No PR staff, no agency? No problem
October 23, 2006
Do you think that your chances of getting news coverage are non-existent if you are a small business owner, have no public relations staff and cannot afford an agency to do your work? Is getting the attention of the local media a mystery, even if you had a newsworthy story to tell? Based on my experience, I believe that if you identified with the points just made, news editors would probably rather hear from you than me. Why? Because reporters and editors are always searching for fresh and different content. You just may have an idea for a front-page story.
So, I will attempt with the following space to explain: 1. What is news and worthy of your efforts to put in writing, 2. How to write a press release for the media, and then, 3. How to distribute it.
1. What is news? What will get the media’s attention about your business? In a still-small market like the Truckee Meadows, every business has a chance. There are still days when editors here would love to receive a good lead on an interesting story.
So, back to the question at hand, what is news? M. Lyle Spencer, former dean of the Journalism School at the University of Washington, offered a standard definition: “News is any event, idea, or opinion that is timely, that interests or affects a large number of people in a community, and is capable of being understood by them.” Another definition: “News is anything you didn’t know yesterday,” explained Turner Catledge, former executive editor of the New York Times. News should be something that is sufficiently interesting to the general public, or to the audience of the publication/station/website that you are interested in pitching.
To stretch a little further, for a great story, your news topic should have some of the following attributes: immediacy, proximity (to Reno, or wherever you are pitching), prominence (of a person involved), oddity, conflict, suspense, emotions and/or consequence.
2. After considering and refining your news angle from the above information, proceed to step two: producing a press release. Let’s begin by reviewing what a press release is. By definition a press release is simply a statement prepared for distribution to the media. The purpose of a press release is to give journalists information that is useful, accurate and interesting. Get it? Useful, accurate and interesting. It is that easy.
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So, now you need to get the facts down in writing to present to the media. Answer these five w’s and you have it made: who, what, where, when and why and sometimes how. I am not being facetious. No matter how sophisticated the delivery of news gets, this is still the framework of any good press release, pitch or news story. If you can only answer who “Well, there’s me and my business…” then, you really don’t have a good news angle. Wait for an opportunity when you have a few more w’s.
Now, for the easy part. Instead of writing a press release, which makes some people break out in hives, bullet point the who, what, when, where, why and how. Then explain and provide supporting information for each bullet point. Most editors would rather receive information this way, instead of a poorly written press release. Make sure it is accurate: check and double check all facts.
Don’t forget to put a date and your contact information on the press release even your cell phone number. If you are going to go through all of this work and then not make yourself readily accessible, don’t bother. A reporter may want to verify your information, or better yet, quote you. So, accessibility is a deal breaker. A reporter may move on to another story, if he/she can’t verify the information, or ask you to clarify something.
3. How will you distribute this newly created piece of art? It’s quite simple. Make a list of where you want it published or broadcast. Pick up the telephone and ask for the name of the editor, or business editor. You can also research this information on the Internet. Most editors and reporters will want you to email the information, which causes them less work in having to transcribe your press release and fewer errors in the process. I suggest that you put the release in the body of the email, instead of attaching it. With all of the spam filters, your hard work may never make it to the news desk if you attach the document.
Now that you have a written press release and have distributed it locally, consider sending it to your industry publications or any of the organizations you belong to that have newsletters and magazines.
I don’t want to make my profession sound simple, but it is really that easy if you feel the time is worth the effort of doing this on your own. If not, think about hiring a part time employee who has some public relations skills and can help out with other tasks in your company. Or, my favorite alternative, consult with a professional agency.
Marlene Olsen is president of olsen & associates public relations, creative collaborations, etc., a Reno-based company. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.