Planning Your Public Relations: Making Media Relations a Winning Proposition
Writing a Press Release That Grabs Them!
by Jackie Lapin
Planning Your Public Relations: Making Media Relations a Winning PropositionWhen an entrepreneur embarks on a new venture, he or she should evaluate the public relations (publicity) potential of the company or product. Public relations should be an important part of the company’s marketing arsenal, especially if dollars are limited in the beginning. Advertising can be an expensive proposition, and PR dollars can spread much further. But these two elements--building on each other--are potent launch tools. Public Relations is a term that covers many disciplines within the communications world. It could be media relations, employee relations, crisis management, investor relations, etc. Media relations defines the specific aspect of PR that deals directly with reporters in print, TV, radio, websites and increasingly bloggers and social media. Media relations is often also called “publicity.” When a company launches, most often it is seeking to increase product or service sales, and this kind of PR is called marketing communications. Investor relations can also be important to those companies who have secured or are seeking funding, but for the purposes in this article, we’ll confine our discussion to media relations and marketing communications. So let’s take a quick overview of what you need to know to launch a media relations campaign.
- How does Public Relations/Media Relations Differ from Advertising and Should It Replace Advertising?With advertising, you pay the magazine/TV/Radio or website to print copy that you have supplied to that medium. You have ultimate control over what appears and when it appears. But control, can be costly, and advertising rates can run into multiple thousands of dollars for one placement. With media relations, you generally don’t pay the media. You must convince the reporter or editor that a story about you or your product is so compelling that it will be of interest to its viewer or readership. You can’t control what is ultimately written or reported and you cannot specify when it will run. And this is very important—even getting a story cannot guarantee that the customers will run out and buy your product immediately.It may help to build brand awareness over time, it might be something that sticks in the consumers mind until such time as he or she wishes to by the product, or it might just motivate the person to tell someone else about your product. Under the best of circumstances, PR can create an immediate purchase or response, but this should just not be counted upon. It takes time to build momentum, so be patient with the timeline. However, one of the best things that PR offers over advertising is the Implied Third Party Endorsement of the media. Consumers feel that if the media reports on it, than it must be valid and worthwhile. And today, with bloggers becoming part of the media landscape, a blogger doesn’t require the objectivity of traditional media, so it could be a straight-out endorsement.
- Does Your Product/Company Have Publicity Potential?The most important factor on whether it will appeal to media is whether it is new, unique or different in someway. To make a product or service “newsworthy,” it should represent your “Unique Selling Proposition.” It has to not be too similar to anything else in the market, or your service sound like a million other offerings. You must find some unique niche, angle, approach, or market to serve that makes you distinctive. Even if it is not obvious, seek to create some way of standing out, and setting yourself away from the crowd. Being better than your competitors does not constitute a USP…you have to have something tangible that makes you better and that is newsworthy.
- Can You Build a Story Without a “Hook?”So what if you really can’t find something unique, what can you do? You can create a “hook” or “angle” that generates news around your product/service. For example:
- Timeliness -Look for a holiday to theme a story around…what are you doing that ties in with the holiday? What is even coming up that makes your product/service valuable and pertinent.
- News Hook-Seek to capitalize on some event that occurs in the news or a trend—how will your product help people effected by the economic down turn, or how will your product save lives after a major forest fire, for instance?
- Charities—Tie in with a local charity. This often takes the “commercialism” of your pitch and creates a “goodwill” halo around your company.
- Celebrities—Connecting your company/product/service with a well known celebrity can often increase your news visibility, but be careful not to pick someone so far out of the limelight that the media no longer cares. You can even connect your product with them WITHOUT a direct interaction. For example, if you wax eyebrows, develop a release on the best and worst eyebrows in Hollywood!
- Surveys—Innovative surveys sponsored by your company can often make good copy, but this means you have to incur the cost of doing the survey before you can submit your results to media
- Events—Develop an event that has news value and has a visual component that would play well on TV and print. But be dollar-wise with these since they can be costly if large, and if should there be a major news development that day, you could be staring at yourself instead of a crowd of reporters. However, if you can create something that isn’t costly, it’s worth the risk!
- Creative Angles—Get creative!
