PR tips from the Newsroom

Posted by Jahna Jacobson

In an effort to learn what happens on the other side of the PR wire, we asked some of our news professional friends what we could do to better serve them and serve our clients.

How can we catch their attention, make their jobs easier and get our information out to the world?

So, from the media’s perspective, here are some dos and don’ts for a successful press release:

Do offer content and context. You have a product, you want a mention. Tie your product or service to larger trends or current events. Offer general news about your category or industry. Is there a drought? This is a great time to talk about your drought-tolerant plants or water saving plumbing fixtures. Is it summer travel season? Your garage can offer 10 tips for preparing your car for a drive to Disney. Offer news, not ads.

Keep it quick. On the other hand, no one is interested in 1,500 words waxing poetic on your festival or product. Space and attention span are at a premium, so think about how you can offer a quick news bite, a bulleted list, or 150-word brief that sums up your release. It’s all about plug and play.

Don’t send info to media located where your product or service isn’t available—or an event that is 800 miles or six months away. You may think it’s a good idea to send it out to everyone in the world, but after a few irrelevant releases, reporters will demote you to junk email, and they’ll never see the story that would have been a perfect fit.

Do use a “go box.” Different publications call it different things, but a “go box” is the bare bones of what you are trying to promote, as such:

  • What: (Name of event)
  • Where: (Name of venue, street address, city and state)
  • When: (Dates, times)
  • Cost: (Admission prices, convenience charges, where tickets are available)
  • Details/Contact: (Phone number for publishing, web site)

The contact number in the go box should not be the PR person’s number, but a number that can be published for readers who are interested in calling for more information.

Not only is this a quick cut-and-paste for editors and reporters and useful for inclusion in calendar listings, it is a way to ensure that all the relevant information gets into the release. You can write the world’s best press release about your church rummage sale, but if you don’t include the street address and the reporter has to call for it, you will be bumped to the bottom of the pile.

Answer the phone—or at least return the call. Seriously. Don’t go through all the trouble to put together a press release then wait 48 hours to return a call. You have missed the deadline. Reporters have long memories, and they will banish to the list of people they won’t bother to call at all.

When a reporter calls, have something to say. If you have sent out a press release with a web address and all the nuts-and-bolts of your event or product, then a reporter is calling for the human touch. Don’t recite the dates and times back to them - they are looking for a usable quote. This is the time to do a little flowery promotion. They want to hear, “Because we added a new blah blah blah, this will be our best XYZ festival ever, and we are really excited.” Or, “Sales have gone crazy every since (celebrity) mentioned us on TV. We think people are really excited for products that have XYZ features.”

Be excited about your own subject. Share your enthusiasm. If all you can tell someone are the dates and times of an event, that event is boring. If you can’t be bothered to return calls and have something meaningful to say, then a reporter will stop calling.

While you’re at it, line up other people with something to say. One of the biggest challenges feature writers face is finding “real people.” That means, if you run the theater that is putting on a production of “Hairspray,” a reporter is happy to talk to your marketing director, but they are not a “real person.” A cast member is good, but often reporters are given the directive to track down local fans who are excited about the production. Have some names and numbers ready to go. Keep a list of willing interviewees who have used your service, who are attending your workshop, who are coming to your art show.

Reporters may have only an hour or two to put a story together. Fan quotes are fan quotes, so it won’t hurt you to find some fans. Having those numbers ready will make you a reporter’s dream come true, and next time they are trying to pick an event or product for a feature, they will remember your name.

So, when putting together a release, take a little extra time and effort to be media ready. Include all the information in a tidy, readable, cut-and-paste-able format.

Answer the phone. Say something relevant. Have additional resources at hand.

Most of all don’t make editors and reporters chase you down, dig for basic facts and browbeat you to get a usable quote. There is always an easier story just waiting to take your place.


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