DIY PR & Mastering Earned Media
Public relations (PR) is an integral part of running a successful brand and business. It is the art of communication and storytelling. It’s about appealing to communities and stakeholders, forging relationships with media and playing the marketing long game.
Well, hopefully we’re going to be challenging those perceptions for you today, with a really insightful take on public relations, earned media and the power of storytelling, that definitely opened my eyes to the vast opportunities events can unlock through a thoughtful and carefully implemented PR strategy.
In this episode:
- Public relations: what it is about and how it relates to your work as an event owner/director
- Paid vs shared vs owned vs earned media
- The importance of securing media exposure for free (=earned media)
- How every race is intrinsically newsworthy and can have a story to tell
- Understanding newsworthiness and unlocking/developing your race's unique story
- Leveraging newsworthy topics: human interest stories, event milestones, brand partnerships.
- Distributing your story/content through online and offline media outlets
- Deciding when to send out (and when not to send out) a press release
- Writing engaging press releases: quotes, the inverse pyramid approach, calls-to-action that work
- The four ways of mining media contact information!
- Crafting effective cover emails to journalists for increased media outreach success
- Understanding journalist lead times and planning your PR content accordingly
- Inviting media to your race using media alerts
- Post-race press releases
- Being your race's spokesperson: making yourself available for interviews and how to conduct them successfully
- Meg's media alert template/example & press release template/example for race directors: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/jzw8jv0qr21xfmd/AACdD1sj72NhEf3RMJk-jjaAa?dl=0 (make sure to listen to Meg's audio intro in the folder)
Thanks to GiveSignup|RunSignup for supporting quality content for race directors by sponsoring this episode. More than 22,000 in-person, virtual, and hybrid events use GiveSignup|RunSignup's free and integrated solution to save time, grow their events, and raise more. If you'd like to learn more about GiveSignup|RunSignup's all-in-one technology solution for endurance and fundraising events visit runsignup.com.
Meg, welcome to the podcast!
Thanks so much for having me on!
Well, thank you very much for coming on. So where are you joining us from today?
I am in Orange County, California - smack-dab in between Los Angeles and San Diego. It's the fall season, so it's shaping up to be a hot day here in SoCal.
As always - that's a very nice part of the world. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Just introduce who you are, what you do, what you've done in this space, and also a little bit about your company, Treat Public Relations.
Yeah, absolutely. I'm a public relations consultant, entrepreneur, and educator. I've worked in public relations for over a decade. I have worked in agencies all across the United States. I've also been working in-house with large and small corporations alike. I have a Bachelor Degree in public relations, a Master's Degree in communications, and a certificate in Strategic Communications Management. I am accredited in public relations, which is a designation held by only around 3,000 of the 250,000 people in the United States that reported working in my field. I split my time between two roles. I teach public relations at the collegiate level. I'm really interested in helping to grow the next generation of PR professionals. I'm also the owner of Treat Public Relations, which is a specialty PR and communications agency focused on serving endurance events, specifically. Treat PR is really my love letter to the endurance industry. I am, myself, a multi-time marathoner, ultra-marathoner, and triathlete. I am so lucky that I have the chance to combine my professional passion with my personal passion for endurance sports. I've represented races all across the US from modest, small, nonprofit 5Ks to large marathon and half marathon events with thousands of participants. I'm really excited that race days are coming back and we can get back to sharing stories of these events that make a difference in the lives of so many people in their communities.
Awesome! Okay, it sounds like we have the right person! Public relations is definitely a term that's a little bit confusing to me - I don't know about other people. So, how would you define public relations as a function?
Yeah. I would say "Don't worry on that." I'm pretty sure that even my own parents are still unsure of what exactly do I do each and every day. And public relations has some kind of negative tropes associated with it too - right? There are people that think of PR folks as fixers when people have a big scandal, or as spin doctors who make things look good when they aren't so good. But I can tell you that any true public relations professional is really interested in sharing the truth and doing so, ethically. But overall, the easiest way to explain it is "Public relations is about creating mutually beneficial relationships for an organization, brand or public figure." So, compared to marketing which is really focused on sales, sales can be the result of great public relations although it is not the exact intended target of the things that we do. Primarily, public relations professionals are writers and great communicators because communications is the foundation of any good relationship - right? We're talking about building relationships and - whether it's personal or professional - being able to create and open two-way forum. That's very important. PR pros design communications for brands to help them make sure that the key audience and the organization is happy in the end, make sure that everybody wins, and make sure everybody gets a chance to be heard. Does that help answer your question?
It does. I think you mentioned marketing, I find it interesting, because in my mind, I guess you're saying that-- I mean, public relations touches on a few things. When media relations, in particular, come to mind, I think about press releases - which we'll go into - and I can definitely see those serving multiple purposes, and marketing seems to be one of them in my mind. And as you say, both public relations and marketing, sort of, achieve some common goals but public relations is a little bit broader than that, I guess?
Yes. And it's a little bit more of a long game. A lot of marketing tactics - especially advertising - are really focused on getting that sale and getting that person to sign up for the race right now, right? Whereas, public relations is a little bit more about building long-term relationships so that people keep coming back over and over again. As we talk about marketing and how it overlaps with public relations, many race directors are engaged in PR activities without even knowing it because they're already marketing their race - right? PR can be involved in content creation, social media, creating those community partnerships with the nonprofits and other organizations that we support in our towns and our regions, or even with the government as we try to get our local city council to approve our permits for our race - right? So those are the kinds of things that I see race directors doing already. And as you mentioned, earned media is really the place where I think race directors are not taking full advantage of in terms of the full PR suite. And media relations can have such a great impact on a race and help tell its story.
Right. So earned media - break that up a little bit for us. What exactly is earned media? What are the types of media? What is earned media?
