The Secret to Writing Great Press Releases

Here’s another secret I want to share before I write more words: the press release is not dead.

I could go on and on and on  (and on) about why those who say the press release is dead are merely doing it for the hot takes, but the joke’s on them – the press release’s eulogy has been given so often that it just falls on deaf ears.

Meanwhile, those who know how to use them continue to see great results.

But just because it’s not dead doesn’t mean you should immediately fire up your Word processor and pound one out for your client.

There are still ground rules to follow to ensure an effective press release.

Lucky for all three of my readers, I’m in a giving mood today, so here are some secrets to writing great press releases.

For The Love of God, Use It To Break News

The quickest way to earn a press release deletion is to publish one that includes no news and is used just to appease a client or boss.

Don’t do that. You’ll anger the reporter (your intended audience) and it will be relegated to the scrap heap. (Plus, it’s quite obvious to everyone when a press release is issued just to issue a press release.)

Think long and hard about what you are announcing before you start typing.

Is your company announcing how innovative it is? Skip the release.

Is your company proving its innovation by releasing a new widget that will help customers in the space? Now we’re talking.

Don’t write a press release just to write a press release.

You can use that time to work on other projects.

Wait until you have news that is worthy of a news release, then move ahead.

Make Quotes Meaningful

Every press release includes quotes from executives, but most of those quotes are fluff.

“We are very excited to…”

“We are pleased to…”

“Blah blah blah…”

To increase the chances of a reporter pulling one of the quotes and using it in a story, write something meaningful.

I like to draft quotes from my executives that announce something significant as part of the announcement.

For instance, if we go back to the innovative widget I talked about up above, the quote might read something like this:

“This new widget will allow our customers to cut down on lead time by fifty percent thanks to a state-of-the-art process that is exclusive to our company,” said executive.

This is an important part of the story and a big reason why a customer might decide to use your company’s widget. Not only are you expressing that to the customer, but you are setting yourself apart from your competitors, and your executive gets the credit.

Don’t Forget About Pictures

If a picture is worth a thousand words, how come we don’t think about a visual component to the press release more often?

We spend so much time getting the words right that the image (if there even is one) becomes an afterthought; something we just haphazardly attach to the release before it goes live.

But a lot of sites (like GM’s media site, for instance) make images the focal point of the news.

No press release on the GM media site goes out without an image, even if it’s just a headshot of an executive. These images, when used correctly, can go a long way in helping to explain the news to the media, especially when the news is built around something that is new or complicated.

Keep Your Target Audience In Mind 

You are writing for the media. Full stop.

Sure, your leadership team and some of your customers will see the press release on your website once it’s released. But the purpose of issuing this release is so that media will want to write a story about your company.

If you are writing it for another audience, you’re doing it wrong.

Once the internal edits start flying back-and-forth, it’s easy to focus on the wants of those who are making the news instead of those who will consume it. But you have to stay focused on the fact that media need, well, the facts.

Do your best to eliminate flowery language and anything else that takes away from the gist of the release. Stick to the inverted pyramid and your audience will thank you.

Think Of It As Content

Content: so hot right now.

Think of your press release as another piece of content you create to tell your company’s story.

Before you put it up on your media site, take some time to practice proper SEO. Once you’ve done that — and you learn to master SEO over time — your press releases will not only earn coverage, but they will act as a beacon on the web for those who are interested in what you have to say.

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What’s Wrong With Being A Public Relations Generalist?

There’s a phrase you’ve probably heard that goes like this: “A mile wide and an inch deep.”

According to Urban Dictionary, the phrase is used to describe somebody who seems smart and intelligent at first, but is found to be less-than impressive after you spend time getting to know them.

These folks are perfectly capable of holding their own for a few minutes. But once you start to drill down into their knowledge base, it becomes quite clear they know just enough to be dangerous.

Sadly, I fear that is how a lot of public relations professionals are viewed, and I’ll use myself as an example.

Just over a year ago, I was pitching stories about General Motors fleet vehicles to fleet trades.

When I switched jobs, I focused on stories around the 3D printing of automotive parts and artificial intelligence (along with, seemingly, everybody else in the field.)

When I lost my job at the end of last year, I started working with a new agency where the majority of my clients are in the commercial real estate business.

Fleet vehicles. 3D printing. Commercial real estate.

Can you think of three more disparate industries?

I wouldn’t blame anyone for thinking my expertise on these subjects amounted to me being “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

But the basic tenets of public relations storytelling remain the same, no matter which topics you pitch.

It doesn’t matter if I’m pitching WIRED for a story about artificial intelligence’s impact on manufacturing or the Detroit Free Press for a story about Detroit’s real estate rebirth.

If I can uncover trends and offer experts who can speak to those trends, I’m able to land coverage, even if I don’t have a deep well of knowledge in either subject.

And by keeping tabs on what reporters on specific beats are covering, I can tailor my pitches to their interests.

