Thursday, November 13, 2014

Making sure your press release gets read

As an editor who assigns stories to news reporters and magazine writers, I hear lots of complaints from them about press releases: they're too long, there's too much information, it's hard to find what I need in order to write about the event/follow up, blah, blah, blah.

I've also been that writer reading a long, drawn-out release while thinking "Just tell me what I need to know."

Seriously, it's a press release, not a magnum opus.

Remember, journalists are trained to write tight and follow a pretty struck structure to make sure the stories they produce are just that.

By sticking to that script, you can help make sure your news release doesn't get lost in someone's inbox or in the basket by the fax machine (trust me, every newsroom has one). Here's how:
  • Remember the five W's and the H - Of course you want to give all the wonderfully flowery and juicy detailed good stuff about your event - and you should. Just don't do it at the very top of the release. The person reading it will probably be the first to decide if the event is worth pursuing, which means you only have a few sentences to convince him/her that it is. Journalists are taught to put the pertinent info - the who, what where, when, why and how - at the top of the story (the reason is this: stories are cut from the bottom when space runs tight. If the good stuff was there, there's a good chance that no one would ever see it). Seriously, if I have to read six or seven paragraphs to find out what the heck is happening, I usually zip right on to the next release - y'know, the one behind yours.
  • Give some (but not too much) background information - If your gallery is hosting the 10th annual auction for a charity, by all means, say so. But you don't have to list every board member and sponsor in order to detail the goings on. Important to the people involved? - without a doubt - but to the writer who has a couple of other stories to vet before the Flintstone whistle blows? - not so much. Write the release with the person reading it in mind, not the people putting the event together.
  • Writers/reporters are busy - This just means that, generally speaking, the less they have to do, the better. For a calendar announcement or a short blurb in your local paper, your press release probably will run pretty close to how you wrote it as long as those five W's are there. And keep in mind that there isn't much room for descriptive adjectives in a three-line calendar listing, so eliminate the extraneous words whenever you can - or the reporter or editor most certainly will.
  • Be mindful of the event date - Hard to believe, but your release party or exhibit opening is not the only thing happening in the area. Folks involved in the planning of daily, weekly or monthly print or online publications usually put their event calendars together days, weeks or even months in advance. If you email a release the day before the event, don't be surprised if no one from your local paper shows up to cover it. The longer the time between issues, the longer the lead time needed for the events in it to be listed. Give at least two weeks for daily publications, a week for more frequent online pubs, and about two months minimum for monthly publications. Seasonal events (the Halloween shindig or Easter benefit, etc) need even more lead time, so plan accordingly.
  • Don't forget to include your contact information - Sometimes, if a writer can't make it to the big event, they might want to follow up to see how it went or to see if they can come by before or after to chat with an organizer. If you list an office phone number where no one will be until two days after the event, there's a good chance the person trying to reach you will leave that message and not look back. Remember, newspapers and online publications are all about being timely, and an event that happened a week ago just isn't.
  • Let them know if high-resolution photos are available - That teeny photo you sent with the release will not reproduce well anywhere unless it is to run the size of a postage stamp. If you are announcing a CD release, a play or a gallery exhibit opening, have some photos on standby that you can email to the media outlet (at least 300 DPI - Dots Per Inch) in case they need a photo to run with the story. If your band or sculpture pieces don't already have photos, it's never too early to find a photographer and make it happen so they are ready and waiting when you need them.
  • Don't hound the media with questions about when/if your story will run - Trust and believe that nothing gets under the skin of an editor with a million tasks on her plate more than a call from someone who sent a press release within the last 24 hours just to see if it was received. Nothing wrong with following up, but please consider the fact that she may just be too busy even to know if it was received. The general rule of thumb is this: no news is good news (they probably haven't seen it yet, which is why that lead time is so important). Editors won't always let you know if they're not interested, but they certainly will contact you if they are. Wait at least a week before you follow up with the "did you get my release?" calls, please.
  • If at first you don't succeed... - Keep trying. Just because you didn't get coverage about one event does not mean you won't get coverage on your third, 10th or 17th. Sometimes, coverage is about available writers/photographers or space - issues that have nothing to do with the event itself. Many times, the squeaky wheel gets the oil - meaning the band that always sends info out about their gigs or the gallery that never forgets to send invites to its openings will eventually get something covered. 
There aren't any sure-fire ways to guarantee your event gets covered, but following these tips could net you a better shot than not.

