September 28, 2016
There are plenty of functions that start-ups, non-profits or even rapidly growing businesses like to DIY to save some all-important cash. Basic public relations is often one of them.
After all, how hard could it be to write up a seemingly formulaic press release? You just find someone else’s online, copy the format, put a quote in about how amazing your product, service or event is and blast it out to any reporter you can find an email address for. Or, better yet, pay a wire service to distribute it for you and check “send out press release” off that long to-do list. Easy as 1, 2, 3… or not.
Many current clients of ours started off trying the method above and then called us, likely while scratching their heads in confusion, to ask why the press release they sent out wasn’t picked up. After all, they wrote it up and sent it to every member of the media they know. So, why is it in the press release abyss?
First, let me start by saying the abyss is real. Not all press releases convert into news coverage or lead to a video crew showing up at your place of business. That’s simply not realistic. However, a bit of PR pro wisdom can help you uncover where that press release may have gone and why – and hopefully ensure that future announcements you issue actually see the light of day.
News, Not News
Let’s start at the beginning. Is this really news? Sounds like a silly question, but it’s not. Some information issued in press releases is better left for a blog post, a social media share/event page or an expertly authored guest article. If there are no facts and tons of hyperbole, leave that content for your next ad campaign. If you are talking about something you did and how great it is, but there’s no reason for the public to actually be interested – think of your firm’s well-attended corporate BBQ or that award your vice president received four months ago – skip the send-off and save yourself some time, dough or the possibility of winding up on a reporter’s “block list.” You don’t want to be there!
Not sure what warrants the media’s attention? Scope out what they are covering and see if what you have in mind is similar. If a magazine regularly writes about new restaurants and you are opening one in a town it covers, you’re probably headed in the right direction.
Next, if you’ve established that you do indeed have news to share and that it’s not a simple photo and caption, an opinion best left as a Letter to the Editor, a long article you could write a submitted column on or internal rah-rah for your blog or a company newsletter, let’s move on and talk about style. Press releases should be written in AP Style, which is the gold standard reporters and editors adhere to. Grammar and punctuation matter, so have a second or third person proofread the content before you click send. Sloppy, poorly structured content is too challenging for a busy editor to fix on your behalf; instead, these press releases often head into a black hole called the trash bin.
Quick to the Point
The top paragraph (or at the very least first two paragraphs) must absolutely contain the essentials: who, what, when, where and why. After that, you can delve into the how. The shorter and sweeter, the better.
While you may want to insert a quote from everyone under the sun or cram every corporate message in, please resist the temptation to do so. People are busy and have short attention spans, so that three-page announcement might be better received as a page, which is optimal, or two, max. Give the media what they want and need and you’ll garner better results.
Also be sure to include links to websites and supporting facts and statistics to round off the information. Include your full contact information (name, affiliation, phone/cell phone, email) and a boilerplate at the end that gives a snapshot of the firm, where it is based, its size and industry and where to head for more details, i.e. your company’s website and/or its social media handles.
Spray and Pray
Too much of a good thing can be wonderful, Mae West once said. Mae clearly was not in the public relations business.
We all want our news to reach the most people possible and to get the maximum pick-up, but when it comes to distribution, I urge clients to slow down. Blasting out a press release far and wide – in our industry, a technique called “spray and pray” – is a surefire way to annoy the very people you’re seeking to connect with. Better is to come up with a targeted, specific list of individuals who cover the type of news you’re sending, in the geographic region it makes sense for and approach them like the humans they are. With a bit of research and relationship building, it’s possible to get the results you’re looking for.
I also recommend addressing members of the media by their name (they are people too!) rather than blind copying a press release to 100 reporters. Sure, it takes more time, but it often leads to stellar results.
Whether you’re working with a public relations professional or tackling the press release task yourself, keeping these tips in mind will help you get the results you’re looking for. After all, seeing your news in print or online, listening to it on the radio or watching it come alive on a television or tablet is much better than wondering where on Earth it ended up.