Are you a marketer  in the mode of promoting products, services, or branding a company name or URL?  Do you desire targeted and qualified visitors?  These are the types of questions marketers need to ask when forming a publicity plan. The key elements to take away from this lesson are: 

  • Press consciousness 
  • Knowing your audience 
  • Creating a media contact list 
  • News vs. non newsworthy content
  • Writing an effective news release
  • Distributing press releases 
Press Consciousness
The dynamics between publicists and journalists is an important element to understand. Theoretically, the relationship between publicists and journalists is a great relationship upon which they both can utilize one another to provide the public with the most up-to-date information possible.  However, when it comes to power, journalists have it because they hold the pen. Whether companies hire a PR firm or serve as their own publicist, company marketers need to empathize with the press who are constantly bombarded with press releases, information, and deadlines.

In addition, if a journalist calls a publicist for information, often the journalist expects the publicist to drop everything and serve their needs. Unfortunately, this does not always hold true when a publicist needs help from a journalist. Reporters are always looking for "hot topic" stories and most of them don't mind if they ruffle a few feathers to get one. One hint: don't ever say anything to press, if you don't want it printed. "Off the record" is a distant memory.

If journalists could name one problem they have with publicists it would most likely be related to receiving press releases that have no relevance to their publication, since e-mail can be easily used to contact journalists.  Likewise, journalists can easily delete an e-mail if they feel they are being spammed. Even worse, an unrelated message has the potential of inspiring a less than appealing message about a company.
 

Knowing Your Audience
Marketers usually place the company at the forefront of new releases.   Journalists, on the other hand, generally have the interests of their audience at the top of  their considerations.  Journalists are looking for newsworthy data to share.  As a business marketer, your job is to accomplish both:  1) Communicate with the target audience of the company, providing information that is in demand, and 2) Make sure the information is unique and newsworthy if press coverage is the goal. A plan is essential to executing a publicity campaign.  On a deeper level, marketers must know their audience before developing a campaign plan.

The first action should be to identify who will be visiting and using the company web site.  Marketers also need to discover what other online and off-line mediums their audience uses. From their research they might consider utilizing more than just Internet related means to reach their audience. For example, if some potential customers sell accounting and tax services, results may occur by publicizing the site in an accounting magazine rather than a web marketing web site like Clickz.com.

The next important move after finding appropriate publications is to find the right journalist who would be interested in writing in writing about the company event or other newsworthy announcement.  Nothing labels marketers "amateur" more than sending a press kit to every editor found on a list. Before taking such action, marketers need to realize that news organizations are internally specialized.  Reading through the publication or site being targeted is very wise prior to disbursing a press release.  Read publications for tone and assistance in writing format each news organization.

To help with PR efforts, consider developing a few relationships with writers before  sending out press releases. The writers will be able to provide insights and might be more inclined to read a press release from an organization they recognize.

A term that may be helpful to know when dealing with the press is a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA), commonly known as "embargo."  Theoretically, embargo means that the information sent to the journalist will not be published until a specified date. Most journalists will keep within the parameters set; however, there are a few exceptions to the rule. If concerned, marketers might be able to get journalists to sign a non-disclosure agreement. 

Creating a Media Contact List
Most writers make themselves available through e-mail. While reading articles about important topics in a specific industry, marketers will need to keep a database of e-mail addresses they pick up from bylines or bios.

The Database of Journalist Info Should Include: 

  • Date 
  • Name 
  • Publication 
  • Area of interest 
  • E-mail address 
  • Lead Time (Most editors have various amounts of times to finish a story) 
Buying a media list is possible, but there is a good chance that list has been used and spammed. Experts suggest that it is more important to have a few good contacts than a lot of bad ones. In other words, it would be better to send 50 e-mails to people who are interested in receiving your message than 200 e-mails that will ultimately be sent to the trash or worse, labeled as spam and blocked from their server. 