Friday, October 24, 2014

So you have a great product/sound/service. Now what?

You've written a memoir, released your first EP or started shooting your web series! Awesome!

But just when you thought much of the hard work was behind you, you now have to market and promote your work so people will know about it and more importantly, how to find it. For many creatives, that's much more difficult than the work that went into putting the venture together in the first place.

Ever wonder how to get the information about your new exhibit, book, musical release or upcoming show out there?

Because they often don't have time to do it themselves or simply don't know how to begin, many people work with a company like ours to help them garner some publicity and get the buzz about this hot new thing going. Whether that person is a publicist, a marketing specialist or a public relations representative, they basically do the work of finding ways to get you and what you do noticed.

For so long, traditional media - print newspapers and magazines as well as broadcast and radio - were the way to go. That meant your work had to come to the attention of an editor or producer before it made it to print or to the airwaves. The pitch to that front line was most often done via introductory letter and a press release with a sample of the product.

Still, so many books, records and greeting card lines ended up on that editor's shelf collecting dust. What is it that makes some products catch the eye of an entertainment editor while others just don't?

Everything that makes its way into a daily newspaper, a weekly or monthly magazine or a radio/TV broadcast gets there because someone thought it had news value. Basically, there are seven that decision-making gatekeepers look for to determine if the story has merit to their readers/viewers. They are impact, timeliness, prominence, proximity, conflict, currency and oddity/unusual nature. Some stories have more than one news value, but all content that makes it in has at least one of them.

Let's examine them a little closer:

  • Impact deals directly with the number of people affected. The greater the impact, the more newsworthy the information is considered. For example, a broken pipe that results in two homes flooding/losing water versus a water main rupture that knocks out water for an entire neighborhood: which do you think will garner more news play?
  • Timeliness - Because immediacy is such an important aspect of news gathering, when an event happens is almost as important as just about anything else. News that is weeks old probably won't be covered - unless the fact that the coverage is delayed is important (a government coverup, for example). The exception would be an event that happens over a long period of time, like a month-long art exhibit.
  • Prominence - the simple fact is that well-known people and events make news while lesser-known people and events do not. Think about how Oscar-winning actors get big press when they do trivial things or even how the Cannes or Sundance Film Festivals compare to your regional yearly film festival. This is also how folks like Paris Hilton became famous for being famous.
  • Proximity - Most traditional media is primarily regional in scope. Their reader-/viewership is most interested in things that happen relatively close by. This is usually why a mass bombing in a remote part of the world is sad but a murder-suicide in the next town over freaks everyone out.
  • Conflict - Competing forces make for great news stories. Court dramas are actually some of the most widely read/watched type of stories. Sports take up an entire section in most newspapers and close to 1/3 of a typical nighty news broadcast. If the story has inherent conflict, it will more than likely be deemed news-worthy.
  • Currency - issues and events that are discussed frequently make people want to hear/see/read more about them. One of the best examples out there today is police brutality/shooting stories.
  • Oddity/Unusual Nature - The rarer the event is, the more newsworthy is becomes. In other words, when dog bites man, it's not news, but when man bites dog, it is. Anything with an odd twist will probably find its way into the news hole.
If your press release can convey at least one of these, it stands a good chance of capturing the attention of someone who may want to find out more. Getting their attention is 90 percent of the battle, so plan your marketing, publicity and public relations events with this in mind.