Totally. So I think an easy way to explain earned media, as you mentioned, is kind of showing how it fits in with all the other types of media and content that are out there - right? There is a great public relations and marketing professional, leader, and author named Gini Dietrich who created this thing called the PESO model. Each of those letters stands for a different form of content or media. So, there's probably a few of these that you're already familiar with, again, because you're marketing your race - right? So there's paid media, which is advertising. Anywhere you go - to a publication or to a platform - and say "Here's some of my money. I would like you to share this message for me." and that platform or that publication says, "Yes, we will take your money and do that." They're shared content, which is anything that lives on social media, primarily, or any other type of forum where you don't have full ownership of it. You sign up for a service to share out your messages and utilize it as a communications tool. Owned media is when we share communications or content through something that we actually have full control over like our website, blog, or email marketing. Then, earned media - that we sometimes forget about - is a little bit different. This is where we approach someone who is a journalist, someone who is a blogger, any type of person with a platform and say, "I have really exciting stories to share with you and I think it's really newsworthy, important, and interesting for your readers, audience, viewers, listeners, etc." And just by the merit of the story being great, of it being compelling, of it being newsworthy, they're willing to share that message for you without any exchange of money happening. So again, earned media versus paid media - typically, when we're talking about this, we are talking about publicity and press for our races as well as, sometimes, influencer relationships and things like that.
Right. So there's something very appealing there about earned media - thinking on behalf of race directors, and I think I know them a little bit - which is the free bit. You don't pay for it. So, that makes it super appealing for sure. On the other hand, I do see why it would be something that people wouldn't think of immediately and wouldn't necessarily invest time in. I think it might sound a little bit exotic and out of reach for most race directors - sort of, like, middle-of-the-pack type of race directors - right?
Totally. And I think that you're right, Panos. I think it can seem super time-consuming, it can seem kind of mysterious and weird, like, "How do I really talk to journalists? How do I get in touch with them? And what do they really care about?" These are questions that we kind of inherently know the answers to, but I hope that we can shed some light on it today that it's not so mysterious and not so out of reach. It's actually something that, with a few quick changes and updates to your race marketing plan, you can go ahead and start utilizing and taking advantage of.
Yeah. Is it fair to say that-- I suspect race directors think that, "Oh, why would a journalist take an interest in me or my race and stuff?" And I think, sometimes, we forget that journalists rely on quality content and are, sort of, like, constantly in the hunt for good stuff to write about. Otherwise, they'll be twiddling their thumbs doing nothing.
100%. I describe it to my students like this - imagine a long hallway and there are two doors that are facing each other. There's a journalist standing in front of one door and there's a public relations professional standing in front of the other. They both have a key in their hand. The journalist looks at the PR professional and goes, "I've got an audience behind the store. I would love to give you the key. I would love for you to be able to talk to them but I need really good stories, really interesting sources, and subject matter experts to talk to. Do you happen to have that?" The PR person says, "Well, I have that behind my door and I'm willing to give you the key as long as we can share it with the audiences that you have back there." So it's really about creating this open line of access to the two things that the other wants and having this really interesting relationship where-- again, like you said, journalists need to feed their hungry audiences who want to read about interesting stories and information. And so, it can seem, like - especially, in our day and age when there are so much news, when there's a 24 hour news cycle for many types of news sources - maybe, my story doesn't matter, maybe my story is too small. But I actually think that some of the news are messy and hard to read and it's really extra important that we tell stories about community events like races, make sure that they get a chance to shine, and show how people come together and create community.
Right. So let's, sort of, unpack that a little bit more. So first of all, is it possible that any race can have a story? When I think "stories", I think epic stuff, super unique stuff - like, Badwater and that kind of race that are really iconic - and, like, things that you would talk over a dinner table. Can my local 5K have a story to tell?
Yes. And this is the reason why it bums me out when I don't see race directors utilizing media relations - it's because an endurance event, no matter its size or scope, is inherently newsworthy. We can talk a little bit more about what makes something newsworthy and what the elements of newsworthiness are but, commonly, when we look at news, it's about something new, something that's happening right now, and something that's happening in the place where that audience cares to know about. And so, when we think about something being timely and having a relevant location, those are some of the most primary elements of newsworthiness that journalists are looking for as they're opening the millions of emails that they get from people like me each and every day. Every race has that - right? It's happening in one place, at one time, on one day, and it has two impact. Almost every race that I can think of, that I've ever run, has a community partner, creates economic impact in the city by bringing in folks who are coming from out-of-town to run that race - even the locals who are going to go out for a celebratory brunch after - right? So when we think about impact, when we think about location and timeliness - these really key elements of newsworthiness - every race can say that it has that. I'll give you an example. I used to represent a great race in Tallahassee, Florida called the Trash Dash 5K. It was a very modest race. It brought out a couple hundred of people to run on a cross-country course in the capital of Florida. Now, on the surface, this race might seem very small and something that isn't particularly newsworthy, but we actually gained tons of media attention for this race because we were able to start highlighting some of the cool stories that made it extra unique. In this instance, it was run by the local sustainability nonprofit - being part of the Trash Dash name - and they had also chosen a course for this nonprofit 5K fundraiser that was perfect to match their sustainability mission. This cross-country course was built on the landfill that used to be in town and had now been turned into this beautiful greenway and trail that was bringing in cross-country teams from all over the place for national championships and major competitions. And so, to be able to tell people that they can help our town become more green and really affect sustainability here in the Tallahassee area by running in this beautiful place that used to be the dump site is, kind of, a funny concept and made for a really interesting and unique story. So I think that, for the most part, of course, this race is already going to have some newsworthiness to it, again, because it was happening one day, one time, nearby the reporters that we were mentioning it to. Also, it had something especially unique about it that I think many races can find if they only know where to look.
Yeah, I mean, to me, when you were going over that example, I thought, "Wow, that's such an amazing story!" But that's probably because you went over it. The question is, for a race director who doesn't have your talents, experience, and expertise, I totally get what you said about the fact that you have an event that happens at a time, at a place, and it benefits a good cause - that alone is a story, right? There was a seed there, so I can definitely see your point that all races can have a story. But then, all the other stuff like the little nuances and the how it ties with other things - where can I start looking to find or develop those elements in my story to make it more newsworthy?
