Friday, March 13, 2009

How to write a press release that will actually get read

I’m not a PR person, or a career coach; I’m just a journalist who gets a lot of press releases. A LOT of press releases. If I had a dime for every press release I deleted or threw in the recycling bin, I wouldn’t need a second job.

People ask me all the time for tips and tricks for making a press release stand out and so, over at The 36-Hour Day, I share the 10 things that make me read a press release instead of tossing it in the trash (or deleting it from my inbox). Here are my tips, in a nutshell:
1.) Pitch it to the right person. Make sure you’re sending your press release to the right place. I write a regular column about gear and gadgets for family travel; any press releases about exotic destinations, fabulous cruises, expensive resorts, or romantic getaways to other countries go right into the trash.
2.) Spell everything right. Especially the name of the person to whom you’re sending the press release. Use spell check, of course, but be sure to proofread carefully as well ("so" and "sew" go through spell check just fine, but aren't interchangeable). And make sure you get the name right; any press releases I get addressed to "Lyla" or "Lydia" get thrown out.
3.) Get to the point, and keep it short. Stick with who, what, where, why, and how — who you are, what you’re pitching, where it is, why it’s significant, and how to get more information. People are not going to look through a three-page press release, they're not going to click on an attachment, and they aren't going to bother to sift through a lot of chit-chat to find out what you're pitching.
4.) Spotlight what’s different or important, and highlight how it fits into the writer’s beat. If there's something really unique about your product or event, say so! If it's a reoccurring event, mention how long it's been running; if it's the first of it's kind, mention that. If someone well-known will be there, say so. If it would provide a service that's perfect for a particular demographic that the writer is trying to reach (working moms, families who travel, foodies, whatever), point it out.
5.) Make sure your contact info is easy to find. Don't slip it at the bottom of the press release, and don't bury it in the middle of the text. Put it at the top of the file with the word "contact" next to it.
6.) Keep it clean and professional-looking. Don’t clutter your press release up with graphics and fancy, funky fonts. If it's hard to read, or if it looks sloppy, it'll go in the trash.
7.) Don’t overload the reader with information. If you're pitching a product, it's OK to include a photo, but don't attach a slideshow to the press release; if you have some great photos or testimonials or additional information, direct the reader to your website.
8.) Offer to send samples or provide access. If you’re pitching a product, a legitimate reporter won’t review it if he or she has never tried it before. Be willing to send a sample -- and if you want it back, be sure to include a self-addressed, postage-paid envelope or box. If you're pitching an event, be sure to mention if there's a press screening, a discounted or free pass for whomever you want to cover it, or any after- or before-hours availability for interviews and research. They may not take you up on it, but if you make it easy for them to access information, they're more likely to give you the coverage you need.
9.) Don’t be cute or gimmicky. It’s not memorable, it's just irritating. Don't sprinkle the press release with glitter, douse it in perfume, put it on a little keychain, include a special party hat, or package it in anything that's difficult to open and read. It'll go right in the trash. If you want to grab someone's attention, do it by providing the information they need quickly and easily.
10.) Don’t push it. If no one responds to your email right away, send a follow up a few days later, but don't keep emailing and, for goodness sake, keep the phone calls to a minimum -- not only is the writer probably fielding other pitches, he or she is also trying to, you know, write. If you must call, the first thing out of your mouth after "hello" and your name should be, "Do you have a minute to chat?"

Above all: Do your research. A few minutes on the internet will tell you whether you've targeted the right writer, whether the publication is a good fit for your client, and whether the reporter you're about to reach out to has already written about whatever you're trying to pitch.

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