Outsourcing 
Outsourcing a professional public relations firm is one avenue marketers might consider.  Since PR firms already have a lot of connections and relationships in the industry, outsourcing can help get a jump-start in promoting a company.  However,  research is needed on any company being considered for hire, especially if the company is on a tight budget. Here are some companies to consider: www.pressreleasenetwork.com and www.emage-emarketing.com.  Additionally, researching some media directories which are frequently updated and are subscription-based is recommended. Medimap, located in Boston, seems to be the most popular media directory and can be found at www.medimap.com

News -vs- Non NewsWorthy
Announcing to publications or corporate news outlets that a new design has been launched on a company web site has not been newsworthy since 1995.  Unless, of course, your web site added a section that sells flying cars. The point is entrepreneurial organizations may need to work harder to get publicity, unlike publicly-traded companies that can make routine changes and still draw interest from corporate news centers.  To assist in evaluating whether or not news is truly newsworthy, marketers should ask themselves  if the news informs the media of something unique to the marketplace or is freshly beneficial in some way.  Marketers should strive for compelling stories that describe benefits.  Something that isn't unique is not worth the time to write or send.
A worthy news story has a good hook with a human interest, local pride, or celebrity spin on it.   A newsworthy story could even be humorous, exciting, or have irony. 

Here are some possible hooks for online entrepreneurs: 

  • political issues
  • public interest 
  • report on findings from a survey 
  • company milestones 
  • strategic partnerships 
  • controversial 
  • use a celebrity 
Pulling Together Information
In putting together information for the news release, write down answers to the following questions:
  1. What is the point the company wants to share with the public? 
  2. What is the image the company is trying to brand in the eyes of the public?
  3. Keep the following in mind when you draft a news release:
    Who? (Your company)
    What? (What is the purpose?)

    Why? (Why are you releasing the product or service?)

    Where? (Where is it being release? Is it national or international?)

    When? (When was/ will the product be released?) 
  4. If the press release is to communicate an event, be sure to include the financial cost of and time frame for the event.
  5. Is the event open to all or are there limitations or restrictions on who is invited?
  6. Is the content newsworthy?


Writing Effective Press Releases

Prior to writing press releases, companies need to establish a marketing niche.  With a marketing niche in place, marketers are prepared to state to the world what benefits to expect.  A primary public relations goal is to get the right messages to the right people.  In other words, create a systematic plan that includes writing and distributing press releases.

A press release is a short summary of information sent to writers or members of the media, containing news surrounding a company.  Sending news announcements or providing expertise in a specific area of specialty should be a primary factor within any media campaign strategy.  Marketers should remember that the media is sent hundreds of e-mails everyday.  Before deciding to produce a release, marketers should ask themselves if the information is timely and relevant enough to be considered. An example of a good time to send a press release is when a company has just released a new product or service or if the company just opened a new office or has won an award.

Above all, keep releases short -- equivalent to a page and a half of printed text.  Press releases are occasionally posted verbatim.  If a release is longer than a page, providing a link at the bottom for additional information on the subject is recommended.  Providing an e-mail address, phone and physical address is imperative.

 
Converting to E-mail
Obviously, most journalists use e-mail so it is likely that they would prefer to receive press releases as e-mail.  However, it wouldn't hurt to ask them what their formatting preferences are concerning sending information.  Example: Discovering what word processing program they use or any other software format they prefer for press releases.

If you write a release in Microsoft Word or other word processing software, remember, when you cut and paste your information to your e-mail message that line lengths should be limited to 65 characters.  Limiting line length can be done by manually counting lines, while some programs such as Textpad have the ability to limit line length.  Not limiting line length will cause spacing problems which make reading the message difficult for many recipients.  And if you're wondering why not just send the word processing file as an attachment, the answer is simple:  Attachments from unknown or expected sources are often deleted prior to opening due to the rapid spread of viruses.

The Basic Formula of a Press Release
The goal of a press release is to clearly and concisely communicate the message.  Following a predictable formula so that a journalist can easily scan a press release in search of relevant information may mean the publication (or non-publication) of the release.  A typical press release outline is as follows: 

 

Headline
A headline is a statement of a few words that gets to the point as quickly as possible. A headline is strait forward and leaves guesswork aside. Use the Associated Press style as your guide on rules, grammar, tense, etc.

First Name, Last Name, e-Mail Address
Provide the name and e-mail address of the person who compiled the news release (or the name of the chairperson). 

Date Release should be made Public
Include a date the company would like the  press release to be sent.

Date Release was Written
Include the date; you never know when a journalist may use it again as a reference tool.  And include "For Immediate Release" at the top of the document.

Title and Subtitle
Be sure to include a title an any subtitles desired for the press release.  Including these removes error in spelling, grammar, and content

Location
Include the location of the generating company

Follow-up
Provide the press with a contact person to call, if different  that who've then been discussing things with.