- What Does a Reporter Look for?Reporters and editors look for something new and different first, something that has not yet been reported in their industry, region, specialty. It must be “newsworthy.” Beyond that, they look for:
- Appeal to the reporter’s demographic—Will this appeal to the reporter’s audience?
- Localization—Does it have a local angle?
- Timeliness—Is the timing right from a point of news value—is it fresh, is there something going on that makes it relevant, does it conflict with other stories he/she is already assigned?One important caveat: Reporters are wary of people pitching stories that are too “commercial.” If they feel that your story is just designed to sell a product rather than inform the audience, you’ll often hear the refrain “go buy an ad.”
- What are the Basic Key Elements in a PR Campaign?a. Media Kit—A media kit should include:
- General release on the product/service
- Company backgrounder
- Spokesman biography
- Photos of product and spokes person
- Oher releases as necessaryThis should be made available online on your website and if doing events, via a hard copy media kit.
- Pitch Letters—These are letters summarizing the story and why a reporter should do it. A pitch letter needs to be compelling, inviting and and interesting right from the opening line. And if delivered by email, must have an equally compelling subject line to encourage the reporter to open it. Oftentimes, a pitch letter must be tailored to the kind of media to which it is sent. You wouldn’t same the same pitch to a business writer as you would to a person covering travel. Once a reporter commits to the story, then you can supply the media kit.
- Media Placement and Contact—Here is when you or your media relations person gets on the phones and contacts the reporter to suggest the story. This generally follows up the pitch letter. In this conversation, you are feeling out the reporter, and sometimes deftly changing the pitch as you determine where the reporter’s interest truly lay.
- Interviews/Product Stories/Product Reviews/Event Coverage – Your goal is to get the reporter to interview you or your spokesperson, do a story about your new product and how it fits into the marketplace, conduct a product review if appropriate or to cover an event you are sponsoring or staging. Once you have the commitment, than you want to be as helpful as possible in assisting the reporter with facilitating any of the above.
- Securing Results—After the contact has been completed, you’ll want to secure a copy of what ran or aired. If you have a fairly big budget and a large launch, you’ll want to retain a clipping service. If the TV station or network doesn’t supply a DVD or website digital playback, which many won’t, you will need to purchase on from a TV monitoring service (average price $200/DVD clip) Today, many broadcast or internet radio shows will provide an MP3, which you can also post to your website.
- Insuring you have visible signage
- Getting a good sound system if you are expecting a large crowd
- Providing food and drink if appropriate
- Inviting reporters
- Having media kits ready for reporters
- Preparing key message points and rehearsing the spokespeople
- Doing double checks of everything in advance
- Rolling with it, if things don’t go as planned
- Finding the Appropriate Media
A media relations professional often times have access to a database that provides hundreds of thousands of contacts for selected lists of media, but if you’re doing this on your own, the best source is generally just either checking the web for the appropriate media or getting on the phone asking for the name, title, email and direct phone number of the appropriate reporter or editor.
- Trade Media—Look for either someone who covers your specialty area, if they don’t have one, then your default should be the editor in chief.
- Local/Regional/National Dailies Newspapers—Pick the section that most applies and then see if there is an editor or “beat reporter” who applies. Today, some reporters are simply bloggers to the newspaper’s online collection of blogs, so your coverage might end up online and not in the print edition.
- Local/Regional/National Magazines—Editor or section editor should be sought out…for example if it’s a spa, look for the person who covers spas and retreats.
- Local/Regional/National Radios—You’re looking for the producer of the show, generally and not the host, though sometimes the host, is the producer, too. If it’s news, you’ll be calling the news or assignment director or a station that is an all-news station.
- Local/ Regional/National TVs -- Ask for the planning or assignment desk.
- Websites—Usually these have a “contact us” page with the editor, but not always. Sometimes you just submit your release through a submission link.
- Bloggers—Bloggers oftentimes make it very hard to figure out who the writer and how to contact them. About 50% provide a way to directly contact them, and then it is almost exclusively via email.
- In House Media Relations Person—You look for someone thorough traditional hiring sources, Public Relations Society of America job board, or referral.
- Media Relations/Public Relations Agency—Look for agencies that have a good reputation for what you want to achieve…a specialty in your area, specific expertise such as consumer product marketing communications as opposed to high technology. Ask around for referrals, then do general research online or with media. While virtual technology allows people to work long distance, its often better if the agency is located in proximity so you can have face-to-face meetings.
