Monday, January 11, 2010

The Release!

Greetings to all, hope you had a wonderful weekend.  It's strange to be in 2010.  It's early in the year, a time so full of promise as resolutions and goals remain fully in focus.  I hope you all have been able to take some time to really figure out what your public relations, marketing and social media goals are for the upcoming 11 and a half months.

As always, this blog and I will be here to help you navigate your way through the landmines and hopefully achieve success.  With that said, it's time to get back to focusing on the reason for the Real Public Relations blog; helping small businesss and non-profits handle their own pr and social media efforts.

I have so much more from the interview with Duncan Shaw, Executive Producer for KCNC-TV in Denver.  There are more video clips coming, so don't worry.  I'll have a couple more in the next entry, I promise, but first, I have to fulfill a promise I made at the end of last week.

I have been getting some feedback regarding pitching, most notably, the press release.  What role does a press release actually play in the pitch process?  What makes a good press release?  Are press releases even relevant anymore?  All excellent questions.

First, let me say that, yes, press releases ARE still relevant, but they no longer are the keystone to a successfull pitch, whether it's to traditional media or to online media outlets.  There was a time when a carefully crafted press release could garner earned media coverage almost by itself.  That has changed dramatically over the past decade, clearly.

There are a few organizations that can, and still do, use releases almost exclusively to get information out to newsrooms and media outlets.

Government offices (this includes District Attorney's, office-holders, Government agencies)

Municipal agencies (fire dept., police dept., hospitals, etc)
Certain major non-profits and businesses (Red Cross, Apple, etc.)

These organizations already have very close tie-ins with local and national newsrooms.  This means they don't have to necessarily put together full-blown pitches to catch the interest of journalists.

There are also TIMES when only a release is adequate.  Generally, these are crisis situations.  Let's say a major crime is committed at your business or non-profit.  Perhaps it's a shooting, or scandal of some sort.  You will already be on the news radar, therefore you don't have to pitch anything, you simply have to inform.  These types of releases focus on explaining what happened, or, more often than not, notifying journalists about a press conference to explain what happened.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, these instances are very rare.  This means most of the time, your interaction with media organizations will involve a story pitch of some kind.

What it is, what it isn't:

The press release is, essentially, your entry into a newsroom.  It is the reason you are contacting a media outlet and it provides necessary information about your organization, event or story.  Think of your press release as a resume for your story.  You're giving all the pertinent facts needed to make a decision about your story.  And, like resumes, there are a number of different ways to structure your release.

The structure depends on what you're pitching, really.  For events, there is a proven structure that gets to the point and will improve your chances of success.  This is what I call the, "Just the facts" release.

Here is an example:
(the organization and event are completely fictional.  Any resemblance to actual non-profits or events is coincidental) ***NOTE***  Click on the releases to see a larger version.

Okay, notice a few things about the release, let's break it down.  First you have your logo at the top, with contact information.  This is vital.  I'm sure most of you are already doing this, but if you're not, start.  Second, the logo and other aspects of the release have some color.  Visually, you want your release to catch the eye of the reader, just like television and print, visuals matter.

Also notice the fact that the release actually says, "PRESS RELEASE" at the top, followed closely by, "For Immediate Release".  You might ask yourself why they are there.  Journalists receive hundreds of emails a day...HUNDREDS.  By putting "PRESS RELEASE" at the top, followed by "For Immediate Release" you quickly let the journalist know what they are looking at.

This is followed by your headline.  Notice that there are really two headlines at the top.  One catches the eye of the journalist, the second explains with just a little more detail.  Detail that SHOULD generate more interest in the story.

Remember what Duncan said in his pitch clip.  Journalists think in headlines.  They need to be able to see the headline and think right away, "This story will interest my audience."  In this case, the headline addresses an issue that is always of interest to local journalists; the homeless problem.  This headline doesn't just mention the homeless problem, it actively addresses a solution.  The secondary headline fills in some detail, letting the journalist know, quickly, that a local non-profit is partnering with retailers to help the homeless find jobs, thus inferring that these individuals would no longer be homeless after getting work.

The release goes on to show the What, Where and When of the event.  This is a very effective way to get the information across quickly.  The journalist can get the facts within just a few seconds.  They have all the pertinent facts right at the top.  The Why and How, you'll notice, isn't actually listed, but is instead handled with a series of short paragraphs.  This allows you to tell your story in a more detailed manner.  The top information is designed to draw the journalist to this section.  Generally, with this type of release, most journalists will get this far.  That means your first sentence here has to be powerful and strong and immediately address the newsworthiness of the story.

In this case, the release is focusing on the partnerships formed to help "take a bite" out of Denver's homeless problem.  The first sentence could just as easily have been, "A local coalition of non-profits and small businesses, led by Good Earthworks of Colorado, hope to save Denver millions by helping area homeless find jobs."  This first sentence focuses on the financial impact of the story.

Here's some quick advice, if I can digress; generally speaking, any story that deals with government spending, tax dollars and saving money, will appeal to journalists, regardless of where they are or who they are.

After the why and how paragraphs, there is a short "boilerplate" about Good Earthworks.  This gives the journalist a little bit of information on the organization, who they are, and what they do.  Always add a very short boilerplate to your releases, just to give the journalist some information on you.

