When a company wants to influence journalists – that company will normally issue a press release.

In most big companies, the press release will be written and distributed to relevant journalists by the press-relations or publicity department. Publicists spend much of their time dealing with journalists, so they will know exactly which journalist to offer each story. It’s quite an art because journalists want to think they are getting exclusives but companies want their stories told by as many publications as possible.

The best press releases take advantage of the fact that most journalists are busy or lazy – often a publicist will try to write the press release in the same style as the publication. That way the journalist is more likely to paraphrase or even quote the entire press release in their article.

In case you watched a few too many episodes of Superman, and thought that journalists were courageous crusaders in search of the truth, allow me to shatter some illusions. Most journalists do not work for big ‘Daily Planet’ style publications – they work for unglamorous trade press. Wages are low and deadlines are tight. Most trade journalists are young and inexperienced. The successful publicists take advantage of this – they make the journalists life easier and more glamorous in return for getting good press.

It’s not hard to prepare your own press releases. Here are some tips:

  • Why you are approaching the press: Are you trying to boost awareness of a new product or draw press attention away from an embarrassing incident. Whatever your motive, keep it in mind at all times: focus is the key.
  • Be clear in your own mind what your story is and why readers might find it interesting. Why is it newsworthy? If it sounds boring, or like old, there is no way a journalist will spend their time on it.
  • Don’t just give your side of the story. Do some research – it’s often worth including references or statistics from other people or companies. Before you write your press release, research the subject. The more you do, the less the journalists have to do.
  • Find the names of some journalists who might be interested in your story. If an article does not have a by-line you can ring up the publication and ask who wrote a particular piece. Don’t be afraid to ring them up – publications are usually as desperate for content as you are to get publicity!
  • Write your press release in a similar style to the publication you are sending it to, but don’t try to be funny. Journalists are more likely to use your material if you stick to the facts and give the journalists something that they can work from.

    If you want an example of a well-written press release then follow me.

  • A press release is self-defined, that is to say it is the act of releasing something to the press.

    To actually be helpful, one needs to look at what a press outlet will consider to be appropriate information. Most newspapers are not interested in giving free advertising space, as this decreases the nice black number at the bottom of the page (or, increases the red one). Thus, the first piece of advice on sending a press release is to look into local (or more widespread, if you are important enough) press outlets and see what they are writing/talking/showing in their everyday existence. Look for normal events (this means buying multiple papers), not aberrations or one time happenings (such as a special interest story).

    In example, small town papers are quite likely to have extensive "local happenings" pages, with the amount of space dedicated to events rising inversely with respect to price. A free or heavily subsidized paper, will be quite likely to have a large area or section dedicated to letting local businesses get the word out on events of interest to the public.

    A word on what is interesting to the public: You probably aren't. A manager at a business will often forget that their limited-time reduced-price once-in-a-year deal-of-a-lifetime that absolutely can-not-be-missed! will be forgotten soon after the expiration date on the coupon rolls around. That is what the advertising space that makes the Sunday paper difficult to handle existence is dedicated to getting across, and the community pages are not. If you are non-profit (not the same as for-loss), affiliated with the arts or music, or are occupying public space then you can probably get listed.

    To contact the news outlet, scan the area that you hope to be shown in soon (You did investigate the paper, didn't you? If not, start over), and try to find the contact information listed there. If it is not listed, scan the rest of the paper for alternate modes of contact (not the letters to the editor). A general email address needs to have the relevant information in the subject line if you wish to have it acted on in a speedy manner. In other words, follow the general rules of etiquette. Be formal, but not stuffy.

    If a phone number or regular letter address is given, follow up on that information. Take notes on your contacts, and try to get the name and extension of the fellow or lady who regularly pens the section you are trying to infiltrate. Make him or her your regular contact, and make sure you follow up on your half of any bargains that you strike. The person assigned to these duties is quite often just starting, and has quite a lot of duties to attend to regularly. Making their life easier by generating concise but effective prose will be appreciated, along with making the information that you consider important more likely to be printed. A half page of information will probably be cut down to a paragraph, and who knows what will make the cut?

    Give times, dates, places, sponsors, and performers. Make sure you give prices or alterations from normal behavior. A brief biography of the performers or artist is good, but make it so that it can be cut and the rest of the release not be neutered. And remember the pyramid style of writing!

    Be proactive in following up on leads. Do not assume that the reporter will put you in their Rolodex, or even care if you do not call the next week. If you want it done, do it yourself.

    And now you are ready to let the world know about your little brother's band's preformance being held in your driveway next week!

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