Saturday, October 17, 2009

Success Reaching the Media Without a News Release

Success Reaching the Media Without a News Release

My niece was headed off to college, slated to begin her freshman year at Texas Christian University. She was busy packing, and making the rounds to say goodbye to all the friends, family, and former teachers who had been so influential in her life. She, her parents, and her boyfriend had their plane tickets and were all set to leave on a Monday morning in August.

And then the e-mail arrived in my sister's inbox. It was Thursday morning - Thursday of the WEEK BEFORE school was supposed to start - when my sister learned, along with about 200 other families, that the bank that was funding my niece's and sister's loans to pay for this freshman year of college was reneging at the last minute. Talk about having the carpet pulled out from under you!

Fortunately, my sister was able to get on the phone quickly and secure new loans ... so the school plans were not really in jeopardy. But was she ever pissed off! And what she really wanted was to let other people know what rotten scoundrels these bank folks were. Now I'm not on an anti-bank tirade here - but any way you look at it, it's a pretty bad decision to renege on loans just a week before school starts.

Of course, my sister turned to me to get her story on the news.

I've got contacts in other areas ... but no one who would have picked up this particular story, especially not as time sensitive as it was. This was NOT the time for a news release; it called for a much different approach.

I figured I'd start with the media Web sites. And if that didn't work, then I would get on the phone. Turns out, I never needed to pick up the phone.

First, I drafted this succinct e-mail detailing the problem:

HELP! My daughter's student loans were cancelled one WEEK before school starts!

Hi. My daughter is set to begin her freshman year at Texas Christian University next week. We had applied and been approved for loans, and all the paperwork was in place for her admission. Then, yesterday, I received an e-mail informing me that the bank had pulled all of their loans, a WEEK before school starts.

Clearly, we are not the only family affected by this. How can they renege on loans the week before school begins? This is bad for the students, bad for the school, and very bad for the bank, MyEd Student Loans, out of Texas.

Can you do anything to help us shine a light on this problem and undersand how something like this can happen with no recourse or advance warning?

Corina Orsini
Then I found the resource area on the Web sites for each of the four network news shows here in Phoenix, where I pasted in my e-mail. I signed the message from my sister - there was no need for me to be the intermediary here, and I was sure it would have less impact if I was wring about my niece than if I was writing about my daughter. Yes - a small fib, but well worth the results.

Within two hours of submitting this item, the local CBS affiliate had contacted my sister and was scheduling an interview with both her and my niece. The story ran on the Friday evening news - the same night.

They did a really thorough job on the story, too. Turns out a lot of banks that had been funding student loans were feeling squeezed by the federal government's new repayment standards and decided not to make the loans this year. The reporter tried to reach this bank to find out why they, specifically, had waited until the very last minute to make such an important announcement - but no one from the bank returned their calls.

I'm not sure I'd recommend this method of contacting the media in all cases, but this was one instance where it worked, and I believe it did for 5 specific reasons:
  1. The story was timely.
  2. I wrote a strong, compelling subject line.
  3. I kept the message short, but clearly detailed the challenge and problem, highlighting in particular that it was more than my family who'd be affected by the issue.
  4. I signed it from my sister, and kept myself out of it.
  5. In all honesty, it was probably a bit of a slow news day.
So can it work for you? Of course it can. But make sure you've got some real news to report. Don't go on and on and on in your e-mails. As Sgt. Friday used to say, "Just the facts, ma'am." And most of all, make sure you've got a very compelling subject line.

You can do it - get out there and start making some news!
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