For sure, I think, first, understanding some of the other elements of newsworthiness can help. But also, just taking notice of what some of the common kind of archetypes and stories that are being told in your local news or even in the news that's being produced by some of the major players in our industry - like Runner's World - can really be helpful too, as you start to think about how they apply to your own race. I tell my students all the time that the best way to understand newsworthiness is to be someone who digests news. So definitely, take some time to check out what's happening in your local community, what people seem to care about, and report on. I think a couple things come to mind when it comes to this. First, let's talk about some quick ideas for different stories that your race can probably tell. The first is human interest stories - whether it's yourself as the race director that have a unique story to tell about how you came to create and found this race. Or even becoming the leader of this race can be a story in itself. Or your participants and volunteers - is somebody running your race and, at the same time, raising a huge amount of money for a cause that they care about? Is somebody overcoming a disability to cross the finish line at your race? Is this somebody 500th marathon that they're going to be running while they're there with you? Do you have elites or other famous folks from within the running community or within your local community - like, is your mayor running your marathon? Is there something to be played with there? But also, your volunteers, of course - the people who help you produce your events and your sponsors can be another nice place to shine that kind of human interest story light on your race. The other milestones - if you have just reached a record amount of participants registering for your event, if you've raised a new amount of money that is particularly large or larger than the fundraising that you did last year, if this is going to be the year that the 100,000th person crosses the finish line of your marathon. Those are, kind of, some fun stats and milestones to think about and give that quick little twist to your story. Brand partnerships are big too. I think that the other reason that media relations can be a big benefit to a race director and event producer is that they are a chance to give more value to sponsors that come in - right? If we can shine the light on them and share that we are partnering with them to produce the race or bring a special experience to race participants as a part of the partnership, those can make sense for the business or the community section of your paper. Most races have some type of goodwill or social responsible element in them. And so, those are always great stories to be shared and worth highlighting - if you have a new nonprofit partner, if you've reached a certain amount of money that you've raised, if you can provide other stats like "Removing cups for our races helped remove this much waste from our local landfill," things like that. The other two things to keep in mind are a little bit more fun, fluffy, and something that you probably seen a ton of on the internet. Listicles are a great thing to think about for your race. Is there a countdown of the 10 events that you need to be a part of in your community this November? Is there a list of the top 20 races that allow strollers to be pushed while they're in it? Think about those lists and even how-tos can be helpful as it can provide a story for your local paper that, then, they can provide in the weeks leading up to your race. And of course, I think you've talked a lot about race reviews in a recent episode, Panos. The other great thing to do is see if bloggers - even local media themselves - who are runners are willing to come participate in your events and then do a write up about what their experience was like.
Interesting. Now, the stuff you mentioned towards the end - including lists, how-tos, and stuff - I would probably put down more, kind of, content outreach type stuff that are less newsworthy. Let's wrap that up since we're at it. So these lists and these how-tos-- let's say I'm a local event and I write "How to train for a 5K" or whatever, what would be my angle, first of all, in bringing my event into that content instead of, like, having a coach writing that? And where do I go with it? So like, what's the actual steps of-- I want to do a how-to on "Training for a 5K", I want to get my event in there, and I want to push that out to as many places as I can. So how should I think for that?
Yeah. So one thing that we have to remember too is that the news landscape is kind of tough right now. Certainly, traditional media has seen a drop in its readers and viewers - lesser people are actually holding a physical paper or watching the news live on TV. Now, much of them are being consumed online - right? As a result, many newsrooms are much smaller than they used to be. One thing that can really help these dwindling newsrooms - where there are less reporters than there have been in a long time - is by producing content for them, going to a local paper or a local magazine, and saying, "I'm the local race director of the marathon here in Kansas City and I've written this article that I think will be helpful for the 10,000 people from our community that are coming out to run this race. I think it'll be relevant for them. Are you interested in sharing this article with your readers?" Have it already written up - go ahead and create that article ahead of time - and share it with them. More likely than not, they're going to say, "This is great. Thank you so much! We can showcase you. We can have it bylined by you in the paper. We'll show that race director or marketing volunteer as the author." And, then, I think the easiest thing to do is to remember that-- again, like you've mentioned, how do we fit our race into a newspaper or magazine where it doesn't feel like an ad - right? So, think about taking a really journalistic approach to the way that you write it, think about making it compelling but also not hammering home too hard throughout the article about your race. There are a couple things you can do. At the very beginning, you can mention, of course, why this is relevant. "We have a big race coming up in our community - one that has a big impact - and if you're interested in participating, these tips are going to be helpful for you in any race that you might participate in." Go into the article, go ahead, focus on providing those real relevant tips, and make sure that you're driving it home for any runner anywhere. And, then, in your closing, you can remind people that, again, this race is happening here in our community, you can register here at this website address, and it's as simple as that. You're able to tie in your race to those editors and journalists who might be vetting this article that you're submitting to - because you did them a solid by writing this content piece for them and help them fill some of their pages that they'll be okay with you mentioning and plugging your race briefly at the start and at the end of that article.
And I think we've, sort of, started to stray into press release territory, which is great. There are so many things to talk about press releases, because I see a few of them as well for our website. The point that you mentioned there about not being too sale-sy - like, making sure that a journalist might be able to just pick that content up and just publish it immediately - is, like, so difficult, but it's so simple to just put across to people. But first of all, let's talk about press releases. When we talk about the kinds of stories that you mentioned earlier - highlighting your good cause, stories about your athletes - who would these things be part of? Would press releases - like, in my mind - probably be a lot more about registrations, opening, early bird, or if we've brought a sponsor on board? Basically, could any piece of newsworthy content be subject matter for a press release?
It could, and you're exactly right. I think that things like human interest stories and how-tos are not appropriate subjects for a press release, in particular. A press release should be reserved for something a little bit more monumental and something that somebody can do something with. I think that many of these stories that we talked about sharing don't have an immediate call to action, right? They do inherently have that ability to get people interested and educated about our race, but press releases typically need to have tons of meat, tons of details, they should be completely fleshed out and answer all of the questions that a journalist or a person might have. But I think that, in general, as you mentioned, there are a few key times that I always push out press releases for my clients - and I'd recommend race directors use them for their own races if they're DIY - when registration opens, or if there's another development in between registration opening and actual race day - like, some elite athletes or big sponsor signing on and being at the race - then the next press release would be a post-race press release that wraps up all of the impact and all the things that happened on race day. As you mentioned, it's tough to write press releases. Like I said, I teach it to young people who are interested in studying public relations, and it can be tough because even on a site like PR Newswire, if you go on there-- we actually just did an exercise in one of my classes yesterday where we critiqued a bunch of these press releases that are sent out on these huge wire services that really aren't deserving of a press release, that don't have enough meat, that are really short or aren't written in the right style. And I think that's a big part of what you mentioned - how do we make sure that journalists see this and are able to actually utilize it very quickly and easily? A press release should be a journalistic style article that if they copied and pasted it into your local paper or magazine, it would look like it belonged there. And, of course, most journalists will end up creating their own article off-event. Many will go ahead and add their own flair and information to it. But in general, it should be something that can be utilized quickly, easily, and can be practically copied and pasted into a publication.
