There are basically three different marketing concepts you can use to tell your brand’s story: paid media, owned media, and earned media. Simply put, paid media is advertising you pay for. Owned media is content you control (blogs, social media, website, etc.). Earned media is publicity earned through efforts other than using paid channels. In other words, earned media is free. And who doesn’t love free?
Earned media is also the most credible, authentic, and evergreen concept of the three—and you can leverage it to boost brand recognition and revenue. How? By telling your story. Actually, by having members of the media tell your story for you—for free.
It does take a little work to get your free press. Your local TV news stations, newspapers, or news websites are looking for content that is compelling to their respective audiences. They are looking for stories, though, and what they often get is news of business promos. Keep this in mind when coming up with stories to pitch.
Also, understand the relationship between “promoting” and “storytelling” when it comes to media. Paid and owned media fall into the promoting category, because you’re the one telling the story. In earned media, it’s the medium that’s doing the storytelling and controlling it.
However, even in earned media, you can help the media shape their story. And in pitching stories, the desired result of the storytelling is promoting. Here’s how it works:
Let’s say it’s the shoulder season and you want to increase visitation, so you run a discounted ticket special to climb at your park. To raise awareness of the special, you run some ads on the local radio station, post about it on social media, and write a blog post. You also send an email to all the local media outlets—TV, newspapers, etc.—telling them about the special and how it’s an affordable opportunity to climb at the park. None of them pick up the story. Why?
In the same scenario, classes from a local elementary school are coming to your park to climb in the kids’ course at the special discounted rate. In conjunction with the field trip, you do a canned food drive to support the local food pantry, and any kid that brings two canned goods gets a ticket to come back and climb another time. You contact local media outlets telling them this story—and cameras show up from the local news to cover the event. Why?
The difference here is that the first scenario is a promotion, while the second allows the media to tell a story. A story that also promotes your park and the discounted ticket. If you want earned media to be a vehicle to help sell something, sell the media on the story, not the product.
So, what are your stories? Here are some places to start:
• new stuff to do in the park
• a new perspective on the outdoors
• staff accomplishments
• human interest stories
If you want a reporter, editor, or news producer to consider pursuing your story, it needs to come in the form of a good press release. This requires some wordsmithing, and there are some rules to follow if you want media to give it more than a passing glance. The most basic of the rules: ALWAYS use proper spelling and grammar. Always.
In general, a press release should be written like a news article. The best press releases allow an editor or reporter to simply copy and paste, with some light editing, and run the news in print or online.
Press release basics
• Write in the third person. “The Big Tree Zip Tour is hosting blind children,” not “We are hosting …”
• Use the active voice—“Dave reads Adventure Park Insider”—not the passive voice—”Adventure Park Insider is being read by Dave.”
• Avoid subjective language: “the greatest,” “most incredible,” “everyone’s favorite,” etc.
• Limit the bragging to an absolute minimum.
Here are some press release guidelines, starting from the top of the document and working down:
Contact Info If a media member wants to follow up to get more information and/or pursue the story, who should he or she reach out to? A press release should always list the media contact’s info, aka, the person with answers. Put the contact info either at the top of the release or at the bottom. Either way, it should look like this:
Headline The headline of a press release may be even more important than the content. It should grab the recipient, and give him or her a reason to read the full release. It should be written for the media, not for yourself, so consider, “what will catch the eye of the media person?” If the headline fails to introduce a story properly, it may never be told in the media.
• Keep it short and to the point.
• Be punchy, catchy, engaging.
• Use alliteration if possible.
• Don’t “announce” anything. It’s happening, so say what’s happening.
After the headline, you can include a descriptive subheading that elaborates on the headline in an interesting way. Its purpose is to further draw the reader in. For example:
How to Win Your Wife’s Weight in Beer
The 2018 North American Wife Carrying Championships will feature a new course, bigger prizes.
Dateline This precedes the lead paragraph and tells the reader where the press release originated and when it was written. Most media members prefer the AP (Associated Press) format, which is, for example: BURLINGTON, Vt.—June 1, 2018—[Start text…]
The Lead After every great headline, a great lead paragraph must follow. This is the hook. The headline gets them to read on, the lead gets them to read the entire release.