Finally, at the bottom, the release has the website information again and lets them know that you also have a Facebook page and a Twitter account.  Always add this information.

There is another angle that the headline could have taken, and that is the economic angle, but would probably be an entirely different pitch.  Here is an example of what that pitch might look like:

Notice this release has some different information, as well as a different focus for the story.  This release isn't pitching an event, but an idea, a story that has a specific goal and timeline.  In this case, the timeline is 12 months.  It can be covered by a news organization at any time during the 12 months.  The fact that it's being pitched now is what gives it a sense of timeliness, sort of.  The strength of this story is going to be the impact, relevance, character (the release could offer to let the reporter follow a specific homeless person through the process) and some wow factor given the potential visuals and the number of retailers and non-profits involved in the effort.

Many of the basics are still there in this release that were there in the first release.  The only thing that has really changed is the focus of the story and some of the wording (including the headline, you'll notice)

While these releases focus on a non-profit, the rules still apply to a small business.  For instance, when I was doing some freelance work, I worked with a hair salon.  Just pitching the daily events of a hair salon won't get you much media coverage.  However, we found out that this salon went to the local Women's prison to teach prisoners how to look their best for potential job interviews.  They also held a monthly singles salon party to bring lcoals together, offer grooming and makeup tips (the men really only got the grooming tips) share some wine, good music and potentially meet someone.

These stories were interesting, and we pitched the salon singles as an event, that got some great coverage as a great, odd way to meet members of the opposite sex.  The prison outreach story also received some great coverage, even though it wasn't pitched as an event, but more as a human interest story.

If you want to see those actual releases and the pitches that went with them, let me know and I can email you copies of the releases.  Just email me at cdgallegos01@earthlink.net.

Here are a few tips to putting together a solid release, regardless of the structure you use:

1.  Always have your logo and contact information at or near the top of the release
2.  Let them know that this is a release and that the information can be reported on immediately

3.  Make your headline newsworthy.  Imagine your release headline as the headline for a print article or the lead in to a television or radio segment.  
4  Make your sentences short, your paragraphs short and make the writing clear and concise.
5.  Releases should, again generally speaking, never be more than one page long.  

Sending it out:

Okay, so now you have your release put together, it looks good, all the information is pertinent and the newsworthiness is evident.  None of this matters if the journalist never even looks at your release.  As I mentioned, journalists get hundreds of emails a day.  When they sit down at their computer every day, they have to wade through a pile of emails, most of which are meaningless to them.

In order to make sure they look at your release, you have to be creative with your email header.  It shouldn't say "Good Earthworks Event".  Chances are they don't know what Good Earthworks is, and won't open the email.

You have to make your email stand out among the hundreds of others.  Write something like, "Press Release: Denver Homeless Event."  This header does a couple of things.  First it lets the journalist know that it's a release.  Second it is specific enough to let the journalist know what it's about, but vague enough to raise some curiosity.  IF you think your headline is good enough, you can even use it in your email header.  Regardless of what you put, you should always precede it with the words, "Press Release," so they know what they're opening.

The Pitch:

As I mentioned earlier in this post, your release isn't really your pitch.  It's a fact sheet, a selling point to be sure, but often times, the release is where journalists will go to find information, answer questions or be the deciding factor if they are on the fence about the story.  My pitches almost always take the form of a short, personal email that precedes the actual release.

In this case, my pitch would look something like this:


I have a story I think is perfect for your show.  Local non-profits and retailers hope to save the City of Denver millions in funds that normally go towards policing, jailing, educating and sheltering homeless individuals.  The first of 12 workshops designed to help the homeless find work kicks off this Saturday.  Several retailers are donating services, clothes and training in an effort to help the homeless find work and get off the streets.  Representatives from the Governor's office will be in attendance along with an estimated 100-plus homeless, getting haircuts, being fitted for new clothes and receiving training on applications and interviewing skills.  

This would make a great package, or even a live shot during your 7am hour or noon show.  We could even supply a representative for an in-studio interview if necessary.  We have photos available as well as some video of our first dry-run workshop. 

I can be reached at any time at 720.555.1235, or via email at chris@goodearthworks.com.  I look forward to hearing from you to schedule an interview or live shot.

Thank you,

That is the pitch.  Notice I did a few things in this short email.  I let them know that I think this is a good story for their show, and I let them know immediately why it would be of interest to their audience; the money-savings for the city.  I followed up by giving a few facts, including some potential visuals they might be able to use.  I also gave options for coverage by letting them know we were open to a variety of possibilities, from a pre-packaged story, to a live interview to a remote live shot during different shows.

Finally I let them know that I was available, how to contact me and encouraged them to move forward with scheduling coverage.

Sales people out there will recognize this last element.  It's classic sales.  Instead of asking for coverage (or a sale), assume the coverage is imminent (or sale is forthcoming), and let them know how to get in touch with you to make arrangements.

Will this pitch and release be successful?  It's hard to say.  It depends on a variety of factors, as you know if you've been following the blog.  But if you consistently send out releases and pitches like this, you'll find that you'll see your organization in the media more often than not.

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