As you said, it's supposed to read as if a third party wrote it although, of course, a third party didn't write it. Lots of people write those and they go a little bit crazy, sometimes, with superlatives about their own product, event, or whatever - and it doesn't help, does it?
No. Mostly because a journalist will open it up, read it, and realize that they can't do anything with it. They're gonna be like, "Oh, I don't understand the point." So much of PR - it's so silly - is really about formatting. It's about knowing the way that journalists want information served up to them. And so, when we're talking about a press release, the first thing that you can do to try and write like a journalist is to avoid any type of exaggerations - any extreme adjectives that aren't relevant to the story - and stick to the plain old facts although it can make a press release feel kind of boring when you read it. But instead of it sounding bombastic and really energetic the way that a blog post or an email might, you have to ask yourself, "Does it have all the information that somebody needs? And is that compelling information?" The next thing is to use the inverted pyramid. This is a writing style that puts the most detailed and important information first and then moves to the more general and irrelevant content as it moves forward in the article. So make sure that your race time, race day, where to register, who it's benefiting, is all right up there at the top. Then, you can add in a quote from yourself or, maybe, one of your participants or elite runners who were joining you. But then, details like all the different events that are included in your race - if you have a five-miler or a 5K, if there's going to be certain elements on the race course, and different types of support available - and, then, moving out to who is the organization that's putting this on and what do they do. If somebody only read the hyper-specific information in the first paragraph, they would still be able to do what you want them to do in the end. The other main thing I can tell you is that we need to have a call to action in a press release. I see that people missed this so often. They just reported the news and got so worried about writing in that journalistic way that they think, "Oh, adding a link to my registration site is not altruistic. It feels too much like an ad." But if you check out your local paper and you read real articles that are being posted in there about community events, they absolutely tell people where they can go to register because that's one of the questions that readers, viewers, and audiences will have when they hear about your event.
Yeah. I'm nodding along here because it's exactly as you say. And I would have the same reaction. I would be hesitant to add a direct link because it might sound a little bit sale-sy to me. But as you said, it's good that you suggested people to go and consume news because, in the end, all news about an event would have a link to the event or a link to the registration page, because it's just a helpful link to have there.
Yes. Even if you put all the information in there about why your event is so great and what makes it so unique, where it's happening, when it's happening, the obvious question is going to be, "Okay, cool. Where do I sign up?" And journalists are all about answering questions. So we have to think about what are the questions that a journalist would have? Also, what are the questions that the audience will come back to them after they read it? And if we can include all of those answers in a press release, we have done our jobs.
And is it also okay - within that stale and factual press release - for me to maybe mix in some of those more interesting human interest stuff - like just a dash - to make it a little bit more exciting for people to read?
I would say that if you're DIY-ing your press release for the very first time, I would be careful when peppering in some of those stories that are a little bit less factual and a little bit more content-focused just because it's a hard line to walk. I can think of when I have peppered in effectively and found a creative way to share those stories. Of course, I write press releases with my eyes closed. So, I think that it can be a tough line to walk. One thing that I would say is, if the human interest story is related to something that's happening as a part of your event - like Meb Keflezighi is going to lead a pace group right in your half marathon - absolutely! Make sure that you include that he's a part of the event. That's a fact - right? Maybe, if you're having Shalane Flanagan giving a talk at your Expo, absolutely, do include that! Things like "Oh, the mayor is running" or "So-and-so is raising money for breast cancer awareness and will be running their 50th marathon at the event" are reserved more for pitches rather than press releases. Pitches are where we, kind of, serve up these fun human interest stories, as we've talked about, to a reporter and allow them to explore it on their own, interview that person, get to know more about our race, as opposed to pre-writing it in a journalistic-styled article like a press release.
I hope you guys are enjoying this absolute gem of an episode so far - there’s a lot more tips coming up in just a minute.
Before that, let’s think for a sec about the part of your brand - the very first thing - that your customers get to see and interact with: your website.
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Ok, now, let’s get back to talking public relations with my guest, Meg Treat. Next up - taking your story to journalists and the media…
So it's a little bit clearer to me now that you almost have come up with three different types of assets for different occasions. So, you have your press release, which is more like hard facts, announcements, that kind of stuff. And of course, the post-race press release, which we'll touch on a little bit later. Then, you have your human interest stories, which is the kind of thing you'd see in your local paper that relates to your event, but not explicitly - right? Then, you have all the how-tos, lists, and other valuable content that you can, sort of, brand with your event, somehow, and put out there. Okay, so assuming that a race director lines all of those up, how do they then move forward to distribute them? I guess there are different channels for them and different ways of pushing them out there? What's the first step?
