Paula

Friday, October 13, 2006

Flip the Script Fridays: Secrets of the Press Release

Normally on Friday, I like to turn my brain off. If I muster enough strength and motivation to actually show up on the FTJ, seventy percent of my job is done. But I've decided to flip the script...at least where it concerns blogging.

On Fridays, I'll use my fourteen years of public relations experience to talk about promotions. Not only might it help me to remember from whence I came, but you can take what you will from it to promote your own work.


Today's topic: The Press Release

Behold, the press release. The most basic tool of public relations known to womankind.

If there's an event, new service, new product or the boss happens to fart, a press release is written. Reporters cower at its feet. PR execs frame those that generate headlines news.

Ooohhh!

Ahhhhh!

Bull shit!

Press releases do not generate headline news. If public relations were only about churning out the perfect most awe-inspiring press release, the industry would have no need to exist. Or, PR pros would get paid much, much bigger bucks.

Since there is a multi-million dollar PR market and PR pros, on average, don't make glam dollars (I know, I've been there)the press release must not be all that. At the very least it doesn't get the job done by itself.

A press release should be one tool of many in your arsenal of promotional tricks. And I use that word seriously. Public relations, on the whole, is trial and error. You do what you can to garner interest in your event, service, product and let the hype fall where it may.

Some tricks work. Some don't.

The real power of a press release is the pitch. And it takes awhile to perfect the art of pitching news.

It's a very nervewracking thing, pitching.

Imagine standing in front of one of those machines that spits baseballs or tennis balls at 50 mph and having thirty to sixty seconds to find the magic word that will cut the machine off, saving you from a brutal pummeling.

If you don't find the right word you'll get fast balls pelted at you. Ouch!

If you do, the machine clicks off by itself and you stay unbruised.

Pitching news is like that. Don't find the right words to interest a reporter and you walk away with a bruised ego. Find it and you may be rewarded with a sweet piece of coverage.

But we're not ready for pitching. Let's talk about a getting a press release to the pitch stage.

It's all about ensuring your release, at the very least, gets read.

So, four and a half ways secrets to getting the most out of your press release: (didja think I was going to talk about how to write one? Come on, we're writers. That's the easy part!)

1. Know to whom the bell tolls AKA make sure you're sending it to the right person. As exciting as the news room is made to look on television, it's a wonder that a press release gets any attention at all. Reality is, adressing a release to "Dear Sir" is the best way to get it ignored. And sending it to news room to no one's attention is like playing darts blindfolded.

It might land. It might not.

Reporters have egos (they're writers aren't they?)and they like to know that you've paid enough attention to their past stories to know what they cover. Or, at minimum, that you've taken ten minutes to read the paper and know what sections are featured or what editor assigns what type of stories.

Familiarize yourself with the outlets you plan to contact. Blanket press releases - those that go out simultaneously to a shitload of outlets - only work if a) the news is big enough and b) the organization/person sending it is well-known enough.

Which brings me to...

2. It better be news! Yes, the fact that your book exists is good news to you, your family and friends. But why is it relevant to anyone else? It's your job to figure that out, otherwise your release will amount to this headline, "Author Writes Book."

Ahhh!

Ooooh!!

Believe it or not, knowing what's news ties in directly to #1.

If you're familiar enough with the outlets you plan to contact, you know:
- What segments the paper has. Special book section, lifestyle, business, etc... there are many places your story can find home.

- What type of stories the segments cover.

- What reporters write hard news vs. soft news.


3. Hook 'em. The hook is essential to avoid "Author Writes Books" type of releases. The who, what, where are the easy parts of a release. The hook normally lies in the WHY. Why is this important to the general public?

And the WHY can vary depending on what section of the paper you're targeting. If it's the busines section - which is tricky because that's hard news all the way - the WHY may be that the info within your book could save the business commmunity money.

For warm and fuzzy stories, the why usually revolves around some sort of niche audience. For us children's writers, the WHY could be anything from a void in literature we're filling to a special initiative tie-in relevant to youth.

Find your hook. Embrace it. Love it. Know it inside out.


4. Write.Send.Follow-up. These are the three steps of media relations. The most important being the third. Why? Because when you're in the PR biz, it's a given you're going to write a head spinning, attention grabbing release. And of course, you're going to send it. It's the follow up that kills ya.

Chances are, if you're doing your PR by your lonesome, you'll be sending a release to one, maybe two outlets at a time versus twenty. Following up with twenty news outlets makes for a brutal day only soothed by copious amounts of wine at Happy Hour.

Sending out one, we can all handle. Follow-up is key. I guarantee, when you call Jane "Pulitzer Prize" Reporter and say:

"Hi, I'm The Next Great Author, I was following up on a release I sent yesterday..."

One of two things will happen. Either,

She's going to interrupt you (because reporters are always very busy) and say, "No. I don't remember seeing that. Can you send it again?"

At that, she'll expect you to say yes and get off the phone. Re-send immediately. Follow-up again the next day.

Don't try and pitch her unless you've nailed your elevator speech. Reporters are pros at getting you off the phone with the brusque, I'm busy technique.

-OR-

"Look, I only have a few minutes. I'm on deadline. What was it about?"

Ding, ding, ding, ding!

If she says the latter, be ready to pitch the highlights. Because likely either she'll like it enough to ask for more info. Or she'll tell you she's not interested, but Reporter XYZ may be or that she's not interested and better luck next time.

Be ready either way.

5) Be visual. This rule is for the brave hearted who have decided that broadcast news is their target. Releases can be and are sent to TV news outlets. But know this - your story better be visual. Think a clown juggling flaming balls of fire.

Whatever you're pitching has got to be interesting to watch.

The only two things I've ever pitched that generated a TV news piece were a doctor I repped who was among the first to do vascular stents (the news recorded one of his surgeries) ::gross::: and a segment about how wireless technology played a part in the rescue efforts of 9/11.

So unless you're targeting a specific segment of the TV news that covers books, I'd stick with print media.

The ultimate goal of a press release is to get coverage. So remember, even a brief is coverage.

We'd all love a full article. But nine times out of 10, even PR pros have to be happy with a brief - those small, maybe 50-60 word news bits you'll see in each section of the paper, usually on the left hand side, announcing various happenings.

Many news items end up here. If you get one, rejoice.

Next Friday: The Pitch

4 Comments:

Blogger Keshia Kola said...

I love it!! Thanks Paula. Smart. Funny and to the point. Thanks for the great advice.

12:58 PM  
Blogger writeaway said...

Hey, Paula,

I know that's right! I've seen some lame press releases that I usually just delete. At first I thought if a press release was sent, it MUST be news but after reading about a gazillion of 'em, I realized most PR's contain "The Sky is Blue" content. If there isn't an angle to what you want to say--find one.

1:08 PM  
Anonymous Paula said...

It used to be torture when I worked at a PR agency. Clients always came in confident that they're business was worthy of news coverage. It always took lots of discussion before they realized that just showing up for work wasn't exactly calling the Wall Street Journal worthy.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Paula,
I really enjoyed reading your blog and thanks for all these great tips. I have a picture book coming out in April (my first) and I was wondering when you should contact the media? I have heard that timing is really important so when should you said press releases to newspaper, radio and if you are feeling really frisky...tv?

11:30 AM  

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