How to get covered by the media

My first adventure was more catchy, original and memorable than anything else I've done since. Gunning for a world distance record on a skateboard made for awesome headlines, but it was the combination of a good story, the romance of travel and the added quirky elements (big right calf) that made my BoardFree project so media-friendly. 

In 8 months my website received over 18 million unique hits (sadly, this was just a few months before Facebook was released into the public domain otherwise my audience would now be huge!), I hit over 40 newspaper front pages in the UK and Australia, and have clippings from over 200 different printed outlets, guested on over 50 radio shows and appeared in over two hours of TV time.

If you really want your project, product or adventure to get noticed then finding your way into mainstream media gives you an extra edge over your current social media audience. These are my thoughts on how to get your content into newspapers, radio or TV shows.

With my crew upon finishing a 1001 mile swim in St Louis, Missouri. October 2012 From left to right: Ness Knight, Emily Bell and Ben Stiff

With my crew upon finishing a 1001 mile swim in St Louis, Missouri. October 2012
From left to right: Ness Knight, Emily Bell and Ben Stiff

If you think you've got an awesome idea on your hands it's easy to imagine that you've got viral potential but actually, those 15 minutes of fame that come with uploading a film of a waterskiing squirrel don't translate into hard followers. Getting caught up in a game of vanity figures won't give you many more likes on your Facebook page, and it certainly won't lead to people buying your next book.

When it comes to promoting your adventurous exploits consistency and tenacity are important, but creativity is your best friend.

If you’re trying to market anything, you need a USP (unique selling point). These come in various guises. A world record attempt is a tried and tested marketing tool, but there are other methods. A worthwhile charitable aim, a unique mode of transport, a world first (this doesn't necessarily class as a record), a race, even wearing a costume for the duration of your event.

My two main USPs when skateboarding across Australia were my skateboard, and a big right calf because I only pushed with one leg (I was a rookie when I started)

My two main USPs when skateboarding across Australia were my skateboard, and a big right calf because I only pushed with one leg (I was a rookie when I started)

Make it count:

A key to getting anyone interested in your charity journey is passion. I know I know, it sounds clichéd, but if you’re not brimming with excitement at what you’re about to attempt don’t expect anyone else to show any interest.

  1. Know your project inside-out - you should be able to sum it up to to a stranger in a single sentence, one paragraph or three, depending on the level of interest they're showing.
  2. The Internet is your friend. Create a database of newspaper, radio, tv and important web contacts in the cities, towns, villages and areas your event is relevant to. Don’t forget to write to your home town media, too. On approach to towns when I was paddling the Mississippi and Murray Rivers I'd spend a few minutes on my phone finding media contacts and sending them a quick message with my eta into town. Usually there was a journalist or photographer (often in small towns they're the same person) waiting.
  3. Try to get a personal contact. Often newspapers will have a list of contact details for their journalists. Sending it to a paper’s generic news or editorial address runs the risk of your story being lost, especially in a big city. The personal touch helps to get it attention. Ask around, do your research, don’t be lazy.
  4. Help the journalist out. Write the story as you’d like it to be heard or read. Do the grunt work and make the publishing process as easy as possible. 
  5. Ask. When you're talking to people about your project ask them if they have any contacts in the media, or if they know anyone who lives further along your route. Let the telegraph wire do the work.
  6. Make a splash. A strong launch or finishing party (or one at a convenient milestone along the way) is always a good event to invite the media to.
  7. Connect with organisations who have relevance to your project, and they'll often push your story out to the media. When I paddleboarded the Mississippi I was contacted by the Wolf River Conservancy in Memphis, Tennessee. Little did I know it, but they pulled out the big guns and when I arrived in Memphis it was the first clean sweep of the media since Bill Clinton had visited a few years earlier. I spent two days in TV and radio studios  talking about my trip and the awesome organisations who had joined me briefly on the river. 
A cheeky live interview with April Norris on ABC24

A cheeky live interview with April Norris on ABC24

Writing a Press Release:

A press or media release is the best way to send a story to the press. Think of a catchy title (imagine your ideal headline) and when do you want your release to go to press (a release date is always important).

Think of a strong headline. Open with a sharp, short paragraph. Sum up the point of your story immediately. Capture the attention of the journalist (and ultimately, the reader.)

Aim to keep your entire release on one page. Include the reason for your project, the inspiration, relevant details, the team, the route and the ultimate aims.

End your release with Notes for Editors. Include event dates, relevant internet sites and contact details in case journalists want further details or communication. Of course, if you're heading through their locality add details on where they can meet you, and when.

This is your chance:

Don't be overwhelmed by media attention. It can be wonderfully strange to have a camera thrust in your face but if someone wants to interview it means you're doing the right thing.

This is a chance for you to spread a positive message, grow an audience or perhaps raise some more money for your favourite cause, but you're not going to do it by being bored or shy.

There's no harm in practicing your lines, but holding a few funny anecdotes in your back pocket and knowing your strongest message will win you friends. Media time is fleeting so take the opportunity, deliver your message first, let your eyes shine and if your story is the cake let your personality be the icing.

And don't forget to shoehorn in details on how people can find your online - it's sadly rare that a media outlet will actively do this for you.

It feels wonderful to have a good story to tell, and even better if you can reach thousands with it. Good luck, and make it count.


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