Communicating with the Media

If you have an idea for a great news item that features chemistry, you have many potential media outlets to consider. Newspapers, shopping guides, magazines, blogs, employer newsletters, news stations and radio are just some of the outlets available to you. 

The following tips offer guidance for preparing and distributing media materials to get the attention of journalism professionals. 

Creating media materials

There are numerous materials that people use to communicate with the media. Some of the common tried-and-true staples that reporters of the media most often receive and expect are described here.

Press releases – A press release is a short article (rarely more than one page long) written in a style similar to a news story, either about an upcoming activity or a report about something that recently occurred. Press releases are intended to give reporters and editors enough information about an event so they can decide whether to publish a story about it. The should include the following basic information:

  • Date, time and location of event
  • Names of all people and groups participating in the event
  • One or two sentences on why a journalist would want to cover the event
  • Information on any visual elements being displayed at the event
  • Contact information for questions 

Media advisories – One of the simplest publicity materials to prepare, media advisories alert reporters to an upcoming event. Advisories often are used to invite reporters to attend and cover an outreach event. If there will be photo or interview opportunities at the event, mention that in the media advisory. Advisories should be less than a page long and include the same basic information as press releases.

Letters to the editor – These should relate to an article that a newspaper or magazine recently published and either add information or counter an opinion that you do not agree with. A letter to the editor should be brief and to the point. Look at the letters that the publication has previously printed and you will get an idea of what gets an editor’s attention. 

Check and adhere to the newspaper's letter specifications, especially regarding word limits. Letters should be only a few paragraphs long (between 150 and 250 words); those that do get published are usually edited for space and style considerations. Write in short paragraphs and include your contact information (name, address, phone number and email) so editors can easily contact you.

Op-eds – An op-ed is an opinion column typically carried opposite the editorial page; thus, the name. Newspapers have guidelines for op-eds, such as length (usually 750 to 1000 words), topic, timeliness and relevancy to its readers. Check with your local newspaper for its requirements and guidelines.

An op-ed is likely to be published if the opinion is unique, rather than just adding to the chorus of similar viewpoints. A key factor in determining if an op-ed will be published is who wrote it. An op-ed authored by a well-known person or someone with considerable expertise in the topic area is more likely to be used than one from a less-known or less-qualified person.

When submitting an op-ed article, draft a short cover note that includes the author’s contact information and reason for writing the piece. After sending your submission, follow up with a telephone call expressing your hope that the publication will publish the op-ed. 

Creating a media list

In creating a media list, you’ll want to identify the right person at each outlet to send your materials. Relying on established public relations channels, such as your university’s or employer’s PR department, may be the most effective way to get a reporter’s attention. If that’s not an option, contact each outlet and ask who handles science, education, business or community news, depending upon your activity. When you call, ask about the reporter’s schedule and deadlines – with this information, you’ll be able to place the information in their hands at the right time to make the next edition.

A good media list should be updated regularly, both before you’ve reached out to reporters and as you contact them and learn information about what types of stories they like and how they prefer to be contacted. Keep notes about your contacts – it will help you get your message across the next time you have news to share.

Interacting with journalists

If you want to suggest a story about an important chemical finding, a local chemistry event, or another story to a reporter, keep in mind the following advice:

  • Be prepared to say something you want to communicate about the local section, chemists or chemistry.
  • Identify yourself and why you are calling. Journalists talk to many people a day, so be clear about why they should care about your story.
  • Send news they can use. Be sure you can answer the question, “Why will they want to know this?” Be prepared to ‘sell’ your story.
  • Be clear and concise whenever contacting reporters. The thing reporters lack most is time – they’re deluged with hundreds of news stories every day, all on a tight deadline.
  • Different media have different lead times. The only way to know about a media outlet’s deadlines is to gather this information in your early contacts with the media and keep it on file.
  • Double-check everything you send to the media for clarity and accuracy. If you provide information that contains errors or ambiguities, reporters will soon learn to ignore you.
  • Send thank you notes, even if they chose not to cover your event or story idea.
  • It is each member’s responsibility to ensure that their employers do not have policies that prohibit them from talking to reporters.

Media tipsheets

Use your time in the spotlight effectively with these tipsheets, designed to help you prepare for various outreach moments.

Interview tips:

Other tips:

Media Relations – ACS Pensacola Section

Section meetings, awards and speakers – the Pensacola Section of the ACS routinely gets its announcements in the press. How do they do it?

  • They maintain a well-conceived contact list that includes their members, local media contacts, and elected officials.
  • They stay in regular contact with these people by sending newsletters and media announcements a few times a year.
  • They broaden their contacts every few years by calling the media outlets and asking for updated contact information.
  • They know how to market their news: teacher and student awards are more likely to get covered by television stations, while lectures and meetings will be covered in their papers’ “upcoming events” section.

From Allan Ford, Pensacola Section Member

ACS Public Relations Guidebook

To see sample media materials related to section events and announcements, for advice on how to compose your media materials and for additional ideas, visit The American Chemical Society PR Guidebook.