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The Lost Art of the Media Alert

You hear a lot of talk about press releases as a PR tactic, but what about the media alert (also commonly known as a media advisory)? Before the days or email and Twitter, media alerts were the short form way to alert news organizations about something timely you wanted them to cover. I’m sure newsrooms still get a ton of media alerts, but I’ve seen few posts on the subject. I think the building blocks of a good media alert translate well to email and social media, so here are some brief tips for you.

First, What’s a Media Alert?

There’s a good chance many of you don’t know what a media alert is. A media alert is an alernative format for PR writing used to communicate an event to the media in advance. Think of a media alert as a quick, at-a-glance summary of your event, which gives reporters, editors and producers all the information they need to decide whether or not to cover your story. Media alerts are typically one page (or less) and focus on the following information:

  • An attention-grabbing first paragraph that summarizes your event
  • Clear identification of all your event details (the who, what, where, when and why)
  • Some value-add that makes it worth the time

A Sample Media Alert

Let’s say you were hosting a panel discussion at a local university about the latest trends in social media. Your media alert might look like this (in email form):

Contact:

[YOUR CONTACT INFO – CAN BE YOUR EMAIL SIGNATURE]

MEDIA ALERT – [SUMMARY OF NEWS]

[ORGANIZATION NAME] is hosting a panel discussion on the latest trends in social media that will feature four of the industry’s leading experts on the subject. The free event is open to the public and is designed to introduce attendees to the latest trends in social media. All attendees will receive a free book on the subject, written by [PANELIST NAME].

Who:

[EXPERT NAMES AND ONE LINE BIOS – BULLETS WORK BEST HERE]

What:

The 60-minute program will outline the latest trends in social media, followed by an interactive Q&A session with the experts. The session will be followed by a networking reception.

When:

November 09, 2009, 6pm-8pm

Where:

[EVENT LOCATION, DIRECTIONS AND PARKING INFORMATION]

Bonus:

Refreshments will be served at the event and all attendees will receive a free copy of [THE BOOK].

Why Media Alerts Work

Now first of all, this event probably wouldn’t be much of a media draw, unless the attendees were true celebrities and the event was in a market like NYC, where there might be a large number of journalists covering marketing and social media topics. That said, the format works well for more newsworthy events, such as press conferences, grand openings, fundraiser events, public product launches, etc.

Media alerts work well because they take a “just the facts” approach to communicating the news. They work best when you have recognized individuals or organizations participating in the event. As media professionals are getting more and more comfortable with the 140 character Twitter pitch, it’s of increased importance to be brief, get to the point, and take as little of their time as possible.

If you post your media alert to the Web, you could easily tweet about your event with a link to more details. This approach is being used by smart publicists all the time. Rather than forcing a journalist to read through a news release to find what’s most important, boil your news down to its root details with a media alert.

Do you use media alerts or media advisories to communicate your news? Do media alerts work better for securing news coverage than traditional press releases? Please share your thoughts – or better yet, links to your media alerts.

(Image Credit: 2000AD Red Alert Survival Wallet by Podknox)

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.

  • http://www.lauraclick.com Laura Click

    Yes, I definitely use media advisories. In fact, I’m working on one today. I think media advisories are effective for encouraging the media to attend the event, especially when it is something visual that would require photography or visual. Press releases are more about communicating a story after the fact.

    In my role with the court system, we do post media advisories to our Web site, but we take them down as soon as the event has occurred and replace it with the press release. I’m sorry I don’t have links to share!

  • http://newsworthy.readmedia.com/ Dave

    Media alerts are still alive. They serve the same purpose they always have… they (potentially) get bodies in seats. Keeping in mind that it’s now a little harder to get the media to send a reporter to an event, you’ll want to give them as much notice as possible.

    If it makes sense for the individual, I usually suggest a hybrid media advisory that calls out the basic who, what, when and where but also spends a few paragraphs discussing some of the details. If nothing else, the extra details – combined with a standard follow-up release about the event – will make it easier for the attending reporter to assemble a story.

    Here’s an example of a “hybrid”: http://readme.readmedia.com/New-York-National-Guard-Supports-New-York-City-Salute-to-Veterans/978588

  • http://www.EconomyLeague.org Allison Kelsey

    Thanks for this piece –it got me thinking. Back in the olden days (the 90s), I directed advisories primarily to TV and radio outlets b/c they arern’t interested in detail other than the people and the visuals. Press releases, I realized of late, are written to please people in the organization, not for the end user journalists. It would be great to 1) decrease the wordsmithing by the higher-ups that takes time and usually doesn’t change the basic message, and 2) produce a document that’s more useful for actual media.

  • http://dameroncommunications.blogspot.com/ Ellen

    We use media alerts for the “big events.” You won’t find them on the website, because we consider them invitations, not for release. Although we don’t object if a media outlet uses them to craft their own story.

    I think they’re very helpful. However, I had to raise eyebrows about your conclusion “Rather than forcing a journalist to read through a news release to find what’s most important, boil your news down to its root details with a media alert.” I think it’s very important in a press release, more so even than in a media outlet-produced story, to use the “inverted pyramid.” That way, the editor/reporter can decide quickly if s/he wants to read further and put the release to use.

