Pick me! Getting your press release read

Press release. Two words that send journalists to the delete button and PR professionals to the alcohol cabinet.

One doesn’t like getting them because the other doesn’t like writing them. If you’re sweating hours over writing a press release then may we suggest you employ someone to do it because they are just not worth losing your lunch over.

The PitchIt2Me annual journalist survey revealed that 55% of journalists do not believe that the average PR professional knows the difference between a press release and a pitch. So let’s clarify.

A press release is public news and the media know if they have it then someone else has it too. A pitch is an exclusive story angle offered to one journalist only. Both, however, must be news worthy and that is where most press releases lose the plot.

In recent years I have received a press release about a local hotel concierge attending an international congress. Did he win an award at the international congress? No. Did he meet a celebrity at the international congress? No. Did he raise money for a charity by attending the international congress? No, again, no.

This isn’t a press release, it’s a giant public ‘out of office’ message for the concierge who is, according to the press release, at an international congress and unavailable for me to order theatre tickets or restaurant bookings from.

It’s a bit like the recent press release alerting me that a local hair dresser has attended a three day hair expo. Why, oh why, do I a) want to know that or b) need to know that?  Unless they’re trying to tell me something about my hair the answer to both questions is, I don’t.

If I was a hair journalist (is there such a thing?) or a small business journalist writing about the benefits of extra expo education, maybe. But I am not, so the press release was sent to the wrong person and as we all should know, relevancy is the number one reason a journalist will open a press release.

We can tell in the subject heading if we want to read anymore. Putting ‘press release’ in the subject heading of an email puts us off straight away as we know that chances are it will be just another irrelevant piece of information that a client has forced a PR company to send out or the PR company has sent out to prove to the client they are doing their job.

The trouble is your name in a journalist’s inbox is your brand and the more irrelevant press releases received by a journalist then puts your ‘brand’ on the not wanted list. We all get emails in our inbox that we deliberately leave till later or never open at all. Blanket press releases damage your brand and targeted press releases sent to relevant journalists enhance it.

Eye scanning shows that most of us merely scan our emails for relevant words that have meaning to us.  A five word subject heading is the most we can take in without having to move our eyes, so best stick to five words, seven at the most.

I received an email with the subject heading “high salt diets seriously damaging sex lives of Australian men”.  Three words too long but it did have the magic ‘sex’ word in it that makes any of us open an email though personally I would have reworded it “Sex life of Aussie male in danger”, says the same thing in less words.

But I, like many press releases, digress. The press release in question went on to say that “whilst the adverse affects of high blood pressure on men’s sex lives is clear, the direct link between salt and sex is yet to be proven.” Huh? Didn’t you just say that high salt diets were damaging sex lives?  Confused?  Now you know why this one went into the deleted folder.

Then there’s the high priority exclamation mark email. You know the ones, that say urgent, must read.  From where I am sitting there is nothing urgent about a press release because if there was you’d have been on the phone.

Did we mention photo captions?  Just for the record DSC_085.jpg is not a photo caption, it is a number given to your photo by your camera and only your camera understands it.

Press releases that are sent just as attachments will go straight to the deleted bin.  Better to put your press release in the body of the email as we are far more likely to read it.

Dear Everyone, Dear Sir/Madam, Dear Media Friends are not appropriate forms of address.  Press releases need no address, pitches do, and then it would be better if you knew our name and gender.

Don’t get me wrong, I know clients can be demanding and that CEOs insist upon being quoted in the hope of seeing their name in lights or even worse the PR person who quotes himself.

I also understand that many press releases end up with editorial coverage but with a few small tweaks that editorial coverage could double.  And yes, I know journalists can be a right pain in the butt for public relations professionals too but if you work in PR then you need to keep the journalist on side where you can.

I could go on, but I won’t.  Instead I’ll tout the PitchIt2Me press release writing workshop on July 28 from 9.00am to midday in Sydney and August 3 from 9.00am to midday in Melbourne.

What will you learn?  How to ensure your press release is read by those you want to read it every time and that when used correctly the press release can be a powerful and effective tool.

Want to know more?  Check out our website for workshop details or email kirsten@pitchit2me.com.au for more details.

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One Comment

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  1. Hallelujah! And what makes PRs think we can be bothered with PDFs marked with “please see attached” .. which translates to “here’s more work for you that if I’d put the text in the e-mail body you wouldn’t have to do.” Sheeesh!

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