Stop languishing in obscurity! Stop spending way too much on advertising! And most importantly, STOP PUTTING YOUR DREAMS ON HOLD! You may be just the person who has an idea, service, or product that will change our world for the better. Please excuse my boosteristic tone. I'm no huckster. But I AM a BIG believer in the power of mass media. The Internet and e-mail put the power of mass media firmly in the hands of the small-time operator. That' right! The Little Guy has finally gotten a break.
Why am I so darned enthusiastic about mass media when that same media is blasted by popular speakers?
I've seen the media work miracles in the hands of a skillful persuader. And I can show you how to do it too for little or no money. You can get your message to media--large and small--when you understand the insider secrets of sending out a top-notch press release.
We've all seen it. Somebody gets a bright idea or develops a new product and the media jumps on it. PRESTO!---everyone wants that person's product or idea. Does this happen because the idea or product is a truly new and brilliant one? Hardly. More often than not, THE PERSON SUCCEEDED BECAUSE SHE OR HE KNEW HOW TO USE THE MEDIA. (Pardon my shouting, but THAT is the most important message you'll ever hear, next to "Your house is on fire!") And YOU can do it too. Read on!
We live in a mass society. Millions of people spending billions of dollars and talking about trillions of ideas 24 hours a day. You can reach a FEW of those people through old fashioned word of mouth. But to reach HUGE numbers of them--which is what you will have to do to get the big results--you must use Mass Media.
Do News Releases Work?
Well..the answer is "yes." Yes, if you don't know exactly what you're doing. But having said that, let me need, must have, crave, can't-do-without a steady stream of usable news. YOU are the person that can supply the news leads they need.
Preparing a Press Release
The news release is the time honored method of putting information before the media. This is especially true for businesses and organizations. It takes the form of a page or two detailing your message, generally slanted a bit to favor your goals. In its most basic form, the news release has your name and contact number at the top, followed by some points the media outlet will be interested in.
News releases don't work for all situations. Radio stations get bags full of them each day, and almost all go into the trash. Television doesn't do much better. The real province of the news release is the newspaper. Now the journalistic turf of the newspaper is being shared by the on-line community--thousands of e-mail newsletters, newsgroups, discussion groups, web sites, and e-zines.
Unlike most other media sources, newspapers require a very large and steady flow of new information coming in on a daily basis. Reporters keep all options open as sources of news. If you can dump a good message in their laps, they will use it.
Reporters usually call their own shots. Following a few guidelines set up by his or her editor, the reporter has the freedom to decide which stories to pursue. Call the newspaper and ask which reporter handles stories like yours.
If your message is fast breaking and can't wait for a news release to arrive in the mail or for the reporter to check her e-mail, phone the reporter and tell them about it. Make sure you have all your facts clear and correct. Reporters despise inaccuracy. Set them up with bad facts and they won't come back.
Also, make sure your story is something that the reporter will agree is important. Newspapers don't like it if you send in an ad for your business to be used as a news story. Their attitude is, "Hey, if you want to advertise, call the advertising department and buy and ad." You have to cloak your message in a story that is newsworthy, a story that readers will find helpful, interesting, simulating, sad, or hopeful If you're not sure, you can often leave your message on the reporter's voice mail, and it has the effect of demanding less urgency. When the reporter says your message is no big deal, as some occasionally will, it will reflect less on you.
A recent business bulletin board session featured one entrepreneur complaining that advertising was too expensive and none of her many press releases to the media had ever netted any coverage. Another contributor guessed that only one in every 20 press releases is ever used and the whole process might be futile. Finally, a third entrepreneur pointed out that maybe the failing press releases hadn't been newsworthy.
OK Here Goes...
In order to get your product, service, organization, or idea into the media, you have to talk the media manager's language. You must hit what I call the Media Manager Hot Buttons.
First, target your message to the medium that is most interested in your type of story. Television goes for a mass audience. Radio seeks a very tightly focused demographically-skewed crowd. Magazines touch a specialized regional or national readership. Your local paper goes for a very local angle. Media is ultra-fractionalized these days and each outlet tries to stake out its own little corner of the audience. Think about which media outlet in your community addresses your target customers.
What Media Managers Crave!
There are several topics that media managers almost always go for. If you can think of a way to combine your message with one of these topics--you're in.
