Every reporter looking at a stack of press releases has to make dozens of choices of which story to cover in a given day. If there is a choice between covering your story and someone else’s, you want to make sure you give your release the best shot. Here are some tips for increasing your odds of “making ink”:
1) Don’t send a press release on a Monday morning or any evening, and don’t send it on a Friday. Unless of course you DON’T want to make news. Sometimes you have to release information, but really you just hope it gets buried. Send those kinds of releases Monday mornings of Friday afternoon, late in the day. They’ll almost certainly get round-filed. But those kinds of situations are (hopefully) extremely rare. If you want to be noticed, early in the day, mid-week is your best bet.
2) Double or triple the lead time of any publication whenever possible. The press is not on your schedule, they are on a deadline of their own. I generally give at least a week for a daily, two to three weeks for a weekly, and a couple months or even up to a year for some monthlies. It all depends on the publications. Ideally you want to get to know them, the rules are different at every publication.
3) Everyone in the organization should be asked to keep their eye out for local media names, email addresses and stories that relate to the organization or business’s areas of interest, and send those names and email addresses to your designated media relations manager.
4) At the same time it should be impressed upon everyone that all media contacts are to be referred to a designated spokesperson. No one else should be talking to a reporter without clearing it with that person. Only that person should be named on press releases as a contact. Choose carefully. First, you want to have one voice for your message. There is less opportunity for confusion and contradiction if there is one contact person. Ideally, this should be the most accessible, connected person, who has email, a cell phone and voice mail, so they are quickly reachable. If that’s a busy person, they have to understand that these are “drop everything” calls. Fail to call back a reporter and they may never call you again. Call back immediately even if it is only to book a better time for the interview. Secondly, human beings who are on busy schedules don’t like too many choices. Put three names on a list, and they may feel overwhelmed with the choice. Thirdly, your media relations manager may or may not be your best contact person. Ideally, you want to have a media relations manager who maintains your contact list, writes releases and manages contacts, but that person may not always be the best “interviewee”, especially if they are a contractor like yours truly. Nobody knows your business like you. You will still need to handle interviews in most cases, you will need to be as accessible as possible. If you want to outsource this responsibility, it can work, but you may need to set aside time to brief this person on your story, your business, and your goals in detail so they know your message inside-out. Unless of course you are hiring them to be a firewall between you and the press (think of any “celebrity spokesperson” whose job is essentially to repeat the phrase “no comment”).
5) It is vital that your stakeholders understand that a press release is not an advertisement. I’ve had to impress this on almost every client I have worked for. It’s only natural, your goal is to promote your business. But you must remember that is NOT the reporter’s goal, they are in it to inform and entertain their audience or readers. If you do this right, reporters will often take your press release and use it verbatim. But add any sales or overtly self-promotional material, and you’ll be round-filed for certain. Just remember, there is a fine line between a good press release and spam.
6) Don’t expect special consideration in any publication because you buy advertising there. If that happens, good, take advantage of it, but don’t insist on it, and don’t expect it.
7) Never send PDFs or attachments when sending out releases. If you have a flyer designed, post it on your web page’s media relations section, and include a link. Don’t spiff up the release with embedded pictures, graphics and text formatting. Plain text is best for email.
8) Media Relations can be a full-time job for a dynamic small business. If you want it done right, you will have to invest both time and money in the process. You want to build relationships. That takes time and effort. You can throw wads of money at large distribution services and you may connect, but if you spend the time to build a relationship with your target media, they will seek you out when they have a story relevant to your business. It doesn’t happen over night, but it can pay big rewards.