Today in Sports
Many clubs throughout Europe struggle with press recognition. Their local sports pages do not cover baseball or softball. You’ve probably heard that the press is not interested and that is the reason the team doesn’t send information. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy. How can the press cover a sport they never hear about? While the sports pages might not be interested, there are other avenues into the media that could lead the sports department to taking notice.
The key to coverage is sending the right information. Bombarding your local press with details they cannot publish will not get you team covered. Today’s training day takes you through the steps to creating a press release. A good release will increase your team’s likelihood of receiving regular coverage.
What is a press release?
A press release is a short description of important information concerning the team.
There are a few key elements that must appear in every release.
Press-ready photo (300 dpi or larger)
You want everything they need to go to press right in their hands because, many times in a pressroom, time is of the essence. If they have two releases in-hand and one can be made into a story without follow-up, that’s the one they are going to run with.
The Five W’s
In journalism there is an old acronym for how to create a story. It is, “Remember the 5 Ws: who, what, where, when, why and how.” Yes, that’s five W’s and an H thrown in for good measure. Let’s walk through the meaning.
Who – Who is the subject of the story?
What – What happened? What is the story about?
Where – Where does the story take place?
When – When does the story take place?
Why – Why did it happen (story) Why will the public be interested in this story (community event)?
How – How did it happen (event details for future events)?
A journalist’s time is limited. Most report 3-5 stories daily. That averages out to less than 2 hours/story to research and write, including interviews. They won’t follow up on a piece that doesn’t give them the bare minimum they need to go to press. They simply cannot afford the time.
Less is more. A press release should be no more than one page. You want the reporters to have everything they need to write the story without contacting you but, you also want the story well-covered. The key is to provide enough information to make them pick up the phone and ask for an interview.
Reporters like to put their own spin on a piece but newsrooms are also really busy places. If you give them everything they need to go live without talking to you, you increase your chances of getting coverage. If the story is enticing and has a good personal interest angle, a reporter is more likely to want to expand the piece to feature length. This will require their reaching out and interviewing people.
Always provide at least one quote. We recommend a minimum of 2 and a maximum of 3. Each quote should be limited to less than three sentences in length. The quotes provide a voice to the piece so try to give quotes that say different things about where you want the reporter to focus.
For example, let’s say your Olympic athlete wins the MVP award at the Games. You could provide a quote from the player, one from a teammate or coach and a third from the family. That’s three different perspectives on the same topic.
Make sure to guide the speaker to a specific aspect you want them to cover and ask each person for a different aspect. This increases both coverage and gives variety to the pieces the press creates. If a journalist or their editor sees the competition covering you, they’ll want to cover you as well but no one wins awards in journalism for being the last to report the news. They will be less likely to give it space unless it can say something different.
Variety offers two things: options on the angle the piece can take and opportunity to expand the piece to different areas of the publication, for example rather than sports cover it in community events or even on the front page depending on the release. In our example above you’ve got an Olympic athlete.
The Olympics will be front-page news as well as heavily covered in the sports section. Most news outlets will be looking for continuous, fresh content during those weeks. This means they’ll be looking for something unique to talk about. With the right human-interest angle, you could see coverage in the editorial or features sections as well. The more options you give them, the bigger your chances become of receiving coverage.
Without providing guidance to your spokespeople however you increase the chances of getting unquotable materials, For example, “It was an honor to represent my country” “It is such an honor to have our girl representing the country” “He represented his team, and his country well this series”. Instead, ask the family for a quick personal story, ask the player how she trained and asked the coach about what it meant for the team. Three different answers will emerge. All will be quotable and each saves the journalist time. They can pick the answer that fits the story they want to tell.
Remember you have the full view of the piece. You know the players and the organization. You have intimate knowledge of the struggles and the stories of courage. Make those come across on paper and entice the journalist into reaching out to learn more. If they find one of the quotes interesting, they may reach out to expand the piece to a feature and thus, ask for an interview.
Before going to press make sure to have two story-related people available and willing to speak to the press if called. This will dramatically increase your chance of coverage on future dates.
If a journalist gets assigned your piece, they need to be able to get their story in under two calls or emails. You also don’t want all the responsibility for content resting on a single person’s shoulders. That is for two reasons. (1) You want variety in the pieces that do go to press. (2) If that person is busy answering one journalist’s call, there still needs to be someone available to answer a second journalist’s call. Remember, time is everything to a writer so having someone on-the-ready is imperative to coverage.
You also want to pick the right someone. Journalists don’t ask yes/no questions. They pick up the phone when they want more detail to round out a piece. If you have a quiet or shy person, don’t make them the media contact. If that person is the focus of the piece, there are ways around this such as asking a teammate they are close with to talk to the press or even helping them write a statement so the press is still able to include their voice in the coverage.
Strike a balance between a talker and a person who only answers yes or no. Again time is of the essence for a reporter. They are never going to cut someone off because they need details no one else has, but giving them the team talker who will eat up an hour of their time and only give them one useable quote does not help. It can make the reporter reluctant to cover the team again in the future.
