Advertising Age magazine’s “Media Guy” columnist Simon Dumenco declared the press release officially dead in a column this September, raising the ire of public relations professionals nationwide.
There’s certainly some merit to his argument, which essentially is that Twitter and social media avenues have rendered the traditional news release obsolete. But as most PR folks and journalists know, the “Subject X is dead” storyline is rooted in exaggeration and narrow-sighted trend spotting, no matter the field. And it’s certainly true in terms of press releases.
To be sure, press releases are evolving to meet the demands of social media and the 24-hour news cycle. The traditional press release has in some circles already morphed into the “social media release,” which often incorporates audio, video and links in a flashy, multimedia vehicle.
But the key tenets of traditional news releases remain in place, despite the shift in technology and presentation. The reality is the news release is far from dead. In fact, it’s more important than ever, given increased media fragmentation and the incessant blitz of instant information funneling into newsrooms every hour.
A timely, relevant and engaging news release will continue to be a ticket to coverage and brand awareness. Social media is making it easier for entrepreneurs and business folks to interact directly with journalists, opinion makers and trend setters.
Too bad pulling together that perfect pitch isn’t any easier. Here are eight tips for writing effective, engaging news releases:
- Craft a Compelling Headline or Go Home
Assignment editors, bloggers and other gatekeepers are bombarded by news releases and requests for coverage on an hourly basis. You’ve got a second or two, at most, to attract attention and pique interest. Otherwise, your release is headed for the trash. Puns, kitsch and ham-handed attempts at humor are not your friend. Consider the headline your first and perhaps only shot at conveying an answer to this crucial question: So what?
- Have a Point, and Get There in a Hurry
Reward curiosity and time constraints by embracing tight, concise summation that highlights the impact, relevance, timeliness or novelty value of your pitch. Be sure there’s a clear foundation of newsworthiness here — no one cares about a product launch or your excellent business consulting services in their own rights. Look for time pegs to latch onto: say, um, your pocket flashlight company plans to hand out freebies to Halloween trick-or-treaters. Or you’re a mortgage expert preparing to give a lecture on foreclosures in the wake of the current crisis. A pitch with a time peg has a much better chance of making the cut.
- Include As Much Information as Possible
A media outlet worth its salt would never run a press release verbatim. But a release that spells out all the relevant and necessary details — including contact information, although that should go without saying — makes a reporter’s life easier. It never hurts to go a step further and suggest additional sources to help flesh out the release. A good reporter won’t rely solely on a subject’s source suggestions, but it can certainly be a helpful time saver on deadline.
- Keep It Short
In most cases, a news release should be one page or less. There’s no hard and fast rule, but multiple pages should be reserved for the most special of cases — if there are charts, grafs, additional sources, company background, etc. Quotes have become a standard element of most press releases, but they’re the first element to cut if you’re starting to get wordy. This is a bit of generalization but worth noting: Bloggers are more apt to use those quotes than traditional reporters, so consider that when pitching. Speaking of…
- Consider Your Audience
Tailor your pitches to the outlet. With a news release, your only audience is the editor or media producer on the other end. Make sure you know why your pitch belongs in their publication — don’t waste time sending releases to outlets with an at-best tangential interest in your field. You should also make sure you know who you’re pitching — a vague, “to whom it may concern” opening email isn’t the strongest starting foot. Take some time to get a name and contact information.
- Build a Rapport
Your pitch goes down a bit smoother when you’re sending it someone already familiar with your company and your work. You probably don’t have time to cultivate relationships with hundreds of journalists and bloggers. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try — and this is where Twitter, Facebook and other social media avenues can play a key role. Reporters tend to reward great PR people who consistently provide quality story ideas and who can connect them with key sources in a timely fashion. It’s difficult for solo entrepreneurs to carve out that kind of time. But the investment is well worth it.
- Remember the ‘So What?’
This is worth repeating, mostly because it’s the single most important idea behind news releases. If you can’t take a step back and objectively provide a compelling answer, don’t bother writing the release. News outlets aren’t going to cover something unless there’s at least a shred of, well, news there. Find a way to make your pitch relevant and timely — why should people care, what’s the so what?
- If all else fails, include either puppies or the military
This is a half-joke. Remember to consider the audio and visual elements within your pitch. Static images of you standing behind a podium doesn’t do much to sway broadcast news editors. But a pitch that presents the potential of actors and action — of, you know, visual stimulation — can help sell multimedia folks on the concept. And, well, TV news loves animals and soldiers.