Maybe you’re an old hand at public relations, constantly setting up exciting media events, sending out well-written press releases and getting the attention you believe your client deserves. Or maybe you’re a startup at a point where you think news publications should start taking a serious look at your corporation, product or service.
What I’d like to do here is give you one journalist’s impressions of what constitutes good PR and bad PR. Granted, things that bug me might not bother another business writer. On the other hand, I’ve known wordsmiths whom I consider to be overly nit-picky when it comes to PR news.
But I’m certainly well qualified to address this issue, because I get no less than two dozen emails a day from outfits like yours, seeking some coverage of their company or product in an article they’re hoping I’ll craft and then publish.
I’m not really big on rules, but the truth be told, most of the pitches that I receive are fatally flawed. I’m not talking about a rash of typographical errors or omissions that can go so far as to not include the name of your company or a contact number (yes, it happens!)
What I’m talking about are pitches that serve no real purpose, or news announcements that have no basis in fact, or bulletins that make preposterous claims.
Below, I’ve listed some do’s and don’ts for your consideration. Again, these tips are based on my experience of sifting through thousands of media pitches and releases over the decades.
1. Do reference someone else’s data to back up your claims. When you tell me your company is the “global leader in XYZ” for instance, I’m going to need some proof from an disinterested third-party source. And since such wildly inaccurate claims (“we guarantee wrinkles will disappear in hours”) usually come from a PR outfit, it’s your responsibility to tone these folks down.
2. Don’t tell me about another publication’s coverage of your news.The last thing any journalist wants to hear is that some other magazine beat him or her to the punch on your product story. Believe me when I say I’m not impressed that another big publication picked up your news announcement. In fact, there are few things that are more of a turnoff to a writer. You should have contacted me first.
3. Do let me know who your competitors are. Maybe I’m interested in your product and I contact you with a few follow-up questions. If I ask you who your strongest competitors are, tell me. It’s no big deal. I’m writing about your company, not theirs. But it’s info I need, and it saves me valuable time if you fill me in.
4. Don’t give me the details of your company Christmas party.Sending out a press release for every little event that’s happening in your small corner of the economy is akin to telling your Facebook friends that you’re “in a great mood today.” Who cares? Make sure what you put out there is important. And relevant to the business world.
5. Do give me plenty of lead time. By giving advance notice of a breaking story, you’re giving me the opportunity to clear the decks and make time for your announcement. Waiting for the last minute doesn’t work for most journalists. You might consider placing an embargo on your news releases. Give me the details ahead of time, but tell me I can’t publish it until the date you want it made public. That way I have time to research the story and give it a fair shake on the pub date that you determine.
6. Don’t rely on the shotgun approach. One way to really shoot yourself in the foot is to send your press release to everything that moves. A mass mailing or behemoth online distribution only waters down whatever it is I might write about your news. And while I’m certainly not going to publish your item verbatim, online saturation will dilute my version of your news in the search engine results.
7. Do personalize your pitch. The last thing any journalist wants to receive is an auto-generated message that is being pitched in the same manner to everyone on a media list. Your PR staff should operate with a media targeted distribution list that takes into consideration the specialties of a particular writer and your company’s association with that writer. That means put your priority on the journalists with whom you have a good working relationship. After that, deal by name with those you don’t know all that well, followed by a distribution to editors and writers with beats that include your products and services. Finally, use a reputable distribution service online to send out the release that appears on the News section of your website.
8. Don’t puff up your press release. Keep the pretty prose for your first novel and just give us the facts. Remove the rhetoric and give us the Five W’s: who, what, when, why and where. We’ll take it from there. If we want to make a feature out of your news release, give us that prerogative. Please don’t task us with having to surgically remove an overabundance of adjectives.
9. Do keep in mind the “Matthew Effect.” Named after a chapter (25) in the book of Matthew, verse 29 pretty much establishes that the rich get richer, which can translate loosely to mean those who get their PR published go to the front of the line when it comes to more coverage. The message here is, sometimes we’d like to get fresh input for a story from a lesser-known source — but one that is just as qualified as you just told us you are.
10. Don’t pitch me in public. Please don’t use my public Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn accounts to pitch a story to me. Send me a private message. Broadcasting your story idea over the airwaves where everyone — including my competition — can see it is not cool. Use direct email or be even more unorthodox and call me.
11. Do consider my work load. I work fulltime just like you and I figure I can crank out maybe one quality article every day-and-a-half or so for a total of three articles on a good week. So please keep in mind that your agenda might not match mine. And your urgency might also not be a match to mine. Giving me plenty of lead time is the best advice I can give when it comes to this topic.
12. Don’t nitpick when it comes to corrections. If I’ve misspelled your CEO’s last name in a published article, by all means call me immediately and I’ll have it corrected! But if it’s a style decision, a small typo, or you don’t think the piece supported your product sufficiently, you might consider constraint and keep that information to yourself. It comes down to the old adage: Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy? Writers are going to be far more attentive to a PR rep that is easy to work with than one who complains about every sentence in an article.
13. Help me help you. With most of my publishers, the more visitors who read my articles, the more money I stand to earn. So once I’ve published an article about your company, product or service, it would be a good thing for both of us if you were to become an active participant in getting the word out about that published article. Post a link to the story in your company’s News or Press section online. Craft a blog post about the article, and update your Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn account. Get the word out, for both our sakes.
There you have it. Again, it’s mostly off the top of my head and in no particular order. But if you follow some or all of these tips, you should find that your communication — and relationship — with the folks who write for a living will improve. And that will improve your company’s earned media. Good luck!