In cases where you have a difficult thing to report – for example a death or an arrest – you can control the message much more efficiently with a closed-mouth representative. There is generally one guy or gal who will only answer exactly the question they are asked. Normally, this is the person you don’t want talking to the press because it forces them into yes/no, unquotable, replies. In these instances however, they are exactly the person you want handling the media and, they should be a team representative – coach, GM or President – never a player. They will be more likely to limit the details as the situation may warrant.
Format will depend on whether you are sending the release via fax or email. We’ve included a template below. This overall format should be used in either case but some details, like the logo for example, will be eliminated in the email process. You do not want to use a newsletter template, like Mail Chimp or Constant Contacts, for press releases. Those are for fan communications only.
Why do you send a press release?
Before putting a release together you have to learn a bit about what the press considers newsworthy material. There are different types of news stories you can feed the agencies: community events, sports and features.
Community events are basic details outlining an event you have that is open to the public. Examples would include kids clinics, tryouts and parties at the park that are open to the public, especially family-days.
Sports would include box scores, player/team achievements and any major sporting events being hosted by your club. Features are going to be those human-interest pieces that fit equally well on the sports page as they do in other sections of the paper. They are longer pieces that require a minimum of two interviews, one with the subject and another with someone close to the story.
Who do you send it to?
Depending on the story, there are a variety of answers. Certainly your local newspapers, television and radio stations that cover sports should receive every release. You can also send them to podcasters and bloggers who cover your sport. These sources are highly overlooked and always looking for materials so we recommend reaching out.
Before contacting anyone however, consider their audience. If you reach out to a local newspaper who only covers professional sports and your release is about your youth programs, then they will not cover the piece. They may also be likely to ignore your next release when it does come because they may believe you don’t know what they do. Sending the right story to the proper departments is imperative to receiving regular coverage.
Addressing the Release
When you send a press release, especially by email, you need to follow a few key rules:
1) Subject must be completed
2) If the item is time sensitive – put the date in the subject line as well as your header
3) Make sure all the relevant details are in the “view window” version of the email so they don’t have to open the email to decide if they want to cover it.
4) Never send attachments. Include links instead. Put photos in a Dropbox or similar file transfer system (free to use) and include the link to that page in the email. Many servers at news outlets block attachments and most journalists won’t open them.
5) Always send one copy to the news desk/sports desk respectively (depending on story). Most news stories feed from the Editor down to the journalist but some journalists have free reign to cover what they like. Additionally, some agencies require a reporter to bring in a certain amount of stories each week.
Another copy should be sent to the reporter you hope picks up the story. As the saying goes, the news never sleeps. Well, that may be true but reporters do. They have days off and sometimes when they return, your story deadline has passed or the email is now too far down their inbox for them to see in time. This is where the date comes in handy. It gives the email time priority.
6) When sending to a reporter directly, personally address the email and include why you’ve selected them for the coverage. Try to make a personal connection by reviewing their bio for details that will make the story of interest to them. When that’s not possible, flattery will get you everywhere.
How do you turn your release into coverage?
You’ve written a great one-page release with quotes and have two people on-call ready to answer any questions. Great work! You’ve sent the release to the appropriate departments within your local publications and stations. Super job! This is not everything you need to do however. The final step is follow-up.
News outlets receive hundreds of requests for coverage every week. Within sports and entertainment, the departments receive follow up calls from agents and public relations representatives regularly. When that happens, the outlet picks up the release they are being asked about to verify they have it in their hands. The representative then asks the outlet if there are any questions, details, people they want to talk with to complete the coverage. This gets the outlet to review the piece and determine if it is newsworthy. You have the same goal.
How do you follow up?
You need to be your teams own public relations firm. Pick up the phone. Emails are nice but you need to be sure they is opened and read. When you speak with someone you are guaranteeing that someone is seeing your release. You will be surprised how many times you’ll be asked to resend it. People don’t want to look around the room for the copy. That’s great! That gives you direct contact with a person you know has the piece in their hands.
When you follow up have additional details on-hand to add incentive to coverage. You don’t want to just call and say, did you get the piece? That’s a yes/no conversation and leaves no room for you to sell them on the coverage. Instead offer incentive – we had a photo shoot today, wanted to get you some of the great new shots for the piece. Assuming the coverage often gets you the coverage, especially when you are giving them something to help them complete the work.
Other incentives might include, ‘I talked to Tommy and he let me know he’s available all day today to take media calls so I wanted to be sure you two got the chance to speak.’
How soon do you follow up?
Depending on the timeline between release date and story, you will have at least two follow up dates but maybe more. For a simple news piece, the day you send it and again two days later. If it isn’t covered in the first 48-hours, it’s not news.
If it is an event, you want to be sure to send the details no less than a month out and follow up no later than two weeks out. Calendars are always set the week before and, if they will bring in guests related to the calendar, those are arranged no later than a week in advance.
Follow these steps and you are well on your way to regular coverage for your club. To learn more about writing techniques.