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Tips for Effective Press Releases

When was the last time you responded to an unsolicited e-mail asking you to do something?   

Never?

Yet public relations professionals and their clients expect reporters to publish news stories based on an unsolicited press release.

The Internet has lowered the barrier to entry for much of what we enjoy.  This is incredible and brings incalculable benefits to society.  For PR, it is now easy and relatively inexpensive to blast a press release directly into reporters’ inboxes around the world.  For pennies a recipient, you can even target your press release to reporters that cover certain geographic areas, subject matters, industries, etc.

This sounds great, right? The challenge is this has swelled reporters’ inboxes with unsolicited, non-personal e-mails, meaning they read few, and act on a much smaller amount.  Sound familiar?

In this day of the information firehose, you must know what you want, how to get there, and, wait for it . . . put in a little more work.

First, there is a place for the press release. It can:

  • Serve as website, member e-mail, and newsletter content
  • Help place your content on other websites
  • Show your membership you are working for them
  • Give reporters you contact a written statement or information
  • Generate some earned media, notably where they just regurgitate press release information (think community events, people on the move column, etc.)

To get the earned media you are looking for, though, you must think strategically and wear out the virtual shoe leather. Here are some steps to get started:

  • Find key reporters that cover the topics/geographic areas you are interested in. You can purchase media directories if you have a large area or are interested in national/international press.  You can also search for news articles on your topics and see who is writing what.
  • Introduce yourself and your organization. Reach out to them on e-mail, phone, Twitter – whatever — quickly tell them about yourself, and how you might be valuable to them in the future.  For instance, “Hey, I saw you have written a few stories about equipment manufacturing.  We work on trade issues, specifically related to agriculture, and could serve as subject matter experts for you, on or off the record, as you look at how ag trade effects equipment sales. Here is our website and contact information.”
  • Be respectful of their time. They are overloaded, but do want to hear ideas for stories they may want cover. So, know what they cover first and get right to the point.
  • Make your story newsworthy.  Think about how your news story is interesting to a reader, or how it might tie into something the reporter previously wrote about. Perhaps they covered how consumers are using adjustable rate mortgages, and your association just published a study on the rise in the 15 year, fixed-rate mortgage.
  • Pitch the reporter directly and personally.  Show them you are paying attention to their work, and you can see how what you have is worthwhile to them and their readers. You can reference stories they have covered in the past and how this ties in, or mention their audience and how this is interesting to them.
  • Use the phone – to make a phone call. Yes, e-mail them. Yes, send a message on Twitter.  But you can, and should, call.  The extra effort can bring your pitch to front and center.

With the press release serving as the foundation, going the extra mile to understand who is writing, what they are writing about, why they are writing, and how to reach them will get you the earned media you deserve and your members expect. With some effort, you will have more effective press releases.

Tips for Effective Press Releases

When was the last time you responded to an unsolicited e-mail asking you to do something?   

Never?

Yet public relations professionals and their clients expect reporters to publish news stories based on an unsolicited press release.

The Internet has lowered the barrier to entry for much of what we enjoy.  This is incredible and brings incalculable benefits to society.  For PR, it is now easy and relatively inexpensive to blast a press release directly into reporters’ inboxes around the world.  For pennies a recipient, you can even target your press release to reporters that cover certain geographic areas, subject matters, industries, etc.

This sounds great, right? The challenge is this has swelled reporters’ inboxes with unsolicited, non-personal e-mails, meaning they read few, and act on a much smaller amount.  Sound familiar?

In this day of the information firehose, you must know what you want, how to get there, and, wait for it . . . put in a little more work.

First, there is a place for the press release. It can:

  • Serve as website, member e-mail, and newsletter content
  • Help place your content on other websites
  • Show your membership you are working for them
  • Give reporters you contact a written statement or information
  • Generate some earned media, notably where they just regurgitate press release information (think community events, people on the move column, etc.)

To get the earned media you are looking for, though, you must think strategically and wear out the virtual shoe leather. Here are some steps to get started:

  • Find key reporters that cover the topics/geographic areas you are interested in. You can purchase media directories if you have a large area or are interested in national/international press.  You can also search for news articles on your topics and see who is writing what.
  • Introduce yourself and your organization. Reach out to them on e-mail, phone, Twitter – whatever — quickly tell them about yourself, and how you might be valuable to them in the future.  For instance, “Hey, I saw you have written a few stories about equipment manufacturing.  We work on trade issues, specifically related to agriculture, and could serve as subject matter experts for you, on or off the record, as you look at how ag trade effects equipment sales. Here is our website and contact information.”
  • Be respectful of their time. They are overloaded, but do want to hear ideas for stories they may want cover. So, know what they cover first and get right to the point.
  • Make your story newsworthy.  Think about how your news story is interesting to a reader, or how it might tie into something the reporter previously wrote about. Perhaps they covered how consumers are using adjustable rate mortgages, and your association just published a study on the rise in the 15 year, fixed-rate mortgage.
  • Pitch the reporter directly and personally.  Show them you are paying attention to their work, and you can see how what you have is worthwhile to them and their readers. You can reference stories they have covered in the past and how this ties in, or mention their audience and how this is interesting to them.
  • Use the phone – to make a phone call. Yes, e-mail them. Yes, send a message on Twitter.  But you can, and should, call.  The extra effort can bring your pitch to front and center.

With the press release serving as the foundation, going the extra mile to understand who is writing, what they are writing about, why they are writing, and how to reach them will get you the earned media you deserve and your members expect. With some effort, you will have more effective press releases.

Dan Whiting

Dan Whiting is a communications, marketing, and government relations professional in Washington, DC. Dan starting working in public policy in 1996, serving 11 years as staff in the U.S. Senate as a policy advisor and then communications director. He marketed ideas, using content marketing, media relations, thought leadership and implementing new media channels when they were actually new. He also served in leadership at USDA for President Bush and as the first Director of Communications for the National Alliance of Forest Owners. He has survived crisis communications and taught writing, content marketing, and media relations workshops. He is passionate about communicating well to affect policy change while secretly hoping someone will hire him as a comedy writer. He is also a husband to one and a father to four (on purpose).