With file storage being so cheap these days I’m a bit of a file hoarder, however recently it reached the point where I was struggling to find the essentials. So over Easter I did a digital spring clean (Nerdy I know..) and in the course of the clean out I came across the first press release I ever sent out.
Before I deleted it I thought I’d have a read through and make note of what I’ve since learnt about working with the media and share it so that you don’t have to make the same mistakes. Boy was I shocked!
Bad Headline/Subject Line
To say that the person on the receiving end of your email is busy is a severe understatement. In the radio world a journalist either has less than 55 minutes to write their next bulletin or is reading the news. TV and papers have similar pressures. One thing that is certain is they do not have time to look at emails that don’t look interesting. If you use a generic sounding subject line that doesn’t capture what the email is about, it will be deleted before it’s even opened. I’d say my email was promptly deleted.
I sent this one out at night after work. It’s a common thing to do when you’re a volunteer with a full time job. Unfortunately that won’t help you if you want to get some coverage.
Think about it, everyone has gone home… and it’s going to be at the bottom of the pile when someone does get in to work the next morning to read it.
I should have better catered the timing to the outlets I most wanted the attention of. Sending it in the daylight hours would have been a good start!
This is a classic mistake and yes I too fell victim to it. The NEWs has to be NEW. In this case I was talking about the outcomes of a public event that happened over the weekend. I didn’t send the release out until late Monday which means it wouldn’t have run anywhere until Tuesday. By then whether you like it or not, it’s too late to be news, it’s olds.
In a media addicted world, 24 hours makes a big difference so I should have got a release out as soon as the event wrapped up
Long, Pointless Opener
So even if I had a great subject line and the journalist read on, they’d still have their finger on the delete key.
You have their attention for the first two *short* sentences so you better tell them the who, what, where, when and why they should care enough to keep reading. Instead I waffled on with some broad motherhood statement about how great the organisation I was representing was, without mentioning the actual reason I was getting in contact with them in the first place…. Delete!
Drifting from First Person to Third Person.
Confusing this will turn a press release into a letter to the editor. The latter won’t be run as news.
I should have realised that a letter reads like it was written by me and contains opinions whereas a press release is an official statement made by your organisation. It’s in the third person and while opinions from people within the organisation are fine, they need to be contained within quotations and credited.
This release was really only relevant to a handful of outlets in Melbourne and yet I went and sent it off to hundreds of national contacts… big mistake.
You know that guy that you friended on Facebook that keeps posting annoying and irrelevant comments. Does it bug you so much that they’ve lost all credibility in your eyes? This is a bit like that.
A list of media contacts is your best friend when sending a release, however I should have treaded with more care and considered my target.
Luckily once wouldn’t have mattered but repeatedly contacting irrelevant contacts for the sake of it will damage credibility.
Keep it to a page… mine was two!
Stick to one clean conservative font like Helvetica.
My formatting wasn’t the worst I’ve seen but still overdone with the use of bold, italics and underline.
Just because you can capitalise and bold your text, change fonts, underline and adjust sizes, and make it colourful doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Any normal published book or professionally designed and printed brochure is proof of this rule.
What I should have realised is that a well written document that follows the correct structure (a reverse pyramid – see this excellent explaination) will communicate the important information much better. Over styling is just a distraction.
No Contact Details
I went to the effort of writing a big two page document but my phone number was nowhere to be seen! Silly silly.
Sure they have your email but going back to how busy journalists are, they need your number just in case. It’s likely they will want to speak to you if they’re interested in running the story but it’s also as likely that they will move on rather than trying to chase you via email if they don’t have easy access to a phone number.
So I guess you’re wondering if my poor attempt at a press release got any bites? No. Not a single response.
Luckily I learnt quickly from some great mentors and now work in the industry which gives me the benefit of knowing what it’s like for the people on both sides of the fence.
Let me know if you found this insightful or have other tips and tricks that you use when writing a release. I’d like to cover each of these topics in more detail soon so any feedback would be lovely!