Pet peeves about press releases – #3

A good friend of mine works in public relations. I love her approach. She takes time to learn about her client’s business. She works hard to cultivate meaningful relationships with contacts in the media. She thinks of creative approaches to her story pitches that leave an editor or producer curious to learn more. She becomes familiar with deadlines so the timing of her pitches is appropriate. And she understands that the quality (of a story’s placement) is sometimes more effective than quantity (of media outlets that run with it).

As someone who works on the other side of this equation — and gets tired, sometimes, of all the publicity-seeking people who want, expect and often demand that I do something for them — I appreciate the value of my friend’s approach. I wish more people in her industry would model it. Because here’s what happens. When I get bombarded with press releases from public relations contacts who haven’t taken the time to learn about our publication, our audience, our deadlines or our needs, I eventually stop paying attention.

And when I get a little nugget of something from a PR rep who has done his/her homework, and it turns into a good story for us, I am very much apt to pay attention the next time that person gets in touch.

Editors are human. Sometimes we’re arrogant, sometimes we’re lazy and sometimes we’re just overwhelmed and understaffed. So when someone figures out a way to help us look good, and make our lives easier, we’re grateful. And when someone wastes our time, fills our inboxes with meaningless information or doesn’t have a clue about our publication’s real needs, we’re dismissive.

How to get it right:

Research the publications you plan to approach. Find out about deadline, target audience, focus and specific departments in which your material might work. Request an editorial calendar that will give you a general idea of content themes planned for upcoming months. (We post ours online.)

Find out who does editorial triage. Focus your communication efforts on the person in charge of the specific section in which you feel your information belongs. (For a small company like mine, that would be me.) Trust that person to relay items of interest to the appropriate writers and editors. When you send your press release to everyone on the editorial staff, hoping it gets to the right person, the wrong people are forced to spend time dealing with it, which reduces their productivity.

Write your press release as simply and straightforwardly as you can. Stick to the basics: who, what, where, when and why. Make sure any timely aspect about your information is prominent. Don’t hide the main point on the second page. Don’t have a second page!

Be as specific as possible. We get numerous requests to “write a story about our school” or community group or upcoming fundraiser. You need to think of a unique or interesting angle that would make us want to follow up with a very specific story and that’s always going to come from some smaller piece of the big picture.

Include your full contact information. We need a name, phone number and email address to contact if we have questions. We also need to know who members of the public can contact, if that’s different.

Make sure your release is reviewed by a second set of eyes. Nothing irks an editor more than glaring errors in a document and I don’t think “irked” is the response you are hoping for. Have someone (or two) read behind you before you send it.

One last thing. When you’re seeking publicity for someone or something, don’t expect to control the outcome. No professionally run publication will allow you to review an article prior to publication. (You’d be surprised how often that question is asked.) And while you’re welcome to suggest how we focus a story, we can’t guarantee it will come out that way.


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