Making Journalists Give a Damn About Your Press Release

I didn’t consciously think of it at the time, but when I was a journalist I prioritized writing articles in this order:
  1. Major breaking stories.
  2. Stories assigned by my editor.
  3. Stories based on my own ideas/research.
  4. Stories based on press releases that somehow appeared in my email inbox.
Press releases, last on my priority list, were sometimes useful for my top three priorities, particularly for major breaking stories. But stories based on unsolicited press releases, i.e. those that someone sent to me in hopes of getting coverage, were a low priority, and generally are a low priority for journalists as a group.

Newsrooms are becoming less and less crowded as reporters and editors are let go or choose to leave the struggling industry (as I did in early 2011 when I joined HRmarketer / SocialEars). Those journalists who remain are overworked and have little time for lower-priority tasks. Given the high volume of press releases many journalists receive, most get deleted without being read.

Given that, marketers and PR pros should stop sending press releases to journalists, right?

I wouldn’t go that far. While it is increasingly difficult to get journalists’ attention, it’s still possible to do so by writing quality press releases, sending them to the appropriate journalists and communicating with individual journalists in a way that shows that you value them.
Below are some tips based on both my previous experience as a reporter receiving press releases and my current role with HRmarketer / SocialEars.

General press release tips:

1. A good title (and "subject" if you are emailing the release) is imperative. Many journalists delete most emailed press releases without even opening them. The ones that get opened have a title / subject that clearly states the news and enables journalists to tell if the press release is applicable to their beat and worth their time to read.

2. The content must be clear, concise and well written. If a journalist opens a press release and it’s a challenge to sift through the information or there are major grammatical or spelling errors, you’ve lost. Keep it short, and provide links to more information.

3. Avoid marketing speak. Most reporters don’t like it, and none will use it. Some popular marketing speak words include: best, leading, top, groundbreaking, revolutionary. You get the point.    

4. Provide easily accessible contact people. Preferably one who can be interviewed for the story. Reporters want to make one call, conduct an interview, and be done. If you are successful in piqueing journalists’ interest, you don’t want them to abandon the story because they think it will be a hassle to get an interview arranged.

Distribution tips:

1. Target your press releases to specific "journalists". Some marketers and PR pros spray press releases out to every journalist they can find, but this results in future emails being blocked as spam or routinely deleted. You are better off  - and will get better results - sending separate personalized "pitches" to a short list of ten to twenty  journalists than you are sending an unpersonalized email to 500 journalists.  That is a fact.

And remember, don't limit your news distribution to traditional journalists.  Social has changed everything. You now have thousands of online "influencers" (analysts, consultants, HR professionals, etc.) that can play a very important role in getting your news distributed. 

Software such as SocialEars HR that allows you to get a current listing of journalists and influencers currently talking about the topics included in your news releases allows you to create very targeted distribution lists.

2. Contact select journalists (and influencers) individually. Certain journalists make the most sense for certain news. Read up on material that they have written or shared on social channels recently (again, this can be done with SocialEars), then reference it when explaining why you think your news will be of interest to them. This contact could be via email, social network communication, a quick phone call or even a letter sent via the mail.

3. If you are successful at engaging with journalists, keep in contact but don’t drown them in press releases. It doesn’t take long for reporters to go from thinking of you as someone who provided good content for a story to someone who always wants something from them.

Good luck.

Oh, if you want to check out SocialEars HR get a 7-day free trial here

Post written by HRmarketer / SocialEars staff member Eric Anderson.

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