Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Different Kind of Release

Not too long ago, I talked about reaching a different kind of audience.  We've also detailed putting together a great press release and media pitch letter.  Today, we combine the two to talk a bit about a different kind of press release.

As you know, the typical press release focuses on a particular story or event associated with a small business or non-profit.  Generally, your press release lets reporters, producers and editors know about an event your hosting or of some achievement.  Sometimes it's used to promote a new service or product or maybe just to tell a good story about you, a staffer or something your organization has done.

But there's another kind of press release that isn't pitching a particular story or event.  Instead, this kind of release lays the groundwork for future pitches and stories.  I call it an organizational release, it can also be called a proactive release, and it can be very effective if created, and used, correctly.

The Proactive Release:

What is the proactive release?  To begin with, it isn't promoting a specific story.  In reality, you're simply promoting your organization, or, more accurately, those working within your organization. 

I've talked about "Rabbi" lists before.  That's my name for it, everyone calls it something different, but they mean pretty much the same thing.  Every now and then a journalist gets in a bind.  They have to cover a story in a very short period of time and in order to do a good job, they need a couple of things;

1.  An expert to provide background information
2.  An expert to provide expert analysis and be an interview subject

In these cases, the journalist usually has very little time to hunt down an "expert".  This is when they turn to the "Rabbi" list.  If they don't have someone who fits the bill in their list, they'll start asking around the newsroom to see if anyone has an expert that meets their needs for that story.

These lists are built over time in various different ways.  Sometimes, journalists simply run into an interview subject that impresses them.  Sometimes they meet over drinks at an event, or in line at the grocery store; anywhere could provide an opportunity to find an expert. 

But as a small business or non-profit, you can't just leave this kind of thing to chance.  This is where the proactive release comes into play.  It's literally an effort to be added to a journalists' expert list.

I received this release on Monday from a friend working at a local television station in Denver.  Take a look at it.  As he mentions in the email, this is an excellent example of a proactive press release: (A note, there was a D.U. logo at the top of the release, it simply didn't transfer over into the blog.  Always be sure to attach your logo to any release you send out.)

Experts List
For Release: April 12, 2010
Contact:  Chase Squires
Phone: (303) 871-2660

 Republic to announce fate of Frontier Airlines’ brand
University of Denver experts available to discuss branding, airline industry, labor

DENVER – With the parent company of Frontier Airlines, Republic Airways, preparing to announce the fate of the Frontier brand – and the airlines popular animal mascots – and the creation of a single, new brand to cover Frontier, Midwest and Republic airlines, University of Denver (DU) experts are available to discuss these developments with reporters.

Maclyn Clouse: The Sorensen Distinguished Professor of Finance at DU’s Daniels College of Business. Professor Clouse has extensive media experience and is comfortable talking with reporters. Frontier CEO Sean Menke was an Executive MBA student of Clouse, and Clouse has studied the financial structure of Frontier in depth.  He is particularly adept at explaining complex financial situations in lay terms and in presenting explanations that help readers and viewers understand the various ways changes in the Frontier brand and company will impact airline travel both in Colorado and nationally.

Cynthia Fukami: Professor of management at DU’s Daniels College of Business and an expert in labor union negotiation and conflict resolution. She can directly address the positioning of the Frontier pilots, flight attendants, ground personnel, and how they might play this out in the public eye. Here’s a link to a recent interview she did regarding two large grocery chains (Kroger and Safeway) and the grocery workers union potential strike. Her comments are on the article’s fourth page: http://www.westword.com/2009-12-03/news/new-ufcw-local-7-president-kim-cordova-has-flour-power

Andrew Goetz: Chair of the DU Department of Geography, Goetz is an expert in transportation, including airline travel, and can talk on the state of the airline industry, sustainable pricing and competition and what these changes mean for the industry as a whole and the traveling public, as well as what this means for the airport. He is co-author of the book Denver International Airport: Lessons Learned.

Greg Wagner: Lecturer at DU’s Daniels College of Business.  He is also a 30-year veteran of the ad wars, serving as creative director at four D'Arcy and Leo Burnett offices: St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit and Denver. His Budweiser commercials were featured during the Super Bowl in the late 1980’s and he can talk about advertising, promotions, campaigns and controversial messaging. He led successful campaigns for Budweiser, P&G, GM, Amoco, Six Flags, the USA Ski Association, First Alert, Budget Rent A Car, Michelob, and more. He can talk about how changing a very successful brand (and marketing campaign) will affect consumers.

