HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Public Relations 101: The Basics

by Jon Feldman Issue: Marketing Across the Spectrum
TOPICS : Advocacy

“We offer so many wonderful programs and events that no one ever hears about. Our students excel academically and have the awards to prove it. How can we let our community know?”

Does this sound familiar?

There are many ways a school can acquaint their community with the fine job they’re doing. If your organization is ready to do so but is unsure how, don’t restrict your announcements to a newsletter. Public Relations is an inexpensive, yet highly effective way to reach a wider audience.

Public Relations (PR) uses the power of the news media to promote a school to the general public. This means working with newspaper reporters, magazine editors, television and/or radio producers and convincing them to write about one’s organization. A press release (also called a news release) is sent to an appropriate reporter highlighting something that is newsworthy. The reporter then chooses whether or not to communicate your news to the public.

This is the major difference between advertising and PR: In advertising, the organization placing the ad has total control over how its message is presented. In PR, members of the media (reporters and writers,) decide what will be said. Also, in advertising, the school is paying to promote itself, but in public relations, the community’s news sources promote the school at no cost.

Such a strategy has its advantages. When a third party talks about an organization, it is far less self-promotional than advertising. To have a trusted news source do so can help establish the school’s credibility and expertise in the minds of its community. Also, the coverage gained is often far more extensive than anything a school could have hoped to say in an ad.

Under the right circumstances and with the proper control, an effective public relations campaign can do wonders to promote a school to its own community. A school can use PR to promote awareness programs, fund-raising programs and to highlight achievements.

How to Publicize

Schools have an often-unrealized advantage with their local media: positive news. Much of the news we see on television or read in magazines each day is negative. For a reporter, a school event is a “feel-good” story that promotes a local achievement. Such stories can provide a much-needed break from depressing stories for a reporter and their audience.

Admissions Directors are a natural choice for a school’s PR contact for the media, since one of the director’s roles is to acquaint potential parents with the school’s best features. They are well suited to communicate how a school positively impacts its community.

Schools with Admissions Directors should think about paying for them to take a continuing education class in basic PR techniques. Such classes can be invaluable at explaining what stories reporters typically find newsworthy and how they should be presented.

If a school does not have an Admissions Director, consider forming a public relations committee made up of involved parents, teachers and members of the school administration. Committee members should learn how to write a news release that will alert the local media when something important is happening at the school, and then choose one person to represent the school to the media.

Writing a Press Release

The best way to inform the news media about what happens within your school is to write and send them a press release.

A press release is different from a news article. A news article is a compilation of facts researched by journalists and published in the news media, whereas a press release is designed to be sent to journalists in order to encourage them to develop an article on a particular subject.

Members of the news media typically work under stringent deadlines. To guarantee your news is read and considered for publication, use a standard press release format. This standard was established by newsroom reporters and conveys your information in a manner that is easy for them to process.

A press release must be concisely-written, timely and newsworthy. It should be printed on your school letterhead. They are normally 1-3 pages, with an ideal length of one page. If your release is more than one page, be sure to number them. Most newspapers are written at an 8th-grade reading comprehension level, so when possible, your release should be as well. Also, use a clean, readable font in 12pt, such as Times New Roman or Arial. It should be written in block style -- do not indent.

Standard Press Release Format

  • “For Immediate Release” (Placed at the top of the document.)
  • Contact information (Placed directly underneath.) This is the name, phone number and email address of the person a reporter can contact within your organization for more information. Make sure a phone number is included, as many reporters, especially those outside of large cities, are more likely to use a telephone, rather than email. A name is required: do not direct reporters to a general department phone number.
  • Place at least one “spacer” line here.
  • Headline (Text should be bold, underlined and centered.) The headline should summarize the most important content of your release in a single sentence, (i.e. “Golda Meir Day School Student Wins National Science Fair”)
  • Place one “spacer” line here.

Body of Press Release

All text in the body of the release should be spaced at 1.5 lines. There should be a blank spacer line placed between paragraphs.

Introductory Paragraph. The first line of the body of your press release should start with a Dateline that includes the city where the release is generated and the date (i.e. LOS ANGELES, CA. – October 19, 2006). The first paragraph should answer the following questions in at most, two sentences: “Who?”, “What?”, “Where”, “When?” and “Why?” It should not contain a quote.

Additional paragraphs should expound upon the first and contain all details relevant to your news, including background and statistics. (In other words, they answer the question, “How?”) If you would like to include a quote regarding your event, it is commonly placed in the second paragraph.

The final paragraph is boilerplate. This is a single paragraph that gives the reporter some background information on your school. Boilerplates are often single-spaced.

  • End the release with either “###” or “-30-”, center-justified and surrounded by at least one line of blank space. (With quotation marks removed.) This indicates to the reporter than the release has ended.

The website of the PR Newswire organization (www.prnewswire.com) is a wonderful, free resource for sample press releases. If you can, use the text of the releases on their site as an example.

Remember that the purpose of a press release is to suggest a story idea from which a reporter will write or produce an article. It should explain why your story is of interest to that reporter’s readers or viewers.

The reporter is under no obligation to cover your news. It will be your responsibility to explain why they should. However, if they say no, don’t pressure them unduly. You’ll most likely need them in the future.

Speaking to the Media

  • Be mindful of the fact that no matter how friendly and helpful a reporter may be, anything a school representative says to the media is considered “On the Record” and therefore may be used in a story. Therefore, choose your words carefully and assume your conversations are being recorded. If you must discuss something with a reporter that you don’t want printed, tell them before you speak that what you are about to say is “Off the Record.” Most reporters view this as a request, and may not respect it.
  • Be positive.
  • Know your media deadlines. Newspapers work a few days to a week in advance of publication date for articles and at least one to two months in advance for calendar listings. Television deadlines vary, but are usually quite tight. Magazine deadlines vary widely, but most work from a month to six months in advance.
  • Be factual. Do not speculate or exaggerate. Never lie. Never get angry.
  • Do not say “no comment” unless absolutely necessary.
  • Be courteous, professional and never burn your bridges. Remember, you need them more than they need you.
Jon Feldman is a Senior Account Executive at AHPR Group. Jon can be reached at: jonpublicist@yahoo.com.

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