Getting Publicity for Your Swim Team
Swimming doesn't get much attention in the media. That's a fact -- at least for most swim clubs. 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.
Some basic points to remember:
What the media needs and expects from you:
The key types of news
There are two. First is hard news. Hard news reports an event, and loses its value as that event recedes in time. The headline stories of the day are hard news. Most of what you see in a newspaper or on TV or hear on the radio is hard news. Your 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 -- these are all examples of hard news.
Features are the second type of news. Although a feature will usually have a news hook -- something which ties it to an event, which makes it relevant from a news point of view -- the emphasis is more on background and personalities. News hook aside, a feature doesn't date -- if it sits for a few days, no big deal.
On the sports side, a feature may be 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 -- something a bit unusual. Don't hesitate to sell those quirks as part of your pitch -- the media loves them!
How do you start getting publicity for your club?
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 news 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
How do you get the media to cover your meet in person? First of all, 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:
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.
Three ideas for improving your effectiveness at publicity. The first is pretty obvious -- if you have a parent on your team who is in the media business, get him or her involved in your publicity effort. Although this is a bit cynical for my taste, I have even heard of teams that have gone out of their way to recruit the local news editor's kids for their team.
Another idea: 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. Check out the web site of the Public Relations Student Society of America to see if a school near you has an affiliated program, or check out the school's web site.
Also, the communications office at USA Swimming has a variety of resources for helping clubs learn how to do publicity more effectively. Check out the Club Toolbox on the USA Swimming web site for a variety of web-based publicity and media relations resources.
Your major tool in communicating with the media is a news release. Follow this link for a look at what goes into a successful release.
Your primary tool for communicating with the news media is a news release. Like most written documents, news releases have a definite style and definite rules. Here are some of those rules and their implications for you as a publicity person, and a sample press release which demonstrates news style at work.
Following is a sample news release. Although it talks about swimmers from your team winning events at a national meet, the principles are the same for a release about a local senior or age group meet, where the news might be swimmers qualifying for a regional or national championship meet. The links in the release will take you to explanatory footnotes which will help you understand the fine points of news style and writing a press release. At the end of the footnotes is a brief section on writing advance announcement news releases for the media.
One note: be very careful when talking about time standards. Remember, virtually no one outside the immediate swimming community understands their signficance. If you can't explain the significance of a time standard as part of your story, you're in danger of losing your audience (and that includes the editor who's reading your copy). Far better to say "qualified for the Far Western championship meet to be held next month in Concord" than to say "made his Q time." Not only does this explain, it makes the news you send out before and after Far Westerns far more relevant and attractive. Note how this is handled in the sample news release below.
-- Millbrae Marlins news --
CONTACT: Joan Johnson 555-1212
Jones, Martin win events at national meet
MILLBRAE, August 1, 1999 -- Tim Jones and Cindy Martin of the Millbrae Marlins Swim Team were event winners at the prestigious Speedo Junior Championships (West) this past weekend in Bakersfield, California.
Jones, a Millbrae resident, won the boys 500 yard freestyle Friday night with a time of 4:20.89 and was third in the 1000 yard freestyle yesterday with a time of 9:30.72. His winning time in the 500 yard freestyle qualified him for USA Swimming's Olympic Team selection meet to be held next August in Indianapolis.
Jones also swims for Millbrae High School and won the 500 and 1000 freestyles at boys Central Coast sectional championships held at Stanford University last fall.
Martin, a Hillsborough resident, won the girls 200 yard breastroke Saturday with a time of 2:17.11 after finishing fifth in the 100 yard breastroke Thursday night.
Martin swims for Burlingame High School and was a finalist in the 100 yard breastroke and the 200 yard individual medley at the girls Central Coast Championships last fall.
"Tim is the first Marlin swimmer ever to qualify for Olympic Trials," said Marlin head coach Mel Stafford. "Both he and Cindy had excellent meets and are on track for outstanding performances this summer at National Championships."
Jones, his brother Mike, Rich Rodriguez of Millbrae, and Charlie Coleman of Burlingame also placed third in the boys' 400 yard freestyle relay Saturday night.
With more than 100 members from ages 6 to 19, the Marlins are the Millbrae area's largest competitive swim team. Affiliated with Pacific Swimming and USA Swimming, the Marlins train at City Pool and at Millbrae High School. For more information, call 987-6543.
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Comments on Millbrae Marlins press release
Use your team letterhead with logo or put your team name on top in big type. It doesn't hurt to tell them it's news, although that's pretty obvious.
Always include the name and phone number(s) of someone who can provide more information or help arrange an interview.
In press releases, the most important information goes up top. In this case, the first few paragraphs really tell the entire story, and can stand on their own if space is limited. Everything that follows adds detail. A rule of thumb is that your news will be cut from the bottom. Note also the way the lead paragraph begins with the location where your news is originating from (also known as the dateline), and the date of the release.
In news style, always use last name only after the first mention of a name.
If you're sending your news to a media outlet which serves a single community and your swimmers are all from that community, you probably don't need this bit of detail. However, if your news is going to a media outlet which serves a number of communities, it's important to include the home town for everyone you name.
Come on, use your spell-checker. Professionalism counts.
After you've given the facts up top, explain their significance. Remember, your readers, and likely the reporter and editor at the media outlets in your town, don't know the significance of the times Jones swam. Explain it to them. (Remember the warning above!) Not only does this add detail to your story today, but it sets up the news release you'll be writing next spring (and the feature story you'll be pitching, no doubt) when Jones is off to Trials!
Tell a continuing story -- build threads to previous coverage. No doubt Jones got plenty of ink during the high school season (that's the Central Coast Championships referred to)-- make the connection, and banner it in your coverage. Whatever you have, build in those details -- make it easy for the writer to add depth and color to your story. And of course you've been keeping a separate file on Jones, with clippings and meet results, so that it's easy to go back and get these details.
The quote's a bit lame, but it adds more detail. It might not be used word for word, but the detail might get picked up in the story.
A boilerplate paragraph like this, based on the information in the fact sheet you developed for your team, should be at the end of every one of your news releases. It won't be used every time, but put it in religiously.
If your news release runs more than a single page, put "--more--" at the bottom of the initial page(s), and start any following page(s) with the number of the page and key words from your headline on the first page. And always put a commonly-understood "end" symbol like the three pound signs above at the bottom of your final page.
By the way, although we didn't do it above due to the limitations of the HTML format, always double-space your copy.
Another kind of news release is the advance announcement -- a pre-event announcement of a major meet or of some other kind of special event that you'd like to invite the media to cover. You can start with a news-release type head, then describe your function in a basic who/what/when/where-type format.
Depending on the event, you may also want to include background information (such as a biography) on special attendees, the history of the event, any information needed to help the media understand the newsworthiness of your event. If an event would include excellent photo opportunities, stress that too.
It's critical to follow this kind of advance announcement with a phone call, to ascertain the media's interest. Depending on the magnitude of your event, your advance announcement can be anywhere from a day or two to several weeks. If you have story ideas that relate to the event, be sure to mention them in your phone calls.
Copyright © 1997, 1999 Pacific Swimming, Inc.