Yeah, absolutely. So I think the first step - if you've started to compile these stories, if you've written your first press release about your event - is to go ahead and start building that media list of who you actually want to send it out to. If you're DIY-ing in your media relations, you might think, "How can I get in contact with all these people? How am I going to find their contact information?" I actually have four quick ways that you can use to find that contact information that are not too lengthy. But the main thing that I want to remind them is that, for the most part, the main media that race directors or event organizers will be focused on is local media. Yes, we can go after those great Runner's World articles or, maybe, even Outside Magazine if we have a big impact on our outdoor community. But for the most part, 90% of the people that you will be reaching out to are in your local community and are only reporting on where your race is happening. We want to keep in mind that as we're creating our race assets for our public relations, we are bringing home that local focus. But here are the four ways that you can go ahead and find those media contacts. The first is the masthead. So I'll show you an example. And of course, here, in the podcast format, it doesn't make sense to show it. If you don't pick up a copy of your local paper or your local magazine that's covering your area, if you go get the actual physical print copy at your Barnes & Noble or the local newsstand, many times, you can open a page that has a list of all of their reporters and editors and it actually has their email and their phone number listed right beside their names. So, that can be a really easy way to actually get the analog version of that publication. And many times, their information is included there in-print so that we can reach out to them. We also have contact pages, which I know is kind of simple and folks might think of already. But if you go to your local papers website and head to newsroom contacts - there is a masthead there - you can learn about who is actually doing the reporting and editing there. Even your local TV station, your local radio station - it's often very easy to find their contact information on their website just because they are hungry for local stories, right? They're not getting inundated the way that, maybe, Savannah Guthrie from the "Today" show is getting inundated with emails, probably. Another way to find it - and this is a little bit more of the sneaky way - is, sometimes, I'm looking for a reporter's contact information but I just can't find it. I've been hunting. Where is this local community reporter's email address? I cannot figure it out. It's listed nowhere. I've Googled it. I have called and nobody picked up at the newsroom. What am I going to do? But as I'm searching, I found the email for someone else that works at that same newspaper. I noticed that the way that their email addresses are set up is firstname.lastname@ABC10.com - right? So, I can take a wild guess - just like we would notice in our own organizations that, maybe, we work as part of our day jobs - that we all have the same style of email address. So if I know that I'm trying to reach John Doe, the local community reporter, and I see that Jane Smith's email is Jane.Smith@ABC10.com, I can take a wild guess that John Doe's email is John.Doe@ABC10.com. It never hurts to go ahead and send that email - right? It could be that you have it wrong and get back one of those undeliverable messages, but most of the time, it went through to the right person. So do the sneaky work to find one email address because if you found one, then you probably found all of them. The last one is Twitter. Now, I'm critical of Twitter. I'm on it because I'm a PR professional. I need to connect with journalists, and many journalists use Twitter very heavily. But I know that Twitter can be kind of an ugly place filled with angry people. That said, if you're trying to DIY your PR, it's worth to, at least, get an account so that you can check out journalists' Twitter pages. Very commonly, they'll have their email address in their bio on Twitter or in a pinned tweet, because they often get people to reach out and pitch to them. Another spot to look is Twitter replies, as opposed to just tweets on their Twitter page to see if somebody asked for their email before and they've sent it in a reply. And then, finally, if you really still aren't turning it up but you found their Twitter page, it is okay to reach out to a journalist via social media and say, "Hey, are you okay with me pitching or sending a press release to you here on Twitter? Or do you prefer that I contact you somewhere else?" More often than not, you'll get a response and they're gonna say "Sure, send it to me here" or they'll provide that email address to you. It's that quick and easy.
Super! Okay. Now, speaking of reaching out, if I do this over email, what is a good way to be concise but, also, include everything that the other person needs to understand what I'm writing about? What's the right balance to strike?
Sure. So if we're sending a press release, we do want to keep in mind that we should never attach a press release to an email as a Word doc or a PDF file. You actually want to copy and paste your whole press release into the body of the email. Many reporters have said that attachments didn't come through to them because they could be getting viruses and things like that. But also, just from a user experience standpoint, it's one more thing for them to click when they've already opened your email. So, make it easy for them to see right there. Typically, above those press releases, I include a quick one-sentence note, saying, "Hey, John, I know you write on community events and I want to make sure you saw the press release below. Let me know if you have any questions." Then, have the press release right where they can read immediately underneath that short message. If you're sending a pitch, again, email is king for contacting reporters. It used to be, kind of, 50% phone and 50% email when I started out. Now, phone has really fallen off of public relations since I've continued on in my career, I think, because journalists are outnumbered by PR people like me. There are about six PR professionals for every one journalist, which can mean that their email addresses are overwhelmed with queries. But you always want to send these notes about stories, press releases, and media alerts through an email. And again, always put your message directly in there and not attach it. For a pitch where we have a human interest story, where we have an elite runner coming to town that, maybe, they might want to interview, or anything related to our race, we might want to help a reporter experience and understand that it's not appropriate for a press release. It's a simple three-part formula for writing a pitch. We put an attention-getting opening line that is either related to how this impacts the community, put all that newsworthiness right up front, then we jump into a paragraph that provides some more details, like, "Shalane Flanagan is a famous runner and author. She's the previous winner of the New York City Marathon" and all those key details about why, again, they should care. And then, we end it with an ask, "Would you like to interview this participant in my race who's raised a ton of money and hear their story? Would you like to interview Shalane about why she came to our city to run the race? Would you like to interview our race director about how this impacts our local community? Would you like to come to our expo and be a VIP and experience what it's like to be a runner picking up your bib on race day?" Whatever it is, we want to make it really clear for the reporter. Are we telling them, "We'd like to offer you an interview with someone, we'd like to offer you an interesting experience, or we'd like to offer you a chance to even try out our product - come run our race!" And when we make that really explicit for them, it makes it easy for them to reply to us and say, "Yes", "No, but...", "Hopefully", or a simple "No." And sometimes, in some cases, I should mention too that even PR professionals like me who have been writing pitches and press releases forever - I've sent many, many emails to journalists each and every day - many times, I don't receive anything back even if it's the best story. So, I want to tell race directors - including folks who have been doing this a long time - not to get discouraged. If you don't hear back, it's probably just because their email is already inundated, or their editor said, "That's a nice story but we have breaking news that we've got to send you to go cover."
Yeah, of course! I think people need to play the odds, play the numbers, and send a few of those out. Even a small percentage of success with those means some really good publicity in the end. So, if I understand it correctly, you're saying that, for a press release, I should write the whole thing in a way that the journalist can just copy and paste onto some of the websites. But for a human interest story, I would just pitch the general elements of the story and invite them to write the story, basically?
Correct. And invite them to explore it more. We don't have to have the whole story fleshed out. They may go and discover more about it - why it's connected to our community and why there are deeper roots with it for their readers. But it really is just a teaser that gives them a starting place so that they can go and write that story on their own, get a chance to exercise their journalism and their desire to help answer questions, and share stories.
And particularly, for press releases - you mentioned PR Newswire - there are a few press release distribution services out there. Does it make sense for all events? Does it make sense for some events to use those kinds of services? Or is it better, as you say, to just snipe and find local papers to write to?
I think it's a mix of both. So, I think things like PR Newswire or Newswire can be a big waste of money, especially for race directors, because this is really targeted more at large, large businesses and corporations who want their stuff to show up on Yahoo News and have tons of media hits that come back to them for an SEO benefit. Now, there is one tool that I think is worth using, and that's Endurance Sportswire. Tina's service is just fabulous and does target the exact people in our industry who would care to hear about it. Some of these larger newswire services are extremely pricey and will only end up reaching runners or people who are interested in running, triathlon, or any type of endurance in an extremely unusual case. Whereas, something more targeted like Endurance Sportswire will actually reach folks who are purely interested in this, who are within our industry, who are also race directors, and even just people who are runners that want to hear about what's going on in the running event world.
