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Press Release Makeovers: 10 Steps to a Stronger, Firmer Pitch

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Jeff Eaton

In a world where news reporters are bombarded with news releases, it doesn’t take much for otherwise interesting pitches to get thrown carelessly into the ‘no’ pile.

If you want to improve your chances of getting your story covered, you have to do whatever it takes to capture the imagination of reporters and editors.

You need to be sharp and direct — and you need to be willing to stand out.

How do you do that?

I begins by avoiding these 10 common mistakes:

Mistake 1: Flat Headlines

Your headline is your first impression -- and the headline for each release should tell the reporter immediately why what you're pitching is important to his or her audience. 

Often, news release headlines are long and dry, like a college textbook, when they should be short and pack a punch, like a movie poster. 

Resist the urge to tell your entire story in the headline and devote some time to crafting a headline that aims to grab the attention of your reader.

Your primary goal for the headline is to get the reporter or editor to keep reading, not to convey every key piece of information.

Hook 'em with the headline and save the details for the release.


Mistake 2: A Long, Repetitive Lead

Like your headline, the lead of your release is a crucial ingredient in grabbing a reporter's attention. Many news releases fail to hit the mark because the lead is either way too long or repeats (sometimes verbatim) the headline.

Try to avoid both of these mistakes by writing a short, direct lead that focuses on why what you're announcing is important and does so in a way that doesn't mirror the wording in your headline. Use your next paragraph to fill in any key facts.


Mistake 3: An Overly Manufactured Quote

Most of the quotes I see in press releases read more like boilerplate than an actual quote.

Your quote isn't just there to fill space. Ideally, it should give the reporter a ready-made quote that he or she can include in a story if time is short or if they are unable to interview that official.

Check out more advice on how to stand out from your peers and inject thoughtful quotes into your releases.

Mistake 4: Massive Paragraphs

Long, multi-sentence paragraphs work well in books and term papers.

But they don't work in news releases.

Long blocks of type are hard to read online, which is why you'll notice that most news stories you read have one- or two-sentence paragraphs.

There's a simple fix for this: your return key.

If you see long blocks of type in your draft, find some places where you can break your existing paragraphs into smaller chunks and hit "return".

Your reader will thank you -- and he or she will be less likely to lose interest.

Mistake 5: Too Much Information

A reporter who decides to cover your announcement isn't likely to create a multi-part series about your new initiative. With that in mind, you don't need your release to include every detail about what you're announcing.

Instead, focus on the most important stuff and leave the rest on the cutting room floor.

If reporters are interested, they'll reach out to get additional information and conduct interviews. That is, after all, what they're paid to do.

Aim to keep it short -- no more than two pages, if possible. If you can keep it to one page, even better.

Mistake 6: Not Articulating Why Your Release Is Important

How do you keep your releases short and to the point? You start by figuring out why what you're announcing is important and then you focus your release on selling that importance.

This crucial step will help you with everything from finding the right headline, writing a tight lead, and incorporating an impactful quote.

It will also help you determine what details aren't necessary in the final release.

Mistake 7: Sloppy Copy

Your organization loses a lot of credibility if you send a release that isn't properly copy edited. Take the extra time to make sure every word is spelled correctly, every comma and semicolon is in the right place, and every sentence is written crisply.

A well-written release can help you stand out from the crowd. A sloppy one will also stand out -- but for all of the wrong reasons.

Mistake 8: Forgetting to Fact Check

What's worse than a misspelled word? An incorrect fact.

Make sure every fact included in your release has been properly verified and every number adds up.

A good reporter is going to check your facts before he or she files the story. If your statements are false or misleading, things will go south for you quickly.

Mistake 9: Leaving Out Your Contact Information

Back in my reporting days, I was always surprised by how many news releases left out a crucial piece of information: who to contact.

When you send your release, clearly identify who to contact and provide an email address and a telephone number.

