The impact of any event or action your group plans can be greatly enhanced by media attention. Larger events relevant to the surrounding community can reach an audience of hundreds of thousands if covered by a TV station or daily paper. Media attention can put you in contact with people in your community working on similar issues who will lend support.

A good rule of thumb is to spend 10% of your organizing time on attracting press. For small events, you need spend only a few minutes on press outreach. Send a personal note to an editor you know at your campus paper and follow up with a few calls. For large events, consider the likelihood of coverage from each news source on your media list before wasting paper and time. Remember that some TV stations have no news on weekends, that daily newspapers run small issues on Saturdays and Mondays, and that "big name" reporters schedule their assignments as much as two weeks in advance.

Suggestions for attracting the media to larger campus events

  • Make a list of places to send press releases. Include the "Assignment Desk" at all local TV news stations (including cable) and daily newspapers. Include the "news editor" at key campus publications, local weekly papers, and radio stations with big news departments. Also include the "News Desk" and "Photo desk" at the nearest offices of Associated Press and UPI. Finally, add any "education journalists" specifically assigned to cover events at your campus as well as weekly TV news shows. Call in advance to get the names of these people. For each outlet, include its name, address, phone number, and fax number in your list.
  • 10 days before your event, mail a press advisory to weekly papers or TV shows and follow up in 3 days.
  • Mail your press release to the entire list so that it will arrive 3 business days before your event and call them 2 days before the event. Use a formal, upbeat style. Don't read a long pitch. Pause frequently, so that the reporter will have a chance to give you feedback. That way you can tell whether he or she is actually considering covering your event. Make sure you take neat notes on whether the reaction you get is "no way," "maybe," or "probably."
  • The day of the event, call each media outlet (except weeklies) in their first hour of business for the day (5:30am for radio, 7am for TV, 8am for daily newspapers. If they don't know about the event, offer to fax them the press release and make sure you have access to a fax machine. Write down those you expect to come.
  • At your event, staff a table marked "PRESS." Hand each reporter literature and sign them in so that you can find out later if they run a story.
  • Befriend and cultivate good relations with the media. If possible, designate one person to follow up with reporters who seemed particularly receptive.

Press Release Suggestions

A press release should include the rationale for an event, what you are trying to change, and all relevant information that you would want to be considered by a journalist, but keep it brief. Include your strongest facts or stances. Reporters may use your exact words and text of your release. One page with all event information is standard. At the top of your press release, include the date you want the information to first be announced (usually the day of the event, never later). Immediately below, include the names of at least two press spokespeople, one of which must be available during business hours. Right below that, write the title, time, date, location, directions, and names of participants in your event.

Have a group of people has a review the drafts of the press release. This group will be able to divide the work of followup calls.

The body of your release should be written in clear simple English, with short sentences so that it could be read on the air. The first sentence should describe the whole event: "Two hundred students rallied today at the University of Buffalo to demand a 50% reduction in their tuition, which is now $15,000 per year." The rest of the release should explain everything so simply and clearly that your aunt or your grandfather would understand what you were trying to accomplish.

What about press conferences?

A press conference is a formal presentation of your case designed exclusively for the press. The key question to ask when deciding whether to have a press conference is, "Will reporters come?" You will be best off when there is some other big event (perhaps organized by the university) to which your press conference can serve as a form of "counterdemonstration." Or when a big story that has been brewing for weeks or months finally breaks, such as the results of a campus referendum. A press conference announcement only needs to be one page long, usually with the information about time, location, topic, participants, etc. spelled out in outline form. Make sure reporters receive it two days before the event. Followup calls should be made to key reporters and then on the morning of the event.