"Pitch Perfect" Notes on writing a good press release

As I’ve mentioned previously the next couple posts will be about women I met at DePaul Universities PRSSA Regional Conference held last week in Chicago. I mentioned a session there called “Pitch Perfect” which was taught by Linda Bergstrom from the Chicago Tribune. I believe in sharing any information I can with people in my generation and field. I’ve outlined my notes from the session and hope that they clear up any questions you have about sending pitches for press releases or as possible stories for newspapers. The guidelines given by Linda are from an Editors point of view which is something PR pro’s rarely get a glimpse at until later in the professional career, after making some of the basic mistakes of an entry level employee.
First off, How should you title your press release?

DON’T Title/ body of email

-“Media Alert” in the title, it’s quite obviously an alert if you are contacting the paper

– “Referred to by Joe Reporter” Not going to fly. I won’t say never but hardly ever would a reporter refer someone in PR to an editor

-“Following Up on, email, phone call, letter” As Linda put it, it’s “just crap” If you have something important, timely and eye catching you won’t need a follow up. Have something to say, Editors don’t have all day to peruse the hundreds of emails they get

-“Did you get my” just don’t do it. Again if the editor thinks it’s relevant they’ll get back to you, and right away.

Consider your strategies

-Know your audience. Don’t just send a blanket press release out “To whom it ma concern” or “Dear Editor”. Think of it like your resume, would you dare put either of those “greetings” on your cover letter? It’s press release and resume suicide. And always put your contact info at the top of the release, it gets lost at the bottom.
o What is their job? Most likely they are an editor for a specific section of the paper. In this case Linda is the editor of the Lifestyle section. What does your event fit in: lifestyle, sports, entertainment, news?
o What are the deadlines at the paper? I know this one from experience working at a newspaper on the business / marketing side. Call and ask the secretary what the deadlines are for specific sections, how many weeks out are they? Meaning how many weeks are they planning content ahead. This will give you a better idea of when to contact them, sometimes down to the day. Maybe Every Wednesday the paper has a brainstorming session on upcoming topics for two months from now. Wow, what a perfect day to send over your great looking and well detailed press release!

Some final notes

Be the expert. When you are drafting the press release make sure it has not only all the required information (who, what, when, why, where) but a good description of what’s happening, and why it’s of any relevance to the paper / the audience the paper serves. Linda was very open with us and even shared emails she had personally received. You would be surprised how many press releases come over the line and look like a jumbled mess of a paragraph.

Be honest about what you have. Humility builds trust between the editor / reporter and the PR professional. Understand that your fabulous press release, event, idea won’t always be used. Only send out press releases when something big is really happening, don’t cry wolf. Linda mentioned another editor at the Tribune who has a publicist that frequently contacts him with upcoming events. The publicist is very up front he’ll say, this isn’t as great as the last few have been but I thought you’d might want to know X is now happening with situation Y. The quality of things the publicist has submitted in the past has allowed a relationship to build with the editor.

Be thorough. Yup that’s right folks, check, double check and triple check.
Anticipate what’s coming up and be creative with it. A well done press release that is also creative and catchy is hard to come by. Strive to be that person who puts out nothing but the best work.

Keep in contact.

Find a niche

Well that is the bare bones of what I took away from Linda Bergstrom’s session last week. Although so much of it sounds basic I had tons of A-ha moments within that hour. Hopefully this gives you a great jumping off point. Below are a couple links on the same topic.

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