If possible, make sure the number you provide is one that is monitored after business hours. Not all reporters work 9 to 5 -- and many of them are filing their stories in the evenings or on weekends.

If they need to check a fact or get more information on deadline, it's crucial for them to be able to reach someone quickly.

Mistake 10: Sending It to the Wrong Person

Of course, all of the advice above won't matter if your release never gets seen.

Before you send, make sure your media list is up to date and that you're sending your release to the appropriate reporter or editor. If possible, avoid sending to a general newsroom email address and instead find a real person.

Taking these steps won't guarantee you a placement. But they will greatly increase your odds.

Before you send your next release, take the time to avoid these pitfalls and your releases will start to get better results.

Perfect Timing! 3 Ways to Add Urgency to Your Media Pitches

Flickr Creative Commons photo by  William Warby

Flickr Creative Commons photo by William Warby

Why now?

If you’re trying to get media coverage, you need to ask that simple question before you hit send on a news release or pick of the phone to pitch a reporter. 

And you better have a good answer. Of all the many considerations when you’re seeking media coverage, timeliness trumps them all. Journalists are news-driven. If what you’re pitching them isn’t timely, well, then it’s really not news. 

Adding to the challenge is that the news cycle continues to compress. Depending on the type of story you’re pitching, its shelf life might be only a day or two. Sometimes, it’s a matter of hours.

If you can infuse your pitch with urgency and timeliness, you have a much better shot at moving a reporter to action.

Here are three simple ways to make sure you’re pitches are well-timed. 

Look ahead: Finding a timely news hook is often pretty easy if you plan ahead. Announcing a new fundraising drive to support Little League in your community is clearly a great fit for Opening Day of the Major League Baseball season. Planning ahead can also help you weave a news angle into a less obvious pitch. So, for instance,  if you’re a locally-sourced market, announcing a new line of hot dogs and other meats might also get traction if you make a timely connection to baseball season. 

Prep the press: Yes, busy reporters don’t have spare time to talk about news that hasn’t happened yet…unless it’s a tasty story. If you think your timely pitch has enough appeal to get good coverage – and you’re not revealing confidential information – give a reporter a head’s up so they can do some homework and carve out time to write the story. You can also send an embargoed press release that gives reporters a chance to do some research and get the story framed up prior to publication. (Learn more about how to get the media to cover your event.)

Lead with urgency: Don’t bury the timeliness of your pitch in the third paragraph of a press release. Make sure it’s woven into the headline, or at least in the lead paragraph so a reporter will immediately see the timely hook. Another simple trick – in the subject line open with “Press alert” instead of “Press release.” Changing one word makes a big difference. 

So next time someone in your organization calls for a press release, ask ‘why now?’

If you have a good answer, it’s time to get to work. 


Knock it out in November: Make Your Messages Matter in a Noisy Month

Image: Troye Owens via Flickr Creative Commons

Image: Troye Owens via Flickr Creative Commons

We’re just one days away from a mid-term election that’s drawing Presidential-cycle like attention in many parts of the country.

With that in mind, the next week or so is going to be pretty noisy, so plan your media outreach and messaging accordingly. 

Here's our quick guide to navigating the month ahead.
 

A Takeaway from the Campaign Trail
Election Day will reveal who will control the House and Senate. But its results will also help communicators get insights into who won the messaging war.

We’ve been providing communications support for a highly-watched House race and have already learned some timely lessons from this year's race.  I’ll be doing a more in-depth blog with some key takeaways after the votes are counted, but for now here’s a nugget that has relevance to all communicators trying to engage their audience:

Pitch the story, not the policy: Never underestimate the power of a compelling personal story. We found a highly effective approach to addressing a policy issue is to find ways to frame it with an authentic story. For instance, the candidate we’re working with lost his father at a very young age. His mother who had never worked outside her home, had to re-invent herself to provide for her three kids. Fortunately, Social Security offered a bridge that allowed her to keep her home and her family together. When told in this context, the candidate’s support for protecting Social Security takes on real, authentic meaning—and sticks with those who heard the story. 