The lead is critical. In 50 words or less, it should answer: Who? What? When? Where? Why or How? It should objectively state the facts, sans hype—but that doesn’t mean it can’t be interesting.
BURLINGTON, Vt.—June 1, 2018—
Meeker Adventure Park in Waitsfield will open Vermont’s first kids-only, self-guided aerial adventure in July. Climbers ages 3 to 7 will tackle a series of Vermont-inspired obstacles eight feet off the ground while parents watch and coach from an adjacent observation path.
Body After the lead comes the nuts and bolts of your story. These paragraphs should provide supporting information and additional details that the reader would want to know (such as the use of a belay system to prevent kids from falling out of the trees). Throughout the release, be sure to use terminology everyone will understand, not just experienced aerial adventurers. Speak to the audience you’re trying to reach.
Early in the body of the release, include a quote from an important person who would actually say something about the subject. If you’re opening a new kids’ park, quote the kids’ park manager, not a guide on your zip line tour. That gives it credibility. It is the only place in a press release where it’s OK to offer a little sentiment, but keep it to a minimum. The quote should also have a conversational tone and add something to the story.
For example, saying, “We’re thrilled to open our new kids’ park” doesn’t add anything to the story—of course you’re thrilled. Why you’re thrilled is far more interesting: “We built the new kids’ park so that everyone in the family can have a fun and unique outdoor experience,” said Meeker Adventure Park general manager Olivia Rowan. “We look forward to welcoming the community for the grand opening in July.”
Boilerplate At the end of every press release you write, include the boilerplate about your company. In a brief, interesting paragraph, state the facts about your operation: location, year founded, ownership, operational features and characteristics, accolades, and a link to your website.
Members of the media are human beings, not just email addresses and phone numbers. Develop relationships with them to improve your chances of getting a story published. If they know you and like you, they’re more likely to pick up the phone when you call and read the press release you sent.
We have such a leg up on other businesses trying to tell their story because we sell fun. We offer a unique experience that is a story in and of itself, and it’s still new to a lot of people. Plus, it’s got a lot of buzz. So invite media in your area—and beyond—to come experience your park or tour. This will open their eyes to what you offer, and is a terrific way to develop and solidify your relationship. Be sure to treat them well and make them feel welcome. Invite them on a day when it’s not crazy busy. Assign your best guide who can answer any questions they have.
Even if media isn’t crazy about the idea of climbing or zipping, you can still develop a relationship by reaching out to simply introduce yourself. Don’t just be in contact when you need something.
Remember: It’s not what you know, it’s who you know, and who knows you.
If you don’t have a media room on your website, go now and create one. It’s a very useful resource for media when they’re doing research and need additional information or assets.
The media room should include the contact information for whoever the media contact is. (You do have a media contact, right?) He or she doesn’t need to be a PR person, just a person with answers in case media calls.
It should also include general information about your operation, such as statistics (# of elements, # of zip lines, length of zip lines, etc.), your company boilerplate, etc. Oftentimes media will need hi-res images of your operation and logos, so load a library of core images and make them available for download. Story ideas, links to past press coverage, and any press releases you’ve ever sent out should live in the media room, too.
All of these assets comprise a press kit, which is a very useful tool to distribute to media. Sometimes a website’s media room is referred to as a press kit, which is fine. The definition of a press kit is: “a package of promotional material provided to members of the press to brief them, especially about a product, service, or candidate.”
For an example, see the media room for The Gorge in North Carolina. Owner Sara Bell finds it quite useful. “Most media requests we receive are on a super tight deadline, so having an online press kit with loads of information and imagery ready to go makes the whole process much more efficient,” says Bell. “And, as a seasonal business owner, when requests come in the middle of our busy season, it’s nice to know we have an organized package ready to share.”
So take the few steps necessary to take advantage of the media’s reach. It’s worth the effort. Media folks need content, and you have great content. Tell your stories the right way, and reap the benefits.