From The Trash To Above the Fold

Every public relations practitioner faces the same question: How can I get my message out into the world? While we figure out how to make use of an onslaught of emerging digital marketing tools, there remains one tried-and-true method to accomplish the goal: the traditional press release. It’s an awesome tool – allowing you to shape and drive the message in whichever direction you prefer. All you have to do is come up with a compelling subject line, write it well, package all the details any newspaper editor or news director would want and deliver it in a timely manner. Boom! Success, right?

Not so fast, my friend. Even while checking all those boxes, PR practitioners face one significant hurdle: People like me. As a former newspaper editor, I often share stories with my PR colleagues about my ruthless assault on the endless stream of press releases I received. Most found themselves quickly in my digital trash bin. I didn’t even bother to read the subject line on many.

My train of thought: I don’t have time to mess with this, so if it’s important enough, it will find its way back to me. Unfortunately, that translated into bad news for PR people trying to get something in my newspaper.

If you’ve ever found yourself on the receiving end of no pickup, what can you do when churning out fantastic prose with the world’s best subject line isn’t really enough?

Consider this: It may be less about the content and more about the delivery. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying content isn’t still really, really important!)

Consider these tips and tactics for scoring press release wins:

  1. You have to understand the audience you are pitching to. Thoroughly. What days do they publish? What time does each show air? What are their deadlines? What are the deadlines for certain sections of the newspaper (they are often different)? What time of day will a producer be likely to see their emails? How far in advance do reporters book their live television hits? Sound like too much to worry about? Suck it up, there’s even more you need to know.
  2. You may ask yourself, “Who am I pitching this release to?” Well, editors and news directors ask, “Who’s pitching this release to me?” Are you a faceless press release-lobbing zombie stumbling through the night while chucking 500-word sales pitches into the fog? Don’t be. Let the news people know who you are. Engage them on social media. Invite them to coffee. Talk to them on the – gasp! – telephone. You’ll be amazed how far a little personal familiarity and human touch will go.
  3. Will a newspaper be more likely to run your press release if you write it more like a news story and less like a press release? Will a television producer by more comfortable booking you on-air if they can see how your press release relates to their viewers? Yes and yes. That’s why one of my favorite phrases for my PR colleagues is “Write it like you’d like to see it in the newspaper.” Write it like that, and they just might run it like that. Understand what your audience wants to deliver to their audience, and capitalize on that.
  4. Consider what your top-value targets are. Is the most important thing getting your story in the local entertainment section? Send it out just to the editor of that section, with a personalized message versus, “Man, I sent this press release to 400 outlets and it only got picked up once.” Hmmm, maybe that’s not the best approach? I think there’s a saying about how sometimes you operate with a chainsaw and sometimes you operate with a scalpel?
  5. Remember that electronic telecommunication device, the – gasp! – telephone that I mentioned a couple points ago? Become familiar with the phone. Embrace the phone and its dialing powers. Did that editor see your press release? Do they plan to use it? Call them and ask. Despite the calculated, cold-hearted nature (perceived of course) when it comes to incoming press releases, most editors actually have beating hearts. It’s easy for them to click a release into the trash, but a little harder to deny someone’s kind persistence over the phone (i.e. you).

In summary, remember, content counts big-time, but your approach and delivery are equally important. So get out there and work, learn, work some more and then learn some more. And then work a little more on top of that. Then put it all to use for your business.