Here are some other trends to watch as we move deeper into November:

Annual Reports: The Clock is Ticking
We’re a month into the fourth quarter – with the holiday season just a few short weeks away. If you’re involved with creating your organization's annual report, now is the time to start laying the groundwork for a smooth process and a stellar product. Here’s some recent advice about why now is the time to get to work

The Hard Sell is Getting Harder
A new study on brand supports the pressing need for organizations identify and promote their purpose rather than trying to force-feed their messages to consumers.

The 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study encouraged brands to connect their purpose with a relevant moment in culture as well as to confront a controversial issue that has direct impact on stakeholders and customers.

The study found that 64% of consumers identify as belief-driven buyers—a 13% jump from last year. Further, 84% of respondents said they noticed a brand communication when it engaged their attention compared to 16% who noticed it when it interrupted their attention. 

While these findings were focused on businesses, they are also relevant  nonprofits, particularly as they aim to capture their audiences attention ahead of Giving Tuesday on Nov. 27. 

Giving Tuesday and Small Business Saturday
Speaking of Giving Tuesday, November offers nonprofits a great hook for telling their stories in the media — and for connecting with their supporters. The same is true for small businesses with Small Business Saturday.

Ideally, you’ve already mapped out your communications and media strategy for these events.

But if you haven’t, it’s not too late.

Our team is happy to help you build a lightweight campaign this month — with an eye for how you can build relationships that will have lasting value in 2019 and beyond.

Contact me to learn more!

Keep Your Audience Engaged: 5 Steps to Make Your Message Resonate

Keep Your Audience Engaged

The most effective communications aim to get people engaged, influence their behavior, and, ultimately, move them to action.

Too often, though, your targeted audiences end up like the geese in this picture I snapped the other day. The fake coyotes were enlisted to deliver a simple message – keep off the grass.

Clearly, as far as the geese are concerned, that message is no longer resonating.

As communicators and PR pros, we need to constantly work to ensure our audience doesn’t become a flock of indifferent geese. Here are some ways to make sure your messages don’t go stale:

Don’t just throw one pitch – Pitchers who throw only fast balls aren’t pitchers for long. It’s key to find new and different ways to deliver the same or similar messages. Focus on adding variety in how the message is positioned, who delivers it, and how it gets distributed. A blend of digital, print, video and even in-person communications helps ensure your message stays fresh and connects with the full range of your audience. 

Stay connected to your audience – As Peter pointed out last week, it’s essential to know your target audiences. Developing audience personas can be a game changer in terms of identifying your audiences -- and gaining a deeper understanding of what motivates them and how to reach them. Beyond personas, look for ways to gather ongoing feedback to make sure your messages are resonating. 

Avoid boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome – You can go overboard with trying to get your message out. Flooding your audience with messages, particularly if they are not very compelling or actionable, can cause them to check out. This is also true when you're working with the media. If you pitch the same reporters twice a week with mundane press releases, they may not be open to listening when you have a really compelling story to tell.

Make sure you hit the porch – Back in my newspaper days after we hit deadline a savvy old editor would often quip, “well it was all for naught if the paperboy misses the porch.”  Wise words. Even the best messages can’t get traction if they are not reaching your target audience. Make sure you know the right delivery channels and platforms to connect effectively -- and keep up to date with new ways people are getting information.

Monitor and measure — These days, people are getting bombarded with messages. As a result, they can tune out quickly. It’s essential to develop multiple ways to track and measure whether your messaging is resonating. That can include drawing insights from Google Analytics, tracking click and open rates, and measuring response rates or actions taken based on a particular message or campaign. It might make sense to establish an editorial advisory board, either online or in-person, or conduct some polls or surveys to gather more feedback.

Take it from the geese: Delivering the same message in the same way will bring diminishing returns. Be proactive and open to new strategies and tactics if you want to keep your audience engaged.