Last month I wrote a post about the main elements of a media alert. In this post, I will focus on how to send your alert, and how and when you should use one.

As I mentioned in my previous post, you’re sending out an alert when you have something important to announce. Something that the media would consider news.

Why use a media alert? Why not just send a media release?

While aimed at a similar audience, a media alert (or media advisory) serves a different purpose than a media release.

An alert points out an event that is about to happen, something that you believe journalists would want to cover (or attend). For example, it could be a:

  • Photo opportunity that shows your executive director with celebrities and politicians opening a new health centre for your community;
  • Special announcement about a new program that will change how people with disabilities use public transit; or
  • Release of the results of a new study on homelessness.

An alert is not the full story – it’s just a teaser.

A media release, on the other hand, is a fully written story. A release is what you send when you want coverage right away. In fact, the release could be published as is and should stand on its own. Read this post to learn how to format a media release.

Here’s how your nonprofit can use a media alert effectively

Decide how to send your media alert

Email is still the best way to reach most journalists, bloggers and others who might be interested in your event. To make your alert useful and easy to read:

  • Send your alert in the body of your email, not as an attachment;
  • Don’t use logos or other image files – most reporters use smartphones (small screens!) and logos can hide or distract from the main information;
  • Use links to provide more information.

I recommend personalizing your emails, especially if you have a relationship with the journalist already. A personal email shows that you respect their time and your relationship much more than a mass email does. I find my response rate much higher when I take the time to do this.

You may also want to think about alternative outreach methods. Social media, especially Twitter, is a good way to connect with journalists. It’s easy to find their Twitter handles and send them a message with a link to your alert.

Of course, if your event or report is of national interest, you may also want to look into using a wire service such as Canada Newswire. While this isn’t free, it will give you a much larger and broader reach.

Determine who to send your alert to

First, you need to have a media list (and if you don’t, read this post for a detailed step-by-step guide). Pick up the relevant newspapers in your area, listen to the news and watch some TV. Note who writes and talks about your issue. Generally, you can find their email addresses and other contact information (such as Twitter handles) online.

If you can’t find their contact information, or have a hard time finding the right journalists, don’t hesitate to reach out to your colleagues at other organizations. Many will be willing to share their contacts with you – just don’t forget to share any of yours with them.

Most importantly, go for quality over quantity. Focus on the journalists that have an interest in your topic first, personalize your approach, and show them that you understand what they’re interested in.

Then, go beyond your media list. As with any of your public relations efforts, don’t forget your organization’s network. They are likely interested in hearing about your event and might want to attend.

Plan your timing: when to send your media alert

This really depends on what you are announcing and what you want to happen.

If it’s for an event and you want journalists to show up, you need give them enough notice – at least three to seven days. Since many media outlets now have only one or two journalists covering the whole city (or region), competition for a journalist’s time is tough. Don’t take it personally if they tell you that they just don’t have the time (or the interest) to come to your event – something else might be more pressing for their audience.

If you are releasing a report, send your alert at least a week before the release date. Some will ask for an embargoed copy so they can prepare the article in advance. They may not show up to your press conference (or online release event), but you could get coverage nonetheless.

If you have a specific publication in mind, you might want to reach out even further in advance. This could be part of your efforts to set up an exclusive with one of the bigger media outlets.

What else do you need to do?

Sending out an email can only do so much. If you’re working on a bigger event and you really want to be sure that your chosen journalists have heard about it, you can follow up with a phone call a few days after you’ve sent out the alert.

You might also want to send the alert again the day before the event – just in case the reporter didn’t see it. Add “Reminder” in the subject line.

After you’ve sent out the alert, be prepared:

  • Have information ready when reporters call;
  • Make sure your spokespeople are prepared (and have seen your media alert) – it’s also a good idea to create a backgrounder with key messages for all your spokespeople (read this post for more on working with your spokespeople); and
  • Share the media alert with all staff at your organization (including reception if you still have a real, live person answering the phone – they should know what the caller is talking about).

After the event, follow up with a media release. You definitely want to send it to those journalists on your media list who didn’t attend the event.

You should also have all relevant materials on your website so journalists (and those who read about your event or report in the papers or hear about it on TV or radio) can find them without having to call you.

While a media alert won’t guarantee that journalists will attend your organization’s events (or subsequently write about them), you want to make sure it’s part of your communications planning. A well-crafted and well-timed media alert is a valuable tool that you can use to increase your chance of coverage.

Markus Stadelmann-Elder

Markus Stadelmann-Elder

Director of Communications at Maytree
Since arriving in Toronto from Switzerland in 1992, Markus has worked and volunteered in a number of communications roles, including leading an in-house design team at Lavalife, Toronto’s largest online dating company, and managing the communications team at Variety Village. In January 2009, Markus joined Maytree, a charitable foundation focused on reducing poverty and inequality in Canada and building strong civic communities.
Markus Stadelmann-Elder