Yeah, Endurance Sportswire is an obvious one. And Tina, as you said, does a great job making sure that those stories hit all the right people. Is there perhaps a service where everything that you mentioned about searching for local journalists, like, some kind of distribution service I can hit and say, "I'm in that county or state. Just send my press release to all of those local outlets"?
Sort of. So it's not quite as automated as that but there are media database services that PR professionals like me pay to have access to get the email of the New York Times' editor, my local weatherman's email, and whatever happens to be in search for reporters all over the world. These are amazing services for PR professionals like me if you're utilizing them all the time. Through those services, it's easy to build a list of who you want it to go out to, make sure that they're all relevant in your local area, distribute it through those services where they're able to, kind of, send a customized mass email to those folks, and make sure that they receive it quickly and easily. That said. Those services are extremely pricey. They're not typically something that a race director wants to invest in, which is why I recommend some of those more tedious and longer processes of finding those local media contacts. I paid many thousands of dollars a year to have access to a media database like that, so I wouldn't recommend for a race director who's going to be doing this once a year to spend their money there. Instead, I would spend just a little extra time on working to build your own media list or to find a PR professional who can help you get access to those contacts and build that list for you.
Is LinkedIn, perhaps, a good way to reach out to people? Maybe, get a premium subscription from LinkedIn to make it easier for you to reach out to people that are not even in your network?
Totally. I have hit the the DM inboxes on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, or anything that makes sense when I'm really trying to hunt down information, find a reporter, and make sure that they hear this story because I know it'll be hyper-relevant to them. Use anything that's at your disposal - even your Aunt Susie who used to work at the paper as a secretary and might know somebody that you can call - use any resources that you can take advantage of. PR really is the business of shameless self-promotion. So, if you want to hustle and find any interesting way to get a hold of folks, that's great! The only thing that I will say is, because reporters, journalists, and even bloggers are inundated with emails every day from folks trying to get their story out, make sure it's newsworthy, make sure it's something that's truly relevant if you reach out to them, and also, kind of, know when to walk away. I typically only follow up on a pitch or press release one or two times over the, kind of, two weeks after I sent those out. And then, if I haven't heard anything at all, I take a step back. What's funny is that even if I did that, I have heard from reporters, six months later, who said, "I'm so sorry. I didn't have a chance last time to reply to your email. But as I was searching - because my editor was asking me about all community events that we could show, I did a quick search of my email - I found your pitch or press release." So that's another thing to keep in mind too. The things that you're sending off will live in somebody's email inbox. So, make them searchable, make them something that they can come back to later - even if they ghost you right now - that they can utilize and still get in contact with you.
Yeah. And the great thing about that is - as in your case, in the end, with the successes that you have - you are building a network, you are building relationships with people, right? That can work, then, both ways - right? I mean, it's a human on the other end. Something may come to their mind that they want to reach out to you with, right?
Yes, 100%. And another good reason to put yourself out there proactively is that you will, hopefully, have new stories or press opportunities to react to when people reach back out later - when they say we need somebody to comment on fundraising in our community, or we need to have somebody write an article about running for our annual fitness issue of 805 Magazine, or whatever it might be. But yes, make yourself a resource. Again, building that relationship and making sure that you have something to offer as much as they do is so important.
And in terms of specialist press outlets - like Runner's World, which you said earlier - it should not necessarily be the first place you reach out to. But every so often, news about local races - not just the marquee races - make it into Runner's World. Does it make sense for me to go after that? What does it take? What can I stand to gain from that? And like, how strong should my story be? Or how broadly relevant to stand a chance of making it into outlets like Runner's World and others?
Yeah, absolutely. So yes, I think that even small local races have a chance to be highlighted in these major industry publications. I've earned press for my clients in Runner's World, in Triathlete, and Lava when that was a major triathlon press outlet. These are places where we can absolutely see our local races because, as you mentioned, they're interested in highlighting these local opportunities to participate because that's where the readers really are - right? And especially with how much tourism is a part of running or was a part of running pre-pandemic, making other people aware of your race no matter its size could potentially draw people to your community, to come out, run and see your beautiful city and region. Now, as you mentioned, I don't think that it's something during the heart of the season around your race - in those six weeks ahead of your race and in those six weeks after - where you're really powering in and trying to get everything wrapped up for the actual production of your event. I think that that's the time to be focused on your local media and to really drive all of that home. In the offseason, when you're starting to prep for next year, when you're starting to take your lessons learned, setting dates as things are starting to turn up, that's a good time to start working on these larger publications - and that's for one main reason. Magazines like Runner's World and other national-level publications have a much longer lead time for the news that they produce than your local media. The person from your local paper could talk to the runner that's set to win your race today and have it in the paper tomorrow. You could go into the studio to do an interview for TV this weekend and it will air on Monday, right? It's a very fast turnover. Whereas, Runner's World and even larger productions like "Today" show or some other type of morning news are working on stories months in advance for the most part, unless it's breaking news. And so, especially with a magazine like Runner's World, they typically wrap up the articles that they'll put out in a certain issue 3-4 months ahead of when they're actually going to publish it. So that's something to keep in mind of that when you're trying to get the word out about your race for this year's event. Like, come register for our race that's happening in six weeks - that's just not going to happen in a Runner's World type environment. Instead, it's better to be looking for opportunities to be included in - the top five races where you can run with your dog, or these are the most scenic marathons in the nation - things that will be able to showcase your race in a more long-term and evergreen way than just publishing something about this year's event in particular.
And does it make sense for me to plan and invite local journalists or even press journalists or specialists out to my event to cover it?
