails they receive.

Be creative.

Infusing your media relations plans with innovative thinking produces stronger, more effective results, so avoid recycling the same old news releases and fact sheets.

Find information.

Do you sometimes feel like you just can't write the news release? This blockage often indicates you don't have enough information. Do outside research. Interview an industry analyst. Get another perspective. This investigation can lead to the information for a great story.

Study and adopt good writing skills.

Use a journalistic approach. Look carefully at how reputable publications like The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal structure a story. What is the lead? What kind of quotes do they use? Study different types of stories. Features, appointment announcements, news articles, and opinion pieces can all be useful in your public relations campaign. Often, you will see the most important information is in the lead and that the rest of the story follows. This inverted pyramid style is usually the best way to organize an article.

Eliminate jargon and techno-speak.

Buzzwords are like bees—they can be highly irritating. Write with clear language, and avoid clichés, which are another sign of weak writing.

Finally, the success of your media relations efforts means success for you in the dynamic, engaging, challenging and creative business of public relations.  


How to Write Newsworthy Press Releases & Media Advisories

Here are some guidelines to help you write releases and advisories that will get attention and generate news coverage for your organization.  

Cover the Essentials

Every release should include this information:
  • The name, address, phone number and email address of your organization. 
  • The person to contact about the release and their title or job description.  
  • A release date—the date you would like your information to be published.  
  • A headline—the title of the release. 

Create a 'Newsworthy' Message

Crafting a newsworthy message will make or break your release. Editors and reporters think in terms of the 'angle,' 'story hook' or 'news peg' of a story. They want to know what is timely and important about your message. Identify a specific topic that will appeal to the media outlets you plan to contact. While this may seem obvious, many news releases go directly to the circular file because they are too general in purpose or fail to impress writers and editors as being of immediate interest to their audience. Use an active headline to grab the editor’s attention. The media are always looking for the unusual, the abnormal and the unique. Your message, summarized in four to 10 words, will be the headline of your release. Make your headline descriptive with the most positive spin.  Here are some starting points for creating a newsworthy message:
  • Anything that is abnormal and unusual
  • Something unique 
  • The local aspects of a national story 
  • A seasonal activity or problem  
  • An unusual event 
  • A new solution to an old problem  
  • New information that challenges the conventional wisdom

Write Clearly, Be Concise 

A 1-page release almost always works best. Many details can be covered in follow-up communications and by referencing other sources of information (online, in a media kit, etc.). Try to keep your release to no more than two pages. Get to the point immediately. The first paragraph of the release should summarize the who, what, when, where and why of your message. Be direct and write in plain language, avoiding jargon and hype. Write your release as if it was to be published verbatim in the media outlets you are targeting. But keep in mind that you are writing a pitch for media coverage rather than trying to tell the full story on a single page.

Get the Timing Right

Lead times vary greatly for different media outlets. Magazines may require several months between hearing your pitch and publishing a story, while newspapers usually need one to two weeks of lead time. Radio and television stations are generally focused on breaking news, which means you will need to act fast and, if possible, create a message relating to the hot topic of the day or week. 

Be Tenacious

If your first efforts don't produce results, don't give up. It may take a number of attempts to establish that you and your organization are serious, interested and involved. It may also indicate that you need to follow-up by phone or email to discuss your story ideas. Keep in mind that you are playing a competitive game, vying with a range of other story ideas for the attention of editors and reporters. And remember that reporters will not come to you and offer you coverage. You must take your stories to them. 

Use Media Alerts and Story Pitches

When the importance of an event speaks for itself, you can send a media alert/advisory instead of a press release. A media alert usually covers only the who, what, when and where of an event, and invites reporters to attend. A story pitch is a very brief summary of a story idea for the media, which can be done by email, phone or in a letter. Be prepared to follow up immediately with a press release if your pitch gets a positive reception.


Public Relations Tools:


Hosting an Event?

If your Chapter or Section is hosting an event and would like it included in The Bridge, ASPA’s bi-weekly electronic newsletter, as well as our calendar of events (where applicable) please email Karen Garrett, Chief of Communications and Marketing, or Melissa Jun, Chapter and Section Coordinator.