- Free Lancer—Find someone through a referral. Other companies or media are good sources.
- How Will the Consumer Connect with You?Make sure that you have a strong website that entices people to buy AND to leave their contact information, even if they don’t buy. You may not catch them this time around, but you might the next time. So offer some free download, a newsletter, a coupon or other “gift” that will get them to give you their information.Make it easy for them to understand, navigate, and act! You don’t want to waste the publicity when folks get to the site and then get confused or find inoperable links. And if you want people to contact you, don’t make it difficult to find your phone number.
- Paid News ServicesOne way to reach a wider audience is to post your release on a paid news service. Such services generally don’t result in much expanded print, radio or TV coverage any longer, but they can be useful in expanding your web presence, especially if the release is optimized with key words in order to spur pick up by google in key word searches. These can run from $80 to $1500 depending on the service. PR Newswire and Businesswire are the larger services and they are particularly important when doing a strong business-oriented release—and these two services can supply reporters on where the release appeared. PRWeb is a less expensive service, but tends to be fine for more general usage where a heavy business presence is not needed and the expectations of widespread coverage is less demanding.
- Reviewing the ResultsMake sure that you review the results on a regular basis, so you can make adjustments-emphasize what is working and change what isn’t. Measuring the effectiveness should include both a review of how much publicity has been generated in the key target media and whether it has generated greater brand awareness or sales. A media relations program can be successfully executed, generate tons of publicity and may not make the cash register ring—that’s just one of the non-controllable aspects of PR. On the other hand it can be supremely successful-exceeding expectations! But when it’s not clicking on its own, oftentimes it is a combined program of PR and targeted advertising that can kick sales into a higher gear.
Writing a Press Release That Grabs Them!For many entrepreneurs, the most difficult challenge in marketing is writing a press release. This is an intimating task for someone who doesn’t write journalistic-style copy on a regular basis. Even if you have a great grasp of grammar and punctuation, there’s still the matter of what to write and how to write it…writer’s block, anyone? So here is a short primer to help make the task easier.
- Breathe! You don’t have to hit send until you’ve gotten lots of feedback from other people you know. So take it easy and just start putting words on paper.
- Create a bullet-point outline--Get all the essential information on paper so you know what you want to say. It doesn’t have to be in any order. That will come later. But just get it all on one or two sheets of paper so you can easily see it all within your visual frame. This will allow you to scan it, easily figuring out what you still have to work into the release. Highlight with yellow anything you’ve already used, so eventually the whole sheet will be yellow.
- The Headline and Font--You can write your headline first or last. I prefer first because it summarizes where I want to go with the release. Make it clever, eye-catching or informative—or a mix of all three. You can use more than one headline. I like to use one underlined and bold main headline, followed by an italicized bold subhead (not underlined) that tells more information. If a third headline deck is required to get in all the key information I need to make sure it reaches the right eyeballs, I make this one un-bolded, but underlined and smaller than the other two. Generally the lead headline should be size 12 or 14 point font. And the body copy should be 11. My preferred font is Ariel because it is simple and professional.
Headlines can be a question, a statement of fact, a provocative declaration. They can be a summary of the content, ironic, amusing, intriguing, motivating or empowering. They should not be grammatically incorrect, misspelled, have more than one exclamation point, dull or trivial.
- The Lead. The lead is the “heart” of your release. You will have only a minute to catch an editor’s interest and if he doesn’t get past the lead, it’s over! Your lead must first be relevant to what that editor or his readership/viewership/listenership needs or wants to know. But it can again be a simple, well-crafted statement of the news, or it can be more compelling—a question, a bold surprising statement previously unknown to the media, a story that tugs your heart, a pun, a humorous juxtaposition of phrases, an expression of something that points out the need of what you offer…whatever reels in the reader without writing a novel. Never open a release with something like: “Such and such event will take place on this day…” Always use action verbs, not passive verbs. Your opening graph should be no more than four to seven lines of copy.
- The Structure—While, yes, the “who, what, where, when and why” ideally should be worked into the opening paragraphs, they don’t need to be overstuffed into the beginning like a sausage. You can weave these throughout the release as long as the most critical items are at the top—such as the date of an event that’s upcoming. Your release should flow--with the information from the paragraph above logically leading into the information in the paragraph below. Find ways to transition from one topic into the next without making it abrupt. Move graphs around until all the information is revealed logically.