These are PR tactics that have withstood the test of time, and every public relations practitioners should practice them.

I’ve written before that in order to be helpful to a reporter, you need need to focus on certain activities.

If you weave them into your repertoire, you will be successful, no matter what story you pitch.

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The WWE’s Marketing Engine is Top-Notch

Before you delve into this post, I’m going to let you in on a little secret that needs to be revealed before we go any further: I still watch pro wrestling.

In fact, I subscribe to World Wrestling Entertainment‘s WWE Network, a revolutionary subscription-based streaming service that gives die-hard fans access to more wrestling than they could ever dream of.

(Don’t @ me- it’s $10/month to watch all of the pay-per-views, including WrestleMania, as well as (nearly) everything the company has produced in the past 35 years. The adolescent in me wishes this was a thing 25 years ago.)

While I don’t watch Monday Night Raw and WWE Smackdown Live religiously, I still follow the storylines, because it’s the story that makes wrestling worth watching.

When the company tells a story the right way, it sucks you in.

And isn’t telling a story the right way, to the right audience, what good marketing is all about?

Granted, WWE has a rich history and thousands upon thousands of hours of content to pull from. They could easily rest on their laurels and sit back and watch the money roll in.

But the WWE marketing engine always operates at a high level.

Whether it’s the WWE’s Twitter handle, the WWE YouTube page, or email marketing that speaks to a certain persona, it’s all part of a cohesive storytelling effort that draws people in and makes them care about men and women engaging in a pre-determined (yet physically taxing) ballet in the squared circle.

I would love to see their content calendar. That monstrosity has to be a master class in how to create and share content that resonates.

When you engage in marketing, you want to give the audience what they want.

Even if I haven’t watched the product in a few months, I can go to their YouTube channel and watch highlights from past shows that bring me up to speed within minutes.

Now, I’m right back in the community.

When you do marketing properly, you give people a sense of inclusion; like they are a part of something special.

When it comes to WWE, everything they create is geared for the fan, both casual and hardcore. They don’t discriminate.

What you get is a polished presentation of their overarching stories, complete with a wink and a nod that everyone is in on the same secret.

It’s how marketing should be, and the WWE marketing engine continues to hum along as their legions of fans follow close behind.

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My Favorite Podcasts of 2017

2017 was a banner year for podcasts.

It seems like everyone and their mother started one.

Quite frankly, if you’re not spending at least part of your commute listening to podcasts, you’re doing it wrong.

Thanks to the breadth of podcasts available, there were times in 2017 when I actually looked forward to the drive to work because I knew my ears would be filled with a fascinating story or interview.

I don’t expect much to change in 2018, either.

Marvel is working on a ‘Serial’-type podcast starting Wolverine, while I’m sure others will pop up that will help propel 2018 to podcast heights we’ve never seen.

But before we get too far into 2018, I want to share my favorite podcasts from 2017. Maybe you’ll discover something worth binging.

Up and Vanished

This is the true story of the unsolved 2005 disappearance of Tara Grinstead, a high school teacher from Georgia.

Host Payne Lindsey is a documentarian-turned-podcaster who came across this story while surfing the Web for a story he could tell. In a result that could only be described as serendipitous, Lindsey traveled to the small town of Ocilla to investigate the case and came away with a truly incredible story.

While there are some aspects of the story that made me throw my hands up in disbelief, it’s a story worth listening to, even if Lindsey tries to insert himself into the story. (Whether that’s okay or not is another blog post for another time.)

Stay Tuned with Preet

Preet Bahara is a former U.S. attorney who was fired by president Trump, along with the rest of the U.S. attorneys who were holdovers from the Obama administration.

Since his firing, he has gone on to start this podcast, where he engages in long form interviews with prominent guests.

If you lean to the left, you’ll probably find this more interesting than if you fall on the other side of the spectrum. But Preet’s interview with Bill Browder around the death of Sergei Magnitsky left me shook, as it should every American, no matter democrat or republican.

Slow Burn

Slow Burn is a new podcast from Slate that I’ve talked about a few times on my Twitter account.

It’s the story of how Watergate went from a burglary to a national scandal, told in a way where the host focuses on the fact that, much like today’s news, nobody knew what was going to happen on any given day.

I’ve listened to only four episodes, but it’s a fascinating look into a period of American history that looks and sounds very similar to present day.

Presidential 

I started listening to the Washington Post‘s Presidential podcast soon after the 2016 election. I figured, what better way to learn why the election turned out the way it did than by examining the motivations of past presidents and their campaigns.

I’m not all the way through the series, but I’ve made it a goal in 2018 to get to the end so that I might tackle host Lillian Cunningham’s next project, Constitutional.

Fun fact: Of all the presidents, John Adams reminds me the most of Donald Trump. Do with that information what you’d like.

The Thread

I don’t remember where I heard about this podcast, but the premise had me right away: Follow the thread of history as it weaves its way from the assassination of John Lennon to communist leader Vladimir Lenin.