    Also, if you are sending to community media outlets like we are, the actual press release may be published, edited only at the end for space. I have even seen our local daily turn what was probably a one-page release into a one-paragraph story, but unfortunately leaving in a lot of superficial stuff that didn’t need to be in that first paragraph.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/stevenspenser Steven Spenser

    I used to be an AP editor, and media alerts always got our attention because they were short and to the point, which is why I rely on them now. Clients are fixated on press releases, even for non-newsworthy subjects or events, but often a pithy, succinct advisory is all you need to generate media interest and/or coverage. Media alerts are particularly important for local radio and TV coverage; if you’ve got great visuals to offer, a media alert/advisory is far more likely to be effective than a press release. They’re also the best format for getting calendar notices and into event datebooks.

    The hybrid mentioned above is the standard I’ve always used. Like the hybrid, I always include a hed, but I also add a “Why” graf, which is an excellent way to work in boilerplate. Here’s an except from one for a nonprofit client, which resulted in two local newscast features (the charity’s first publicity in years):

    “Seriously ill children, unable to trick-or-treat, go suite-to-suite”

    (Snipped: “When” and “Where”)
    WHO: 100 seriously ill children from hospitals across the Puget-Sound area, many too immuno-suppressed or weak to go out trick or treating, will have an opportunity to celebrate Halloween in a safe environment at the Starlight Children’s Foundation of WA fourth annual Trick or Suite event.

    WHAT: The children and their siblings get to go trick-or-treating through 23 suites decorated in different themes by local businesses, which also are providing activities and giveaways. In past years, room sponsors have created elaborate haunted houses or other spooky surprises. The children get to enjoy a party with their families and peers, and then spend the night in donated rooms at the Embassy Suites. This year 164 children and family members will be participating, making it Starlight’s biggest Trick or Suite ever.
    (Snipped: List of room sponsors)

    WHY: For most children and their families, Halloween is a wonderful evening of going out for candy or attending parties with lots of friends. This isn’t possible for many of the kids served by the Starlight Children’s Foundation of WA, who may be immuno-suppressed or simply don’t have the stamina after rounds of treatments. This event is their one chance to experience what many children take for granted, and for their families to enjoy a normal rite of passage. Starlight helps seriously ill children and their families cope with their pain, fear and isolation through entertainment, education and family activities. In 2007, Starlight-WA served more than 20,000 children and family members at 527 inpatient and community events statewide. Starlight-WA has been awarded a Four-Star rating by Charity Navigator, the nation’s premier independent charity evaluator.

    I believe the traditional media alert is the predecessor of the modern social media press release. For a good template of a SMPR from Shift Communications, check out: http://www.shiftcomm.com/downloads/smprtemplate.pdf

  • http://ThePublicistsAssistant.com Anissa

    I work in an industry of small businesses, where they are online and offline, and for years the marketing gurus have told them to do press releases. I think it was all well intentioned, but now, trying to inform this niche of what is really going to work is an uphill battle. Most small businesses or online businesses (less friendly term: Internet Marketers) see the seo benefits as well as the hype of what a press release does.

    I have actually been writing on this subject of media alerts or media release for a while now on a partners site (one of the few marketers who understands this perspective, http://fridaytrafficreport.com). I think that because of the time involvement for newbies, they either don’t know about the media alert or think it will take too much time (finding contact details, etc). For those of us who are in this industry, I think most of us still use them, but because of social media and because most businesses are still fixated on the press release, we tend to not say much about the media alert.

    Thanks for the great read, I will be linking to it!

  • Lea

    Media alerts are great tools, but you need to use them wisely and understand that they aren’t meant to tell the whole story. As a PR practitioner for nonprofits, I use media alerts to publicize community events such as fundraising walks. But I don’t use them as the only means to publicize the event — just to get day-of coverage. I usually send out at least one traditional press release that typically focus on the personal stories from participants.

  • Jim Keener

    Beyond events, I have had success using media alerts to offer up sources for breaking news. For example, if I represent a company that has lots of energy indsutry expertise and suddenly a large refinery goes down, potentially affecting the price of retail gasoline prices, I’ll whip together an alert that includes a brief summary of the situation (the “what”) and then mention that my client is available for further insight into the issue (the “who”) with a brief bio of the source to demonstrate his/her knowledge on the subject, followed by some contact info.

    In those first few moments of the breaking news or crisis, I think reporters/producers appreciate this proactive approach as long as your source is an ideal match for the subject matter at hand. Just don’t forget to be extremely responsive to any requests you receive and have your expert source readily available.

    Thanks for the post! A good reminder indeed.

  • absolutebrand

    Fiorenza,

    Do both!

    2 Phase approach:
    Phase 1
    Because of the instantaneous nature of new media outlets AND Real Time search engine results it’s imperative we’re positioned with social media outlets for instantaneous results.

    Consequently our releases MUST post to organic search results within minutes not not hours or days!

    Phase 2
    We’ll simultaneously do a press release via traditional wire feeds for long term viral effectiveness. Usual rules apply; Landing page, subscriptions, measurement, blah blah blah.

    If your information isn’t hitting Google’s Real Time search results within minutes, your competitor’s is, so you’ll need to re-examine your machine, and tweak accordingly.

    When the issue is hot or competitive, it’ll make your hair stand on end to see your results pop on Google BEFORE the others. Then you’ve got to be tenacious, and have the market muscle/media outlets to keep it on top. That’s what press releases with landing strategy does for you.

    Hope this helps!
    SJN

  • http://www.write2market.com/ Robert Smith

    Great post here, media alert is more useful on the Web. With the help of media alert you can easily tweet about your events.