Yes, absolutely. There'll never be any moment more newsworthy for your event than the day that it is actually happening - right? And I think that the main things to consider are that-- there are tons of visual opportunities for sharing stories, whether it's static photos that are going to be included in a magazine or a newspaper or a video that's going to be shown on your local TV news station. But there are tons of visual newsworthiness that are there on event day. And then, also, audio news too - I think people forget about radio but your local NPR station will love to hear the blow of the horn that starts your race, the runners cheering, the sound of pounding on the pavement - those are all things that can be utilized by radio. This is the big day, so make it account! The easiest way to invite media to come out and cover your race on race day is something called a media alert or a media advisory. These terms are, kind of, interchangeable but this is basically-- I don't know. You might have seen that, in a party store, you can sometimes get those pre-written invitations for a kid's party that say 'James' birthday party is on July 31' or whatever it is - where you kind of fill in the elements of what somebody needs to know about your party - a media alert is basically one of those. We say "Who's putting on our event? What is it?" and describe a really rich and interesting event, and tell them all the things that will happen - where will it happen, what time, who are the people that you can interview while you're there, and what are some of the photo and video opportunities that you're able to seize - if you come. I can provide a template for your listeners of what a media alert looks like and they can very easily plug and play those items into their advisory. But again, taking one of these documents that's a formal invitation for media to attend, popping it into an email, and sending it off to journalists and news desk across your local community would be the signal to them that they have a reason to come out and cover on race day. I think another thing that's kind of fun is - just as some other unique ideas - if you have a local reporter that you know is a runner, offer them a free registration to come out for your race. Maybe, when that local anchor comes out to cover the race that morning, they can talk to their fellow reporter and showcase them at the start line. Also, race day morning and the scene of your startline is a great place to do the weather for your TV news. You can have your local weatherman reporting, "It's a great day to be running out here at the Turkey Trot. It's 65 degrees and runners are about to take off. It's gonna be sunny. So, make sure you finish as fast as you can so that it doesn't get too hot." Things like that can make for a compelling and fun reason for them to be there. Maybe, stay there for more than just those key moments like the starting line, the finish line, and the presentation of awards.
So that sounds like a lot of fun. Would I leave it to reporters to have the imagination to come up with things like, "Oh, we could do the weather report at the race during summer." Or do I need to be explicit? I mean, "Hey, guys. Here's an idea. Come out to my race and do the local weather from there."
Yes, be explicit and put it out there. If you have a fun idea like that or something else - even if you're looking for somebody to, kind of, be the person who starts the race, who shoots the starting gun or plays the starting horn that's going to kick off the event - maybe, your local editor or anchor reporter on the news wants to be the person to do that. They can make a quick announcement, say "Hi. I'm so excited to be here. Good luck today", and blow that starting gun or horn. Be explicit and let them know. Again, just like in a pitch, make your ask really clear, because some of the main questions that a reporter will ask when they see a message from you is "Why should I care?" That's why we care about newsworthiness and put it forward - to make sure that they understand why they should care about a story. Also, there are other questions, like, "What am I supposed to do with this? Cool! This information is great! What do you actually want me to do?" For the press release, it's a little bit more inherent because you share an article that, hopefully, they will come over with. But for a pitch or an idea like "Come do the local weather from my race", we need to be explicit and put it right out there for them.
Right. So we'll definitely take you up on sharing those media alerts, templates, and other templates if you have them.
Just so people have a bit of a visual, are we talking like an email? Do we preface it by saying "Media alert" or something?
Yes. So for media alerts, I typically use a table - and your listeners will see that in the template that I'll share - to kind of keep it neat and tidy all together. But right at the top, there are giant letters with asterisk all around it where we say 'Media alert' or 'Media advisory.' And I typically will include that as a part of the subject line as well as to make sure that they know exactly what it is. When they open it, they'll see the media alert statement, they'll see a headline similar to a headline that we would write for a press release - some type of journalistic headline - that gives them an idea of what is the event that you're inviting them to. And then, jumping right into this table where it says, "Who? Girls on the Run." "What? Girls on the Run is hosting a 5K that will raise money for our after-school program that is utilized by 800 girls in our local community, etc." I'll give you a quick little pitch of why your race is interesting and what else is going to be happening there. Then, our next few lines are, "Where? Here's where the starting line location is." "When? Here is the date and the time that the race is beginning." I typically ask people to put in when will people take off from the starting line. Note when you think your elite athletes will be finishing the race. And if you have anything else like an award ceremony or a pre or post race concert, go ahead and note those times, and break them out in the 'when' section because if a media member can't make it to the starting line, because they have another report that they're doing that morning, if they see that they can make it there in time to watch the elites cross the finish line, now they know when to come and cover your race, and they don't have to be there for the full four-hours that it might take for your whole event to come together. They can plan when they'd like to show up. Then, we put a section that says 'Photo opportunities' - we describe those things - runners having medals placed around their neck, runners running in front of the Capitol building, elite runner leading their pace group, and any of those types of photo-worthy moments that we want to share. And then, interview opportunities - "Will the local mayor be at your race, and can they chat with media? Or are you, as the race director, able to provide interviews that morning for them to fodder their reports with? Is there a special participant that you pitched as a human interest story that they can follow up with on race day and find out how their training went, how they feel about being there today or about finishing the race?" Come up to any of those key people and, of course, always ask them ahead of time if it's okay to include them in those interview opportunities so that if you have some big names who are attending your race - even just local leaders or local celebrities - they know that there's some other newsworthy element to come and check out.
Okay, that's super great advice. Moving through the timeline when the race is behind me, I guess, putting out some kind of post-event wrap-up thing in a press release and sending it out to the same people should be quite high on my agenda?
Yes, I think so. And it's something that you can prep really easily ahead of time even for a race that will be happening two weeks from now. I'll be writing the post-event press release today with some placeholders in there for me to plug and play on race day. In my post-event press release, as you mentioned, it's all about the results and it's not just the results that are coming from your timing mats that are picking up folks running across the finish line. We want to share our winners who participated in the event and were triumphant in their main events - male, female, non-binary athletes, or whoever you have as part of your events. Let us know the times that they ran in. You can include a quote from them and make sure we highlight our winners. We also want to talk about other impacts. How many people actually ran the race? What ended up as our total registration numbers? And how many people cross the finish line? How much money was raised for the nonprofit or the community organization that we're supporting? Do we believe that there was a certain economic impact on our community that we've already made an estimation of? Were there runners from this many states or this many cities? Were all of the cross-country teams in town attending the event? Any types of things that you want to frame up, it could also be that. If there was a particularly moving or special part of the event - like the mom who's a volunteer for your event was able to place the medal around the neck of her daughter who won the women's 5K that day - anything that's a good heartwarming highlight can be mentioned as a part of this press release. And then, also, I dare race directors to know next year's event date that can be great to include as a part of their post-event press release. If you don't have a date yet, use your call-to-action at the end, like, "Hey, if you'd like to join us next year, here's how!" Instead, you can always, of course, tell them to head to your website, sign up for your email newsletter, and get information about registering for next year's race as soon as it's available.