Leads
A lead follows a headline and is the most important part of the release as it is a statement that covers the news essentials of who, what, where, how, and why.

Quotes
Use quotes to move the story forward.  Quotes are best used as opinions or in making claims.

Boilerplate
A boilerplate is a short description of the company and what it does. Keep this part under two sentences.

Availability
Always include company contact information. A company who doesn't want to provide a phone number, e-mail address, street address, and fax number doesn't want business.  If  applicable, list availability of  products, services, and prices. 

 

Distributing Press Releases 
There are many sites that post press releases and then distribute to target audiences. Before beginning to send new releases, researching the online resources for targeting abilities is highly recommended. www.businesswire.com.

Here is a link for posting press releases  free of charge: http://www.prweb.com/login.php

In addition, press releases can be sent to discussion lists and newsletters.  Many e-zine publishers scour the Internet looking for sources - new content to add to a regularly-sent newsletter.   If contacted, express interest in building a networking relationship and offer to contribute news or information to an e-zine focusing on a personal specialty.  In fact, do not  wait to be contacted by an e-zine, look for them.  E-zines and press releases serve the same purpose - build trust by providing information.  Both are also forms of viral marketing.

Important Rules to Follow
Before sending a news release to a writer or editor, send a short introduction of yourself to give the press release some background and clout.  After developing communication with a writer, get to the point as quickly as possible. Don't be afraid to be up front; most editors appreciate honesty and clarity.  One way to emphasize points is to bullet or bold main points, which breaks up the paragraph for easier reading and helps it stand out.  Above all, pay close attention to length.  Keep  press releases under a page or within a screen size so receivers won't have to scroll down to see all the information.

Finally, keep in mind that  even if your company meets the above criteria there is no guarantee that the media will use your release.  Keep researching and keep trying.

PR Traits Sure to Cause Pain
Handling the press is like tending the seeds in a garden--both need attention or else they will die. 
First rule:
Do not add reports to e-mail press release distribution list without asking. Second rule:  Don't send attachments without prior consent.  Writers and reporters can be inclined to trash attachments for fear of viruses. 
Third rule:  Keep It Short and Simple (KISS). 

Fourth rule: 
Use common sense and netiquette.
Beware: Don't Promote a Poorly Developed and Maintained Web Site
A site that takes more than a minute to download through a 56K modem, or one that has navigational problems or broken links will quickly burn future visits.  If you don't want to publish a fully functional web site, publish a business card web site that provides basic contact / business information. * Important note:  Business card web sites should not be promoted until they contain something of interest on it..
Is the Company Site Hot or Cold?
Before executing a grand publicity scheme, an honest assessment of a company's value can be done by evaluating  how many people visit the site and how long they stay. Visitor statistics are available through many host providers and statistical software.  Please note that visible hit counters are extremely unprofessional and reveal nothing of relevance to a management team.   A careful evaluation of a site may also reveal the reason for accepted or denied press releases.  Web sites in the "cold" category are sites responsible for inherently discouraging company press coverage due to poor design and usability issues. 
Other Publicity Possibilities
Speak in public to targeted groups. Even if the group is small, the viral marketing spawned from such an event may be worth its weight in gold.

Offer an opinion.  Look through magazines, newspapers, and other publications to see if you can offer an opinion, suggestion, or insight on a subject at hand.  Many online forums are good resources.

Locate professional organizations that offer membership and an opportunity to share professional insight.

Call a radio or local television station and offer your time as a guest on the show.  Be prepared to concisely and clearly explain the specific topic the company representative plans to share. 

Write articles about the specific industry and specialty of the company.  Then submit the articles to various content sites. 

Activities

As mentioned, marketers should follow a predictable format so journalists can quickly scan the content for relevant information.   So try a template. 

  1. If you have access to Microsoft Word, you will need to use it for this activity
  2. Microsoft Word  has a built in Press Release Template.  To find the template, click File, New, Business Planner Templates.  The file is named "press release.dot".  There is also a public relations planner template, named "public relations planner.dot" that may be of interest to you.
  3. Open the template and completely fill out the template.
  4. Find 2 resources for distributing your press release online.
  5. Find one e-zine that you could offer to write a publication for that would  enhance your credibility and promote your site through increased awareness and viral marketing principles.

Questions to test yourself:

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