Focus on Media Relations
Earning Positive Press
By Ronica Cleary
Most people have likely heard it before: “If it bleeds, it leads.” The press appears eager to speak with law enforcement when a story relates to crime and violence. Of course, these types of stories can be valuable because they inform the communities agencies serve and could keep others safe. But, one type of coverage is often the most difficult to earn: positive press.
For your agency, earning positive press may seem impossible to achieve. Additionally, you may feel frustrated when other organizations and units appear to navigate the process with ease. Perhaps they just had a feature story on a new technology center they created or the volunteer work an officer does in the community. How did they do it? While never easy, you can take seven steps to improve the likelihood that your department starts receiving positive media attention.
Step 1: Build Reporter Relationships
For law enforcement officials, building relationships with reporters is an essential part of their work. This means a willingness to help reporters and work with them on stories, even when they may not be ones you deeply care about. If you take reporters’ calls when they are on a deadline, they will more likely take yours when you hope to earn positive press for a new initiative or program.
Step 2: Make the Story Visual
If a story is not visual, it probably will not be told on television. Something as simple as a willingness to give a statement on camera, rather than in writing, will increase the likelihood of coverage. If you are camera shy, seek media training to help overcome those fears.
However, making a story visual is more than agreeing to be on camera. It involves letting the reporter inside your daily life as a law enforcement official. From evidence to technology, reporters are more likely to cover a story if they can include visuals of what you are describing.
Step 3: Invite the Reporter to Participate
Whenever possible, invite the reporter to participate in the story. New technology? Let the reporter try it. Improved training? Invite the reporter to train alongside law enforcement. Reporters will always be more inclined to cover positive stories if involved in the actual event or news update you want covered.
Step 4: Make It Easy
Reporters work on tight deadlines and need sources accessible at a moment’s notice. Of course, you also work on tight deadlines with plenty of demands. Unfortunately, when attempting to earn positive press, you need reporters more than they need you. If you can be accommodating and flexible when they are in a time crunch, they may be more inclined to work with you on a later story.
"... you can take seven steps to improve the likelihood that your department starts receiving positive press."
Step 5: Personalize Your Pitches
Do not send generic pitches via blind copy to a handful of newsrooms and then idly wait for a response. Think about the reporter who would be a great fit to cover your story and pitch them directly. Follow up with a phone call, especially if you have worked with them previously. Be proactive and continue to reach out to other newsrooms as well.
Step 6: Pitch in Anticipation of Slow News Days
Holidays can be difficult days for reporters to fill with meaningful stories. Reporters will work in advance to prerecord them for holidays. If you have an idea for a story that is not time sensitive, referred to as “evergreen” in the news business, reach out to the reporters you know and suggest they cover your idea on an upcoming holiday. If they are not working, ask who will be and request an introduction.
Step 7: Offer an Exclusive
You will probably get coverage for your positive news story if you offer it exclusively to one news outlet. They are always looking for exclusive content, and this may be what it takes to seal the deal.
Even if you follow all these steps, the news cycle and newsroom priorities will be the driving forces behind what gets covered and when. Stay the course and be persistent. You are your organization’s best advocate for earning the positive press you deserve.
"You are your organization’s best advocate for earning the positive press you deserve."
Ronica Cleary is a private consultant in media training, public relations, crisis communications and communications strategy for private and public entities, including law enforcement. She can be contacted at Ronica@ClearyStrategies.com.