- Grammar and Punctuation—Forget all the things you learned about texting and abbreviating phrases. Here is where you spell it correctly and clearly, assuming that your reader only understands plain English. Be cognizant of your spelling and punctuation -- and certainly run your spell checker as a backup. Re-read and proof-read numerous times to make sure you haven’t overlooked anything. To make things flow, you don’t have to start every sentence with a noun and follow with a verb. Try inverting clauses, putting in introductory clauses and mixing up the sentence structure. Only capitalize REAL words that require capitals—company names, people’s names, product name, city and states, etc. Don’t create false capitals to put emphasis on a division or an industry category, etc. A good simple source on journalistic punctuation and grammar is Strunk and White’s Elements of Style. Pay special attention to use of commas!
- They versus It—This is the most egregious mistake in journalism, often even made by PR professionals! The name of a company or an organization is an IT, not a THEY! No matter how many people work there or are in the group, it is still a single element. So, this would be incorrect: Sony will offer their top DVDs at wholesale pricing. It would be correct, however, to say: Sony will offer its top DVDs at wholesale pricing. One way to correct this problem would be to say: Executives at Sony say they will offer their top DVDs at wholesale pricing. You’ve specified a group of people at the company or the leaders of the company, and then you can use the plural pronoun.
- When and How to Quote—It is both prudent to break up narrative with quotes, and important to put a face on the company with a spokesperson’s quote. Generally you want the executive quoted to say something different, illuminating or perhaps more emotional than the objective approach of the narrative. If you want to say: “We think this product is going to sell like hotcakes,” said John Jones, CEO of Jones, Inc. -- you say it in the quote and not the narrative. A good place to put a quote is usually around the third paragraph and then you can add another one later in the release. Never use one executive’s quotes back-to-back with another one without using one line of narrative explanation between the two. For example after completing one quote, the next paragraph begins, “Mary Smith at Smith International also cited the importance of this new development.” And then you can put in Mary Smith’s quote.
- Pricing and Website—It is wise to summarize your product pricing and availability in the closing paragraphs of the release, close to your final graph with your website. Remember to always wrap up your release with a website so that people know how to find you.
- The Boilerplate—The boilerplate is one extended paragraph where you can describe your company’s focus. This can be supplied in a slightly smaller font (10 point) at the foot of the release after you have concluded all of the essential information pertinent to this particular release. It’s a paragraph that can go at the bottom of every release so that editors can refer back to it when they may not know much about the company providing the information in the release. You may also put boilerplates at the bottom of the release for all other organizations involved in the news you are issuing. Place this under your own boilerplate.
- Graph and Release Length—Ignore anyone that says a press release should only be one or two pages long! It should be as long as it takes to provide the appropriate information, but do try to keep it under five pages without rambling. Restrict it to what’s really necessary for a reporter to his or her job effectively. Some information can also be broken out into separate “sidebar” background releases.
You no longer need to double space press releases, but make sure that your graphs are not much longer than seven to eight lines, and preferably four to five before starting a new graph.
- Optimizing for Keyword—Today with the power of Google and other search engines, you may also want to develop ways to get keywords into your lead graphs and headlines without losing or changing the meaning. There are many online sources on how to do this, but know that when you submit releases to certain paid newswires, they give you the opportunity to optimize your release with keywords.
- For Immediate Release and Dateline— You may choose to put at the top of your release FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE OR FOR RELEASE ON (DATE). This tells the media when they may break the story, but don’t send a release marked a day in the future, without advising the reporter it is “embargoed” till that day—or the reporter may accidentally break the story too early.
If you have a release that is timely or is a matter of hard news, you will want to place the city of origin, and then the date, prior to the copy. It would look like this: LAS VEGAS, NV (July 12, 2009)—More than 10,000 people tried the new gadget from (company) at the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas Friday, marking the largest introduction of such gadgets to date. You may also use the city where you are headquartered in your dateline.
- Contact Information –You can put your contact name, email and phone at the top of the release before the headline, or you may put it at the bottom. Mark it clearly by putting it in bold: Contact: Jennifer Black, (888) 444-8888, firstname.lastname@example.org