Publicize a Meet
Swimming doesn't get much attention in the media. But it doesn't need to be that way. If you understand what the media is looking for, and how to work with it, and if you plan your work and work your plan, your club has an excellent chance of getting media attention. What follows is a brief explanation of how the publicity game is played - and what you need to do to get media coverage.
Basic Points to Remember
- Effective publicity doesn't happen by accident. Someone from your club - whether a committed volunteer or coach - has to be responsible for it, and has to work for it.
- It takes a plan. And, hard work over time. It take colds calls, writing, and continued effort.
- Education is key. Keep in mind that most reporters and editors don't know the first thing about swimming. You understand the jargon, the significance of your swimmers' achievements, which meets in your calendar are routine and which are special. All of this you have to communicate in your contacts with the media and in the written material you prepare for them.
- Be persistent. Even if you do everything right, your efforts may not always pay off at first. Be patient and keep working on your plan.
- Understand that the news media is not in business to give publicity to your club, they're in business to bring news to their audience.
- It's the media's right to decide what news runs and in what form it runs. Make your news attractive to an editor and deliver it in a format that's easy to use.
What the Media Needs & Expects From You
- Information that is comprehensible and genuinely interesting to their audience.
- Information that's timely. TIme is crutial. No one wants to read news that is 3, 5, or 7 days old. What the media wants and expects is news delivered in a timely fashion.
- Profesisionalism. Understand the environment in which your media works. Find out their deadlines; find out how they prefer to receive information - i.e. via hard copy, fax, email, or phone.
Key Types of News
- Hard News - Reports an event, and loses its value as the event recedes in time. Most of what you see in a newspaper or on TV, or hear in the radio are hard news. Examples of hard news include meet results, your swimmers' qualifying for a national meet, the announcement of a new coach or the honorees at your team's annual awards banquet.
- Features - The emphasis is more on background, think a profile of an athlete - his or her background, what makes him or her tick, what sets him or her apart. A good feature works with a quirk - maybe your athlete is headed for Nationals (that's the news hook), starred for your local high school team last year (that's background that local sports editors usually appreciate), works out four hours a day (that's what sets your athlete apart, makes your athlete tick), but maybe she also plays lead trumpet in the school jazz band or writes poetry or has a pet saluki. Don't hesitate to sell those quirks as part of your pitch.
Start Getting Publicity for Your Club
- Gather background information on your club and swimmers. Develop a fact sheet with a couple of paragraphs of key information: your club's name, affiliation (mention your LSC and USA Swimming affiliations), where you work out, how many swimmers you have, ages of your swimmers, how many kids you've sent to regional/LSC championship/national championship meets, how well you've done in local championship meets, name(s) of coach(es), etc. etc. Once you've done that you can put together one-page biographies of your top-notch swimmers. Get black and white head shots of these swimmers made and have them on file (color photos too if you're getting TV publicity).
- Get to know the media you're targeting. Make a list of the media outlets (print and broadcast) that cover your area. Be realistic, especially if you're in a major metropolitan area. Start local and expand your horizon. Review carefully potential outlets for your news. In addition to sports, do they have a youth/high school section? Do they take announcements? If there are several teams in a given newspaper's serving area, it may be worth approaching the media as a group, and working together to get publicity for the sport.
- Identify potential stories. In addition to meet results, your news can include swimmers qualifying for and attending camps, major regional and national meets; recruitment-oriented activities; learn-to-swim programs; honorees at team award nights; and new coaches. And don't forget announcements of tryouts and other events of general interest to the community.
- Get acquainted. Once you've done some groundwork, it's time to start making calls. You'll usually find the phone numbers of the editors on the editorial page or in the section you're targeting. Call the sports editor of your local daily or the news editor of your local weekly. Introduce yourself and tell them you want to start getting your team's news to them. Is there a specific reporter you should be working with? What are their deadlines? How should you send them your news -- by fax, email, or through the mail? Keep good notes, and build a list of contacts at all the media outlets in your area this way.
- When you have news, always call first. Once you've made those contacts, keep working them. A well-written press release is your most substantial tool for getting your news to the media, but personal contact with an editor or writer, in advance, is critical. If you have an idea for a feature, the telephone is how you present it.
- Be persistent. Keep sending your news, and keep suggesting feature ideas. Be realistic. Don't complain when your news doesn't get picked up, and when the editors you talk to seem disinterested in your story ideas. Just don't give up the next time you have a story. One of the reasons for calling routinely when you have news is to help give the media an idea of the relative importance of your news.
- Tell a continuing story. Link your current news to previous releases you've sent out and to past stories that have run (or aired). Build threads to previous coverage.
- Remember that it's about people. Don't just think hard news -- think features. The story is not only about results but about the tremendous young people involved in the sport. Do what you can to tell their story.
- Once you've made those contacts, it's just a matter of following through. You'll need to make arrangements with your coaches to get the results of a meet, and to get your coach to interpret the results for you. Put together a press release and get it off to your contacts in time to meet their deadlines. If an editor seems interested in a feature idea you've suggested, you do everything possible to make it happen.
Covering Your Meet in Person
Think visual; your local paper may not want to send a reporter to cover your swim meet, but suggest that they send a photographer. Second, work to build the relationship. They have to know you and understand the value of your news and the importance of your story. Third, be realistic. Media outlets are like any other business these days. They have scarce resources and have to allocate them in a realistic matter.
If you have a major meet and your local media outlet is going to cover it, you'll need to take care of the following:
- Be sure the media knows when and where to be. If it's a trials and finals meet, make sure they know what time finals start and when the action is.
- Be sure there's a quiet place, a phone line, and access to hospitality.
- Work with coaches -- in advance -- to help facilitate the media's access to athletes.
- Stay with them to serve as a resource -- stand by, answer questions, give them background, help explain what's going on.
The High School Connection
One issue which comes up frequently among swim clubs who have worked hard on publicity is what they see as a bias on the part of local media toward high school sports. Maybe the perception, say, is that your local paper covers high school swim meets and ignores USA Swimming meets, which are year-round instead of seasonal and frequently feature higher-level competition. Part of that may be habit on the media's part -- the audience for high school sports news is well-established, no sports editor is ever going to be shot for publishing a high school sports story, and the high schools are used to feeding their news to the media. Maybe it's just the latter -- that the high schools are getting their results out and you're not.
The best long-run solution is to use the media's focus on high school sports to your advantage. In your news, stress your swimmers' high school connections. If your senior swimmers are swimming for, and starring on, local high school teams, mention that in the news releases you issue that feature these swimmers. Tell a continuing story, so that the editors, and ultimately the readers, will begin to associate these athletes just as strongly with your club as with their high school. Also, encourage your local high school swim coaches (who may be USA Swimming coaches too) to mention the USA Swimming affiliation of their key swimmers in their news releases -- so that the "continuing story" is reinforced both ways.
- If you have a parent on your team who is in the media business, get him or her involved in your publicity effort.
- If you have a college or university nearby, check and see if they offer any communications, public relations, or journalism programs. If they do, there may be some students (maybe even a former swimmer!) who might be looking for an opportunity for some practical experience and might be willing to work for your team as a volunteer. Sports publicity is a big speciality these days, and there may be several students looking for practical experience.