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The art of getting better press coverage (Part 2)

Creating press releases that get noticed

In Part One of this series, I identified a few of the most common reasons that editors reject, ignore or overlook a vendor’s news and product releases. Part Two accentuates the positive. Here you’ll find some ideas for grabbing the attention of editors and getting your releases published, noticed and blogged about.

First of all, my credentials, if you missed them from Part One; I’ve been a tech journalist since the 1970s and I spent over 20 years as the editor of Canada’s two leading IT management magazines. I’ve made the call on whether or not to publish literally tens of thousands of news and product releases from vendors of all sizes.

While social media is an increasingly important tool in a company’s communications arsenal, the press release is still king when it comes to gaining coverage in traditional media outlets such as national newspapers and magazines (both print and online versions). As well, they find their way onto the Web sites of industry associations and a host of other news aggregators. Even much of the news and commentary appearing on social media sites originates with press releases.

So even in today’s digital world, press releases are still a big deal. And as a marketing manager, you need to know what differentiates a good release from a bad one, even though the creation of the release may fall to your PR firm or department.

Key to a good release

So what makes an editor keen to publish your release? There are many reasons, but the absolute biggie is relevance. The editor doesn’t care how great your company is or how many gigs of storage you can fit on the head of a gnat. The amount of interest an editor has in your release will correspond directly to the importance of the information to his or her target audience. It’s that simple. Give an editor some content that strikes a chord with primary readers and the battle is pretty much won. Unless there are some real barriers to publication (e.g., stale-dated content; lack of space; missed deadline; a surfeit of stories of a similar nature), the editor will usually strive to publish the release.

That begs the question: how do you ensure that your release strikes that chord with the editor’s audience? Well, for starters, read what the media outlet is publishing. Editors are inundated with inappropriate press releases and marketing pitches, often from sources that have no idea what the media outlet is about or who its audience is. If you can at least demonstrate that, you’ve got a leg up on your competition.

When you have a basic understanding of the type of media outlet you’re approaching, tailor your releases accordingly. Naturally you won’t want to write 20 different releases for 20 outlets, but you don’t have to be that granular. Decide what one or two or perhaps three types of audiences will be most interested in what you have to say, and focus on them. If IT executives are your primary target audience, write a release specifically for them and send it to all the IT management media outlets – not forgetting those related industry groups, associations and high-profile commentators. If non-IT executives are also on your target list, write a second release specifically for them and send it to media outlets catering to a more general business executive audience.

Yes, you can make your life easier by creating a one-size-fits-all release for the whole gamut of media outlets, but you will diminish your chances of being published in all of them. 

Making quotes count

If you really want your release to stand out from the crowd, there’s a surefire way to do it: include one or more quotes from members of the media outlet’s target audience. That will definitely get the editor’s attention. Why? Because direct quotes enliven a story. Because readers want to hear what their peers have to say. And because editors seldom get releases with this kind of highly desirable content.

The nature of the quote is critically important. The editor’s job is to deliver the news in as journalistic and unbiased a fashion as possible, not to act as an extension of the vendor’s marketing department. Quotes that unabashedly sing the praises of the vendor’s product may have a place in the company’s marketing collateral, but they are decidedly out of place in a news story. For most editors, such quotes are simply unusable. So if you have gone to the trouble of soliciting such quotes from, say, a CIO, your efforts will likely go unrewarded.

What editors are looking for in a quote is substance – a comment or opinion that adds important information or perspective to the story from the unique point of view of the commentator. The best quotes – the ones most likely to get your release published – will have no hint of a marketing angle to them. They will resemble the type of quote that a journalist would write when covering a story. The more you can adhere to that model, the better your chances of being published.

Although they don’t carry as much weight as quotes from members of the editor’s core audience, quotes from other people such as independent consultants and vendor executives can also help get a press release published. But the same holds true for these types of quotes – they must pass the smell test. The more they have a marketing feel to them, the less likely they are to be used in a story, and the less likely the story is to be published. If you want your quotes to really carry weight with the editor, make sure they’re about something substantive and write them in journalistic fashion.

Pictures that sell

Though not quite as important as they used to be, before the digital age, pictures can still be a powerful tool to “sell” your story to the press. But to be effective, pictures need to have pizzazz.

In the days when laptop computers were the next big thing, I received scores of press releases and product photos of various laptops coming onto the market from a multitude of vendors. There was little to choose between them and to be frank, it was pretty much a coin flip as to which ones would make it into the magazine I was editing. Most of the pictures were boring product shots, done with varying degrees of quality. I still remember one shot, though, that stood way out from the crowd. The vendor had taken the initiative of photographing the laptop in front of a giant telescope, like the one at Mount Palomar. It was a dramatic shot that had been professionally taken. Needless to say, I was happy to run such a photo, as it really helped the look of the magazine. And I wasn’t alone. That laptop release and photo got tremendous uptake throughout the business press. 

So if you’re thinking about including a photo with your release, give some consideration to going the extra mile and coming up with something really creative. It can have a big payoff.

(Part 1: Why press releases get rejected)

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