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While there’s been much noise about the demise of the press recently, the truth is that there’s more media around than ever. The big difference is that the “press” has changed considerably over the last five years – it’s now gone electronic, has wider distribution than ever, and includes other media outlets like blogs, online news operations, Facebook and Twitter. I spent many years in the newspaper industry, and a few years out of it as an advisor to entrepreneurs on how to get articles in traditional media. Now I do much new media consulting, but the questions remain the same: How do I get some ink?
Today, the media’s need for information is insatiable, and as a result it’s never been easier for small businesses to achieve that Holy Grail of marketing – a mention in the media. However, with media proliferation also come higher speed and an avalanche of competition for attention. But the bottom line is that you can get noticed by the media today if you know how to issue a press release that creates a compelling story.
To that end, here are some general tips to what used to be called “getting ink”.
The “Why Should I Care” factor. Never “announce” anything in the old corporate press release style because, frankly, nobody cares. Apple may be able to “announce” something and be noticed because of its sheer weight and heft. But Acme won’t. Announcements are pompous and instant death for small, unknown, businesses. In this high-speed culture, you’re just not that important. The job of the people who receive press releases is to find interesting information that will arrest their readers or viewers for a few moments and draw them into reading on or continuing to view. They are your first and only target, so provide them with what they need to do their jobs. Don’t make it about you, but about the media outlet’s readers or viewers.
Get to the point. You’ll have about 3–5 seconds to attract attention before receivers move on to the next release. So make your headline, subhead and lead-sentence show-stoppers that draw them into the next sentence or two and thus gain you a few more seconds. Borrow from blog writing methodology and make strong declarative benefit statements, or problem-solution equations, i.e. “How xxxxx can prevent yyyy,” or “Six ways to do xxxxx”. Write press releases like blogs. The Internet has trained everybody to read differently. Provide very useful and also somewhat entertaining information, and use a lot of boldfaced subheads so the media reader can get a sense of the story by skimming. One way to do this is not to write the press release in linear style, but initially concentrate on the story the subheads tell. Then you can infill with regular writing.
Target, target, target the end media consumer. Most press releases try to speak to “everybody”, which doesn’t work today. The mass has been shattered into thousands of different subject matter shards. You have to hit the right emotional points of ONE group of people you purport to serve. Study your ideal customer profile and determine the problem points that will stir up emotions. The media receiver will also recognize them.
Tell one story. Most amateur (and some professional) press release writers take a shotgun, or smorgasbord approach, trying to combine several storylines into one press release, i.e. “we’re doing this, AND we’re doing that, and we’re thinking of doing something else too. ” First of all, nobody cares what you’re doing. Second, telling two (or three or four) stories muddies up the waters and makes the media person work too hard to find a story. Unless you’re very important – and you’re not (See Point 1, Apple) – stick to one storyline.
Think film and radio. Increasingly, media is visual and aural, as in television, YouTube and rip-and-read radio (that’s online and offline radio people who simply grab a press release, read out the juicy bits, and sometimes make a comment on it).
See how you can make your story more visual with film or audio, and let the media outlet know that. If you don’t have great film, no television outlet will touch you. Increasingly, blogs and online media prize stories that also have some video attached, because they attract readers (and are tweetable or sharable on sites like Facebook).