Keep in mind, these two posts are dated from 2001, so I’ll be updating them soon with some information about how clubs should be using social media and social networking to their advantage.
Synopsis: Building a relationship with the local media outlets can be HARD work, but it will pay off in the long run. Use short, snappy headlines, brief press releases that pack a punch and a solidly built press kit, and you’ve taken care of half the battle. (And hopefully cut down on your headaches)
In the last column, we addressed several methods for rugby teams to attract media. Now, we’ll study means teams can utilize to attract that attention. Writing press releases to pull in media coverage and the essentials of a press kit for your team.
First, we’ll assemble a press kit. This is the prime tool for a team to create a presence with the local media, because it enables you to easily send a copy to the local newspapers, radio and TV stations. If a reporter features your team, then they can get ideas from the press kit, or if a they need to know about a player during a game, all they need to do is jot his name or number down and look it up when he gets to the newsroom. Having information at the reporters fingertips in a clear concise format makes the reporters job easier, and in that you stand a much better chance of coverage.
A press kit takes some time and effort, and a small amount of money to put together, but it’s well worth all three. First, find a team member with a computer and some spare hard drive space to store all of the press information (usually the guy you strong arm and put in charge of the media relations, or the team president are good choices).
Then devise a letterhead, something the team will use on all their official mail. This is impressive on letters to other teams, or regional unions. Most office supply stores carry software for small businesses that allow you to create the letterhead for letters, envelopes and business cards. All starting pages for each section of the press kit should start with these. Letterheads should be simple, no more then two colors, with the team logo at the top.
Use the business card program part of the software to make business cards for each of the following positions: team president, vice president, team captain(s), coaches and the media relations person.
Include a team history. If you’re an established team, it lets the news organization know you have roots in the community; if you’re newer, it lets them know you’re (fresh, new and) interested in staying in the community. In addition you can use your press kit to help recruit new players, as well as using some of the things you recruit with in your press kit.
A separate section giving a brief overview of rugby, near the front of the press kit, is a good way to reinforce what you’ve shown the media in your controlled scrimmages and games. Add some recent photos, both action and stills, for an overall professional appearance. Add short biographies of each player. If you can’t get bios from everyone, make certain there are biographies from the team president, vice president, team captain(s), coaches, any star players (ones taking part in ITT or All-Star teams) and the media relations person. Feature articles can emerge from anywhere, and the hobbies and personal interests of your players are certainly a starting point. It would be wise to copy everything onto a disk or CD-ROM and include it as a back-up for the editor.
Mention each of the other teams in the local union as part of the press kit, possibly including a separate section devoted to the area union. If there are only a few teams in town, then all of the teams can work together to make one kit. Also include contact information for the local and regional union officers.
As an organizational tool for your kit, purchase a ½” binder with a clear cover (for a cover sheet) for each media outlet. Bingo, a media kit.
It is essential your media representative be familiar with writing a press release. This will be a quick overview, as your release doesn’t need to be fancy or overblown. Keep it simple. Here are some tips.
1. Collect all the information about your event. A journalist generally writes a story in an hour or two, but the majority of their time is spent collecting facts. When the facts are already gathered for them, there’s less time the writer needs to spend researching. Use the “W” questions (who, what, when, where, why and that pesky non-“W” word, how). These are the body of the press release.
2. Is your press release newsworthy? Make certain your press release has impact. What is the important angle? If your local university team is going to lay another 65-0 pasting on a state school, then you probably won’t get much press. But if the team will play a touring team, has a big match against a cross-town rival, or is playing for the local union championship, that’s the time to send a press release. Is your team sponsoring a game for a local charity? If staging an event with a team from another state, get the governors for both states involved, perhaps laying down a little bet. Money might not be the best wager. For example, the governor from New Mexico could bet 5-pounds of green chile vs. 5-pounds of brisket from the governor of Texas when the Albuquerque team plays the El Paso team in a union game.
3. Writing the press release: Start with a snappy headline, something to attract attention. Keep it short, under 12 words, and avoid promotional words. The lead article needs to be strong, answering all those W questions at the start. Many newspapers write articles in an “inverted pyramid” format, giving the vital information at the beginning, then using the other paragraphs to support the information in the introduction. Write in the third-person, don’t use the words “we”, “I”, “us”, instead use “he”, “she” and “they”. Quotes are a great addition. Reporters use quotes from the main players and the coaches. This is when to include personal opinions. Do it in quotes, and never include such statements in the introduction. If you give any stats or facts, reference them. (For example, “John Doe from the Richville Roe RFC has been cited for unsportsmanlike conduct more times then any other player” (according to the Generic Local Union Disciplinary Committee) said Jonesville Jacks RFC coach…) Again though, try to keep it clean, don’t make accusations.
4. Summary: This is for background information on the team, players and contact person for more information. Include as much information as possible, including phone numbers, email addresses and the team’s web site URL.
5. Keep it short! Your release should be no longer than 500 words (unlike this week’s column) and maximum of two pages. The shorter the release, the greater the punch, as long as it’s long on facts and important info.
6. Call the editor before you send it to let them know it’s on its way, and follow up to make certain it was received clearly.
7. BEFORE you send it out, update the team’s Web site with a copy.
This is not the end-all of press release writing rules, merely some rules to follow for a solid release. For more ideas on press releases, or public relations, a good Web site to check out is publicrelations.about.com
The other end of the media sword. When your team gets recognition, they’re open to criticism. The same reporter that covers the team, may write a column asking why Joe Schmoe is starting at wing, when he can’t catch a ball but has blazing speed, while John Doe is slower, gets caught from behind, but can catch. Someone who has a very limited knowledge of the game may question coaching and player desire. If a player commits a crime, that might attract media attention. You need to be ready to answer those questions.
A word of caution: it’s fine to invite members of the press to a post-game party, especially if they’re covering you (they’d probably love it!). But remember that even though you may be friends, they’re still writers, and you never know what they’ll print.
Hopefully this has been helpful, given you ideas for “spreading the gospel of rugby,” as a coach in Wales once told me