Over the course of six (or maybe it’s seven?) episodes, the host examines how Lenin’s rise in the Soviet Union led to a deranged killer standing outside of the Dakota in New York City to snuff out a prominent voice of a generation.

The book “The Catcher in the Rye” also factors heavily into the story. If you’ve ever read the book, it might make you look at it in a completely different light.

How I Built This

I love hearing the story behind individuals turning an idea or a passion into a successful business, and this podcast delivers in spades.

Host Guy Raz talks to a number of people in a wide range of industries to uncover what led them to follow their dreams, what mistakes they made along the way, and if they would do anything differently.

If you’ve ever wanted to start your own business, this podcast will inspire you.

Embedded

This podcast takes a story from the news and goes deeper. They have focused on police shootings caught on video, the past of those involved in the Trump administration, and a town ravaged by the opioid epidemic.

If you want to know more than just what is being reported on the surface, this podcast delivers the goods.

(The Apprentice episode was listed in the Bello Collective’s 100 Outstanding Pieces of Audio list.)

Photo by Jonathan Velasquez on Unsplash

Five Ways to be Valuable to a Reporter Right Now

Imagine if every day when you came to work, you were forced to endure the fact that people outside of your profession were going to constantly berate you for doing your job.

Then imagine those same people had no idea how to do your job, but wanted to yell at you because they disagreed with you.

Does this sound familiar? It should.

Welcome to the state of journalism in 2018!

Not only has journalism found itself warding off attacks from all sides this past year, but journalists are overworked because we need them more than ever, which is the height of irony.

(If you have a few minutes: read this op-ed in the New York Times on truthfulness and fake news. It shines a light on what journalists have to deal with on a regular basis.)

On top of the daily attacks and being over-worked, journalists are underpaid.

Ridiculed. Overworked. Underpaid. Not appreciated.

How would you like that to be your job description?

Thankfully, most of the reporters I have had the pleasure of dealing with are in the business because they love it.

They understand the role they play in this country’s growth, and they see their existence as vital to the well-being of this great country.

On a somewhat less important level, however, the health of the public relations industry is directly tied to the health of journalism, even if there has been a significant shift in owned media vs. earned media.

If journalism dies, public relations probably dies along with it, although our death would be slow and painful and full of uncertainty.

So it’s up to us, as PR professionals, to do our part to help journalists thrive, even if we it’s a bit of selfish act on our part to land better coverage for our clients.

Here’s how you can become valuable to a reporter right now and beyond.

Buy Them a Coffee

Coffee is the unofficial drink to have during conversations, and I am a huge proponent of having coffee with as many people as you can.

Every single journalist is a natural born storyteller. Thus, they want to know where to find the best stories.

If you buy them a coffee and spend an hour with them, you will come to understand what they are looking for in a story and then be able to provide them with better ideas when you pitch them a story down the road.

It’s more valuable if you can meet with a reporter who is new to a city or beat.

Rarely will a reporter turn down an invite if their schedule allows, because it’s implied it can lead to better pitches down the road.

Speaking of pitches…

Don’t Send Stupid Pitches

Not only is sending a pitch that doesn’t fall in the reporter’s wheelhouse a fast way to lost their trust, but you risk being outed for bad behavior on Dear PR, which I imagine is the same as being blackballed in Hollywood.

With less reporters shouldering more reporting responsibilities, it is in yours and your client’s best interest to give reporters ideas they can actually use.

This involves reading their stories, researching the publication to find the right reporter to pitch, and not sending the same pitch to five different reporters in the hopes that one will bite.

It’s not that hard, yet, it seems we still need some practice.

Share Their Content

In this day and age of reporting the news, the savvy reporters know they need to be active on social media, and the most successful reporters already use their personal channels to share their content.

But we can help by sharing their content, as well. But don’t do it and expect that to improve the odds they will cover your news; do it because it’s an interesting piece that you truly believe your audience would benefit from reading.

Read Their Coverage

This one falls back to the stupid pitch idea: read what the reporters are writing about to gain a better understanding of their beat.

It’s one thing to use Cision to pull a list of reporters who cover technology, but there are many areas within tech that are covered by different reporters.

Instead of taking a stab in the dark with your email pitch, read the coverage to discover who is interested in your technology pitch specifically, then target them.

Buy a News Subscription

The New York Times doubled their audience last year, with 3.5 million paid subscriptions helping to move “The Gray Lady” to unexpected profit. This, alone, would be a signal that things are on the upswing for journalists, but one year does not a success story make.

I don’t know about you, but it’s frustrating trying to read articles in the Washington Post and Times when I keep running up against my monthly limit, so I bought paid digital subscriptions for each to do my part (and I’m a more informed citizen and professional because of it.)

You can subscribe to both for less than $20/month, which is totally worth it in this 24/7 media barrage.

And, by doing so, you’re helping to keep alive an institution that is vital to our democracy, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Photo by Philip Strong on Unsplash