Excellent. Yeah. And I get it. When I did a podcast with Ben Pickel who runs a sponsorship program at Life Time Events, he was saying that the last thing some race directors - and I totally sympathize - would want after the end of a stressful and a very tiring experience is putting on an event. Unfortunately, the iron is hot at that time, and you need to strike and do things. It's the peak publicity, peak sponsorship interests, peak race, basically. You need to set the time. Basically, I think for race directors, the race should start to quiet down a few weeks after the event. There's still so much to do after the event.
Totally. And because of that reason, I recommend that if you can get that press release out on race day once everything is wound down and you have those final numbers to pop in there, if you can share it on the same day so that somebody can report it tomorrow when it happened yesterday. Again, the longer you wait, the less newsworthy it's going t be as we get farther and farther away from your race. So, it's great if you can share it out ASAP. And when I assist races, of course, I carve out time for myself in that day, whether I assist them onsite or not, to make sure that I have the ability to turn that around and release as fast as possible. Now, if you're a busy race director and you don't have a PR assistant who will be helping you get that press release out right away, or maybe even if your numbers sometimes don't come in that quickly, you need to go and gather that data. It's totally okay to wait till the Monday after your race to share that out as long as you get it out within a week after the race happens or on the next week post-event. That is going to be still relevant and helpful for your news. So, if that's really something that you can't do - you come home from race day, you're spent, you want to lay down on the couch, have a beer, not have to think about race day anymore for a minute, and want to wait till Monday to get that press release out - that will shoot you in the foot two weeks or a month later - this news will no longer be relevant and you might as well not send the press release at that point if you've waited that long.
Yeah, I think that makes sense. The last area I wanted to touch on is personal PR stuff. And you see this, sometimes, more with some races than others that there's the race director putting themselves out there as the star of the show, as the face of the race, as the person who understands the mission - right? So is it okay for me as the race director to shamelessly promote myself? How do I do that? What do I have to give to the media as the person who puts all of this together so that I can then maybe get some personal interviews, generate some interest, or put myself on TV or other media?
Yes. So if you were willing to step into the spotlight for your race - I love it - do it! I love somebody who is brave enough to take up that mantle, step up onto the stage, and be their own spokesperson. I think that if you are somebody that is interested in doing that, if that's something that you would like to do, you are the no-brainer spokesperson for your event. You know the most about it, you have the answers to all the questions that a journalist might ask, and it makes sense. Just the way that we see CEOs giving interviews for big brands that they might oversee, the leadership of an event, a brand, and organization is the natural person that people would like to talk to. Now, not everybody loves being in the spotlight, right? If you hate being in front of the camera, if you get really nervous and stumble over your words, if maybe you've heard some feedback from other people that you're a bit of a loose cannon or having trouble with staying on topic, it might be okay to either opt-out of being your spokesperson or to take other people's advice and know that it's okay to bring somebody else into that spotlight. But either way, it's great to have a spokesperson, whether it's you or someone else. It could be a volunteer, a participant, the local city councilperson who runs in your race every year that you know is very media-trained. I'm even working with a race right now that actually has an ambassador and, kind of, spokesperson for the race, who's a local reporter. So, there are lots of opportunities for building relationships. But I'm always extra happy if my race director is interested in stepping into the spotlight. So, if you're interested in doing that - including it in your media relations activity - it's as easy as offering yourself up, right? Would you be interested in having me on to talk about the New Year's Day 10K? Would you be interested in hearing about how I think community events are going to impact us in 2022 post-pandemic? You're an expert! You might not think of yourself that way. Maybe, you're a race director who, on the weekend, has a day job where you're an expert accountant, but you really love running and putting on a 5K for your local nonprofit, and that's just something that you enjoy doing in your spare time. But because you are the one that puts this on, as the leadership of this event, you inherently have some expertise and, kind of, some star-power that goes with that. So, trust yourself, trust your ability to share what you know about events, and know that there's nobody better to do it than you.
Yeah, that's a really good point. I think the pandemic was definitely not a particularly bullish time for the industry, but it was a great time - I guess, silver lining - to have put yourself out there - hopefully, it's behind us now - as an expert in the event industry. And what that does for the local community to have been out there - and I saw that with many race directors-- Yeah, I mean, you are the experts in that setting, you're the person who can speak to what events do, what they offer, how we missed them, and all the positive things that they helped contribute that was, unfortunately, lost with a pandemic.
Yes. And I know that this episode will live on post-pandemic. But I do think it's worth mentioning that if your race is coming back for the first time since COVID, that's a newsworthy element. If you are getting runners together for this marathon, for this 10K, for the first time since this horrible thing has been going on, that in itself is newsworthy. Something unique is happening for the first time in a long time. So, don't be afraid, after this horrible couple of years, to use that to your advantage. COVID already took a lot of things away from you. So, see if there's a way that you can utilize this uniqueness that it's giving your event in a post-pandemic world. Or even showcase how safe your races are, how you're taking safety and health precautions for your participants - those types of things are things that media are still talking about today with the pandemic continuing to linger. So, don't be afraid to play that to your advantage. Take advantage of COVID as much as you can. There's no harm in giving it a swift kick in the butt by being able to earn some media from it after it paused your event for a couple of years.
Yeah. And there are tons of stories actually out there that I see on local media about "This race is back after three years." Or, as you say, protocols make for a good story. We're putting on this race this year and this is how we're making it kind of safe. And people must be absolutely dead bored with all of the COVID stories, so it's great to have a break and have a ray of sunshine through your local news.
So Meg, this has been just absolutely packed with great tips. If someone wants to follow up on any of this or wants to reach out to you or, maybe, get your help on some of this stuff, how can they reach you?
Yeah. So, folks can follow me super easily on LinkedIn or on Twitter. In there, I'm Meg Treat, APR. They can also follow Treat Public Relations on Facebook and on Instagram. And they can visit me at treatpublicrelations.com. I've got information on the races that I represent as well as how I help races outlined there. And like I said, I'll make sure that we have some templates and some other resources available for your listeners - and I'll create a special link for that - that you can include in the show notes or share out to them after this episode is up and going.
Super! Well, thank you very, very much for your time, for your insights. Lots of people are going to find this very, very interesting.
Thank you so much, Panos. This has been a blast.
And I want to thank everyone listening in and we'll see everyone on the next episode!
I hope you enjoyed this episode on DIY public relations and mastering earned media with my guest, Treat Public Relations Principal, Meg Treat.
You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about public relations or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.
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