How to Create a Media Alert

Over the past few weeks, we’ve suggested the use of a media alert more than once; time for some basic info on what one is, how to use it and how to create one.  First off, what it isn’t:  a short press release.  In general, a media alert is used before an event and a press release is the actual news.

A media alert is used to notify the assignment desk of an upcoming press conference or other event. It is never more than one page (we used to fax them all and you wanted all your info on a single sheet of paper).  The goal is to give a reporter all the information they need to make a decision on whether or not to attend your event, without giving away the story.

A media alert is often a lead-up to an actual press release.  For example, if you use a media alert to get a reporter to come to a press conference, you would provide them the press release or a press kit at the press conference.

Be aware though, once a press conference has been set, speculation will commence and you are officially what is known as “fair game.”  Decide before you send out your media alert how you want to handle “early birds.”  Just like at yard sales, some people don’t want to wait for the official opening time.  They want to come and pick out the best stuff before anyone else arrives.  They might not be able to make it to your event and are willing to abide by an embargo, to be fair to everyone, or they might just be unwilling to subject themselves to the press conference scrum.  They might have deadlines that make the press conference timing an issue.  You never know but you need to be prepared on what you will and won’t disclose outside the conference.

There are also times when a full-bore press release isn’t necessary and feels like overkill.  All you need to communicate is some basic information.  If that’s the case for you, perhaps a media alert, a short, who-what-when-where announcement, will make things easy for everyone.

Another use for media alerts is as a reminder of a previously sent, very important announcement or invitation.  The media alert can refer back to the previous missive and give a quick outline of the most important information. Another  variation on the media alert  is the “statement”, usually no more than the contact person’s info, headline, introduction and a quote.

I’ve seen several formats for media alerts.  Most common is the media contact person’s details (name, phone, email), a title, a brief introduction (generally the what/why, sometimes with the press release-like dateline and sometimes not), and short sections for the who, where and when.  A link to more information, including a website, etc.  is also appreciated (although this information may be included in your standard letterhead.)  Some people include a scaled down version of their organization’s boilerplate at the end — usually no more than a sentence or two.

Think about things like bullets, indents, use of paragraph blocks, highlighting and bolding.  You want someone to be able to discern the purpose at a glance.

Today’s media alerts may also be used to provide the basis for calendar listings if you are promoting a webinar or a physical event.  Or maybe you are alerting financial analysts about your earnings call.  Keep it short but don’t forget to include all the important details.