1. Is your story trendy? At any given time there are certain topics that the media seems to be beating to death. It may be reduction of crime, or new schools, or the city's sorry streets. Find some way to connect your message to the media's latest trend.
2. Does your message fit with one of America's cherish beliefs? Story lines such as "the little guy takes on corruption" or "formerly poor single mom takes on the business world and succeeds" or "one guy gets fed up and cleans up his neighborhood" are stories the media always jumps for. Even if you're selling gum, there is probably some way for you to connect your business with one of the many stories that fit into the cherished belief mold.
3. Does your message tie into a topic of mass interest? Media frequently does surveys to find out the community's top five concerns. The results are almost always the same. Crime, kids, schools, roads, employment. The media always covers topics like these.
4. Can you relate your message to some community scandal? The media loves to cover things that get people worked up. Corruption, dishonesty, cover-ups, illicit sex (their favorite), racism, bully-ism, and any other -ism you think of. Perhaps you can position yourself as a good guy taking on an "-ism."
5. Is your message a reporter's pet subject? Under this category absolutely anything has a chance of getting in the media (and it often accounts for some of the strange stuff you see in the media). Get to know media folks whenever possible. Radio DJs are especially approachable. Stop by the studio of your favorite station with a box of donuts and start a friendship. Your favors will be returned on the air.
6. Does your story relate to a specialized newsletter or e-zine's general topic. If readers find your information adds to their knowledge of the general topic, your in. This kind of publicity can be the most effective and the easiest to get. Bigger publications may be flashier, but it's often the smallest ones, focused at a very specialized audience, that get the job done.
The bottom line is this: think like the media, shape your message to fit their likes. Do that and your message has a good chance of being used. Above all, don't let up. While one media manager may not have the slightest interest in your idea, another will welcome you with open arms. The media needs piles of fresh stories everyday.
Hang in there and make sure your product, service, organization or idea is one of those stories.
These steps presuppose that one of your goals is to develop a lasting relationship with reporters. You will be well ahead of the game as you can become someone they regard as a solid source of reliable news. Think about ways you can become the newspaper's source for news in your industry.
How to Write the Release.
Begin with a heading in the upper left corner. It must contain the name and address of your organization and the name and phone number of a person or two to contact for more information. Reporters almost always want to talk with you for answers to additional questions. Since newspapers operate around the clock, make sure that they can reach a spokesperson at any time. Reporters are on very short deadlines and will simply drop a story, or worse, unknowingly go with a mistake, if they can't reach someone authoritative for more information.
The media is still a telephone intense business. Several times I have forgotten to check my voice mail, only to days earlier. Too bad for me. Whatever her story was, chances are she's long past writing in my information. The media business moves fast. If it needs to be done, it must be done now.
Follow the heading with the phrase:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE.
If you are sending them the information in advance of the date you would like it reported, write:
FOR RELEASE: Friday, July 1 (for example).
A word to the wise, don't expect them to wait if the news is really big. In fact, giving a reporter earth shaking news in advance, then telling them not to report it for a few days, is likely to irritate them.
Drop down a few spaces underneath the release date and type in all capitals a headline summarizing your message. For example:
MAYOR WILL COMMEND BOY SCOUTS FOR PLANTING TREES ALONG THE JORDAN RIVER.
Four spaces below that, type a second sentence supporting your headline. Example:
Kearns den plants 200 saplings in destroyed fire area.
Now follow with the information you have to offer in the body of the release. Begin with the name of the city you are reporting from and the date the release was written. Your first sentence should re-tell the information in the headlines.
For the example above:
KEARNS, July 1, 1986. In a ceremony at Salt Lake City Hall, Mayor Kathleen Wilson will commend boy scouts from Kearns for planting over 200 sapling trees in the area of the Jordan River park that was destroyed by fire last winter.
Write it as you would a newspaper story, in inverted pyramid form. This means that the most important information must go at the beginning, with the less important details coming at the end.
Many poorly written news releases start with, "The Huge Corporation conducted a meeting of board members on Friday July 1. In attendance were......" The outcome of the meeting was that the directors voted to build a forty story building that will be the biggest in the state. Unfortunately, this jolting news was buried in the middle of the news release.
Put your newsworthy information first. Lead with whatever you think the reporter will be most interested in. Let the less important details bring up the rear.
