The first press release is traced to a 1906 train accident in which 50 people were killed in New Jersey. The goal was to minimize bad PR for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
But surely that couldn’t have been the first. I imagine a shrewd Roman chariot maker brainstorming with the boys (in togas) at the shop, jotting notes about price, craftsmanship, and customer service on an animal skin, then bringing it down to the Times New Roman and getting one of the scribes to do a story.
Regardless of the origin, we now have amazing abilities when it comes to creating and distributing press releases. We can embed links and videos and use social media to get the news far and wide.
Getting anyone to pay attention is another story.
The fact is that most press releases, be they from self-publishers or the mayor’s press secretary, wind up in the trash, because:
1 – There’s no news
2 – They’re overflowing with self-promotion
3 – They’re poorly written
4 – They were sent to the wrong person
So let’s talk about how to increase the chance that your release generates some coverage. The headline and first paragraph (lead) of your release should be as punchy as your pitch to a potential reader. Use active verbs. Avoid passive language. Be creative and engaging. And keep it short. Also:
1 – Try to tie your story to something that’s making headlines or leading the nightly news. Reporters, editors and producers like to find new angles on stories that everyone is covering.
2 – Don’t save the good stuff. Writing a news release is the opposite of writing fiction. You don’t have time to build suspense. Imagine the guy with his finger on the clicker, and convince him you’re worth watching.
3 – Trim the hype. Think about how you react when an author starts in about her fantastic writing and mantle full of awards. Editors react the same way to over-the-top press releases: they turn and walk away.
4 – Clip the jargon. Some is okay, especially if you’re peddling something like science fiction. You have to establish your credibilty. But too much will quickly cause that 1,000-mile stare. No soup for you!
5 – Think of an angle that will help those who read the publication. As in: I’ve learned a lot about self-publishing in my year in the trenches that I’d like to share with your readers.
6 – Rinse and repeat when it comes to proofreading. One grammatical error, one spelling mistake, one arbitrary capital, and you’re done. Direct, non-stop to the trash pail. Reading aloud should always be part of proofreading.
7 – Remember that almost any news is good news. If a reporter or reviewer calls and wants to do the story a little differently than you envisioned, that’s fine. The goal is coverage, so be aggreable and flexible.
8 – Be ethical. You know this already, but it’s worth repeating. Don’t ask the media for a favor, don’t offer anything resembling a bribe, and for heaven’s sake, don’t lie. About anything.
You may be wondering how to know if your release is clever and engaging. I’ll answer by saying you’ve written a novel; your mind is full of creative DNA. Your job now is to re-channel it and switch from creative writing to creative marketing. It may help to remember that the scarecrow didn’t need the wizard to give him a brain. All he needed was someone to help him realize it was in there the whole time.
Have you had a good or bad experience with your press release? Please share.