Radio and TV producers receive hundreds of media alerts in their inboxes every week. Some alerts are opened, some are skimmed, and some get a response. But most of them end up in the trash – why? Maybe the producer didn’t think the topic was relevant to their audience. Maybe the station covered the topic recently and it’s just too soon to revisit. But, chances are it’s because the media alert didn’t do a good job of selling the story or the guest. How do you craft an alert so that it has the best chance of getting looked at instead of getting zapped into the trash folder? Consider this fictional media alert for an interview opportunity with Dr. Derek Shepherd, a character from ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy.
Your headline should be short, simple, and to the point.
A headline such as “Can Exercise Prevent Dementia?” gives the reader important information, piques their interest, and fits well in an email subject line. In contrast, long, overly explicit subject lines like “Interview Opportunity for Thursday, April 1: Noted neurosurgeon, Dr. Derek Shepherd talks about the effects of exercise slowing or preventing brain disease,” often get cut off in the mailbox and passed over by producers.
Put your most powerful message at the start of your media alert.
The first paragraph of the alert is like the lead in a news story. Don’t bury it! Producers sifting through a raft of emails don’t have time to read through the entire alert to get to your main message.
Use a bullet list to outline various approaches to the topic.
Rarely does a topic have just one focus, and the more options you can give to producers, the more likely they are to book your guest. You can do this by adding a line such as, “Dr. Shepherd can discuss…” or “Dr. Shepherd can answer questions about…” and then list various aspects of your topic.
Go easy on your guest’s credentials at the beginning of the media alert.
It’s certainly important to position your guest as an expert on a topic, but you don’t need to include their entire CV in the second paragraph to do that. A couple of sentences outlining the guest’s most recent affiliations, publications and experiences that reflect their expertise on the subject is sufficient. You can include more information or a bio in an attachment or at the bottom of the alert.
Local affiliations are important for localized stories.
If you’re pitching a local story such as the need for infrastructure improvement in Texas or job growth strategies in Detroit and your guest lives there, or has worked there, or gone to school there — highlight that in the alert. It creates an instant connection with the station’s audience and more credibility about the local impact of the topic.
Be clear about a guest’s availability for an interview.
If your guest is on a one- or two-day media tour, have the dates and times explained clearly and noticeably in in the alert – in type or italics. Be sure to include your guest’s availability outside the set tour dates as well, if applicable.
Make your email media alerts readable.
Seems obvious, but we’ve all opened emails or attachments and had to strain to read the pitch because the font size was microscopic or in a light gray or pastel color. Use a clean font (Times, Verdana, Geneva, Helvetica, Arial) in a size of 10 or 12, and steer clear of any light-colored text. Black is the most readable. Fancy formatting doesn’t communicate the relevance of your story. Good writing does.
One last thing – a picture paints a thousand words. Yes, even for radio.
Studies show, over and over again, that images draw us into the written words they accompany. It doesn’t matter that your spokesperson isn’t Patrick Dempsey or even a celebrity, producers like to see who they’ll be interviewing. The best way to put a human face on your story – include a human face in the alert.
Implementing these suggestions doesn’t guarantee that you’ll book your guest, but they will make your pitch more likely to be read and considered by media producers.
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