About D.U.

The University of Denver is committed to improving the human condition and engaging students and faculty in tackling the major issues of our day. DU ranks among the top 100 national universities in the U.S. For additional information, go to www.du.edu/newsroom.

Chase Squires
Senior Public Affairs Specialist
University of Denver
University Communications
2199 S. University Blvd., MRB 122
Denver, CO 80208
(303) 871-2660
Follow us on Twitter, www.twitter.com/uofdenver
Join us on Facebook, www.facebook.com/uofdenver

A couple of things to note here.  First, as you can see, the release was sent out in response to a current news event.  In this instance, The University of Denver used this news event as a way to promote specific experts on their staff.

However, as a small business, you don't necessarily need to wait until there's a news event to make this kind of pitch.  You could do it at the beginning of the year, with follow up emails quarterly to update newsrooms on staff additions or changes. 

For instance, let's say you are with a non-profit that specializes in conflict management.  You could send out a proactive release that details certain members of your staff and their expertise.  You could also outline specific instances where you, your staffers or organization could act as experts on various topics.

Even if you have a very small business, with maybe only two or three individuals, you can still send out a procative release to let journalists know about your area of expertise.  I don't care if you run a theater, a real estate company, a deli, a salon; it doesn't matter.  What matters is that you're letting journalists know about your abilities to act as an expert in certain situations.

Putting it Together:

Building a proactive release is a little different than building a more traditional release.  Here are some tips on putting together a proactive release that will improve your chances of getting on that ever-elusive "experts" list.

1. Target your best experts - If you're going to promote these individuals as "experts" they had better be real experts in their specific area.

2.  Don't Be Narrow -  Yes, an expert is generally an expert in one specific area or practice, but don't make their expertise so narrow that they are rarely needed.  For instance, if I'm a doctor, I can speak about a number of different issues regarding health care and medicine.  However, If I only feel comfortable speaking about knee injuries, then my useage is going to be limited to instances involving only knee injuries.

3.  Keep It Simple - When putting together bios for your experts, you don't need to get into their entire history.  Focus on their area of expertise, their experience and what they can comfortably speak about.

4.  Put it in Perspective - When sending out a proactive release, it can certainly help when there is an actual news event to hang your pitch on.  But even if you don't have a single news event, you can still provide examples and scenarios where your experts will be useful.  Identify the kinds of stories each of your experts can be used effectively.  You can put this information in the opening paragraph, or include it in each of the individual bios.

5.  Be Available -  Being on an expert list only works if you're available at a moments notice.  You'll see that in the D.U. release, they provided a series of contact options.  When you send out a proactive release, include several different ways to get ahold of either yourself or one of the experts.  Journalists will turn to you in a jam, but if they can't get you on the phone quickly, chances are, they won't try again.  Ideally, your primary contact is a single individual who can get ahold of the expert and act as a liason with the journalist to schedule the interview or phone conversation.  Remember, though, that if you don't come through for them, your name will likely be taken off the list.  You really only get one chance at this, so don't blow it.

A Few Final Thoughts:

This kind of release isn't very difficult to put together and can be sent out at various times throughout the year.  I always tell clients to put a proactive release together as they're putting together their media kit.  It's the kind of information that can, and should, be included with the kit, and also can act as a separate release. 

Depending on the size of the organization, your release can be as short as a single page, or as long as a small booklet (although, again, the shorter the better). 

Also, don't discount the power of photos with this release.  While the D.U. release didn't include any photos, if you have an expert that is particularly photogenic, add a photo.  It doesn't guarantee they'll end up on the expert list, but it doesn't hurt.

One final note.  If you DO get added to an expert list and you get a call from a newsroom for an interview, remember, the interview isn't about your organization, it's about the particular news topic.  Don't be a salesperson, be an expert.  You'll get your exposure, just make sure they spell your name, and the name of your organization right.

As a small business or non-profit, getting on the experts list is one of the best ways to build relationships with reporters, producers and editors.  Once they trust you as an expert, you'll get called more often and before you know it, you and your organization are household names in your town.  And that's better than any kind of general PR effort, news story or traditional release. 

That's the kind of advertising and free publicity money just can't buy.

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