Article by: Rubina Cohen
I read an article published online that claimed press releases are dead. I disagree, but the sentiment does speak to the current frustration of journalists and reporters. Publications receive hundreds—and depending on the publication, sometimes thousands—of press releases each day, marked “For IMMEDIATE Release.” How does a reporter decide out of hundreds which “immediate” release is worthy of publication? There are a few rules of the trade that I'll share with you. But, before we get into what a press release should look like and what you should write in a press release, let's talk about building relationships with journalists... shall we?
It's absolutely necessary for every business and promotions professional to understand that journalists and reporters are not interested in helping you make money. What journalists are interested in is publishing a great story that is newsworthy and timely, that is satisfactory to the editor and will be important to the readership of the publication.
Journalists look to experts they know for their information. That's why it's vital that business owners define goals in their upcoming marketing and promotions plans to:
RESEARCH: Make a list of the people that are writing about your industry or writing for the people you sell to, and contact them. Look back at your marketing plan. Who is your target market? What publications do they read? What websites do they visit? What blogs are they subscribing to? When you know this information, go to those sources and read them. Read it carefully to pinpoint who is writing about what. Make a quick little spreadsheet (see resources below for a free spreadsheet program) with their contact information and the subject they write on. When you call them, let them know you've read their work and that you liked what they wrote (say this only if you really like what they wrote), tell them you wanted to introduce yourself and leave it at that. Contact them consistently from that point forward. Keep notes in your spreadsheet on what you talk about and when you last contacted them.
ENGAGE: Leave comments on the blogs you found your target market subscribes to. More and more, blogs are being accessed for information by reporters. Blogs are an excellent way to establish yourself as an expert. Before you go start your own blog, visit the blogs that you researched when you were making your marketing plan and leave thoughtful comments on the posts you read there. Also, send an introductory email to the author of the blog. You might get invited to be a guest author on their site and get published. Once you get a feel for this and how they work, then start one of your own. (See link to free blog resources below.)
OUTREACH: Get backlinks on pertinent websites. This one is a little harder than it sounds. Basically, since you know your target market hangs out at a certain website, you can ask the owner of the site to have a backlink to your website in exchange for a backlink to their website from yours. The goal, once folks are at your site, is to keep them there as long as possible to convert them into a customer, so not many business owners, especially those directly competing in your field, will be willing to do this. But, look for those businesses that complement your business rather than compete with you. The more backlinks you get to your site, the higher you rank in searches, and that makes it easier for reporters to find you when they do searches related to your industry. (More on this in an upcoming article on simple SEO tips.)
Once you are consistent about contacting key reporters and journalists, leaving comments on blogs, posting your own blog related to your industry and working with complementary businesses to establish backlinks to your site from theirs, you will start to establish a place in your industry as an expert.
Press Release and Pitch Etiquette
Now we can talk about what reporters want to read about in press releases. We care about this because they know better than you do what their subscribers want to read about. Generally speaking, a press release should be timely and newsworthy. It has today's date so it's timely... right? Not so. “Timely” for reporters mostly means that it relates to something going on in our world that is a trend, such as the state of the economy, health care, or something specific to your industry. Knowing this, it's much better to write about, for instance, the latest research on the effects of herbal supplements on an individual’s overall well-being, vs. writing a press release on the launch of a brand-new website that sells herbal supplements. So, take news in your industry, write about it, and tastefully include your company's bio and contact information towards the end of your press release. The idea is to move away from essentially writing ad copy and towards providing real information. Here are a few more tips:
PR and media relations is a long game. If you are doing this for yourself or for clients, remember to set the expectation, that reporters, writers, journalists, editors are chaotically busy. Doing consistent follow up and pitching the right ideas takes long term and consistent planning and action. So, stay at it and don't give up. AND if you need help, we're here to help.