Don't write your release like a feature story, beginning with something like, "It was a dark and stormy night and Bill Higgins woke up in a cemetery." Even though there seems to be a growing number of papers across the country who turn all their news into feature stories, it is bad journalism.
Keep your release to a page or two. Even a half-page release will often do the job. Reporters want the information quickly and with a minimum of effort. They will call you for more details, and these will frequently be details you never thought about including.
Conclude your release with the sign "#" or "-30-" placed in the center of the page, immediately following your text. These are traditional ways of signifying that the release is finished.
Keep your writing clear. Uncommon terms will require a quick explanation of what they mean. If the reporter may be unfamiliar with your point, compare it with something they'll probably know.
You can reinforce a concept by saying the same thing again in different words. This is valuable when talking with reporters. Accentuate the important points of your message, saying them slowly so that the reporter can get them down. The reporter is often writing the story as he or she talks to you. Listen and you will hear the clacking of computer keys as you talk.
Some reporters says they appreciate a few handwritten words of thanks along with the news release. Others say they are much more likely to open envelopes that have been addressed by hand. This may be particularly appropriate if you are trying to cultivate a personal relationship with the reporter.
When to Issue a Press Release.
Watch for those opportunities when a news release will be appropriate and likely to get into print.
1. Official announcements. Such things as appointments, new services, and organizational accomplishments are regarded as newsworthy.
2. Celebrities and public figures who are doing things with you, your organization or cause.
3. Events such as open houses, tours, award ceremonies, accomplishments, anniversaries, rallies, and debates.
4. Statements that involve you in controversy such as stating your organization's stance on a public issue. Offer a prediction or pass a resolution.
5. Public appearances and big media coverage can interest a reporter. If your work is being featured on "The ABC News," let the newspaper's television editor know about it.
6. Remember to watch for things you can tie-in with. Can you associate yourself with upcoming holidays, public-service projects, and news happenings that are getting lots of attention?
7. Watch for regular newspaper columns that deal with your area of interest. They are especially likely to use your news release, sometimes in its entirety, if your message directly relates to the column's topic. If the paper includes a weekly profile of what's happening on radio, be sure to send them a release anytime you have a scheduled radio interview or when you have recently appeared on the radio with something interesting.
Remember Smaller Newspapers, Newsletters, and E-Zines!
Where Do You Find the Addresses for the Media?
It used to be that you had to shuck out a few hundred bucks to buy a media guide on CD-ROM. Now that just about every media entity in the world is on-line, the process of getting accurate addresses is much easier and cheaper.
Gebbie, a well-known guide, has jumped ahead of the pack and put their addresses and links on a well organized web site (http://www.gebbie.com). I recently sent a press release via e-mail to over 1000 of the radio stations Gebbie has listed and got very good results.
Remember, bulk mailing your press release to media is not the same as spamming individuals. Media expects to get unsolicited promotional announcements. That's the business they are in. No media person in their right mind will object to getting your press release unsolicited.
There are also companies that will send your press release out for you, although I'm not so sure it's better than the do-it-yourself method. The top press release agency in the corporate world is PR Newswire (http://www.prnewswire.com or 800/832-5522).
PR News Target (http://www.newstarget.com) claims to have cultivated a relationship with thousands of editors covering a variety of industries. I would take that with a grain of salt. When I worked in media we often got calls or cards from PR firms asking if we wanted to get their stuff. We usually said yes because they would sometimes send free hats, shirts, and other trinkets. The press releases often went into the trash.
It's much better if YOU cultivate your own relationship with editors.
Also check out Automated Press Releases (http://www.gapent.com/pr). For the nice price of $12.50 per hundred, they'll send your release to any of their 7,600 media sources in 37 countries. While you're at the Automated site, read through their "Pet Peeves of the Media" article.
Other great services are at USANews.net and XpressPress.com.
Some PR firms will write your press release for you. The price usually runs around $200 - $300 for a one-pager. Kevin Nunley does a great job for you and is lots cheaper. Just do a googe search on his name and you will find his site.
In wrapping up this rather long post... I have personally found that press releases have a wonderful butterfly effect on the net. Let me explain the butterfly effect.. when a butterfly flaps it wings to fly it has and effect on the whole atmosphere around it. This is what I have found that press releases do on the net.. exciting concept isn't it...