Writing Press Releases. What You Need To Do To Get The Editor’s Attention

by Joanne Steele on September 20, 2009

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Dead Sea newspaper
Creative Commons License photo credit: inju

In my last post Creating a Marketing Plan for Successful Small Town Holiday Celebrations I outlined a simple marketing plan for your rural town’s Christmas promotional efforts. I encouraged you to send out press releases. In this post, I’ll show you how to write effective releases and get them into the right hands.

In most rural communities, a local or regional newspaper is still a great way to get publicity. People still read their local newspapers and expect to receive local information there rather than on the Internet.

As you increase your relationship with social media and the Internet you don’t want to forget about the old standards –  print media, advertising and face-to-face good old-fashioned word of mouth. They are still incredibly effective in small towns.

All of these options should be part of any comprehensive marketing plan. Make the plan first, then plug in the best options for each market, as we did in the sample in the last post.

Newspapers like to receive press releases in a very specific format. Today, I’ll teach you that format. It is important to realize that you send a press release to market your event TO THE NEWSPAPER ITSELF. Your objectives are to:

  1. Persuade the newspaper to publish an article.
  2. Give them the information they need to either publish as is or assign a reporter to gather further information and write an article. For small town newspapers, you can often expect that your well-written press release will be published exactly as you wrote it.

So here’s the format:

NEWS RELEASE

For Immediate Release Contact: Your Name Phone number

Headline – Short, informative and interesting

“subtitle” – In quotes, short, but giving more information to get the editor to read further.

Your town – Body of the release

The first paragraph should tell the “who, what, where, when and why” It is  your Lead,  your last big chance to grab the editor’s attention.

The next paragraph(s) should include details about the event or story idea. Include a relevant quote in this paragraph.

Next paragraph is for background information and supporting content.  If your event has been going on for 25 years, here is where you include information about the past success. Facts only, please.

The closing paragraph is where you talk succinctly about the mission and/or purpose of the organization or business that is  behind the reason for the release.

End with ### centered

After the hash marks, include if appropriate:

MEDIA NOTE: For interviews and photos contact: (the most appropriate person) at (the phone number where they are easiest to be reached.)

That’s it.

Now a few words about content:

1. No Editorializing. Facts please. Only the facts. An article or press release is very different from brochure copy. You are not trying to convince, you are trying to inform. “Tell it, don’t sell it,” as long time San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen said.

2. Cut the adjectives. Again, journalism is about the facts. If you’re going to say that something is beautiful, or funny or extraordinary, quote someone who will say it for you. Or quote yourself (I do this all the time)! Remember, journalism is about facts.

3. Keep it short. If you do a great job of capturing the editor’s attention, and he or she wants more information for a longer article, they’ll call. If you bog them down with a long release, you’re cutting your chances of being published.

4. If you need 2 pages to get all your info in, make certain that the lead is very interesting and all the most important information is on page one.

5. Use 1.5 or double spacing to increase readability.

Get the press release to the correct person

Most small town newspapers have one editor who gets and reads everything.

When you’re sending something to the daily in the larger town nearby, you want to get it to the correct person. Figure out what type story you’re pitching. Is it news? Entertainment and events? Business?

Acquaint yourself with the newspaper you are sending the release to. You can often read the paper online, and search for contact information for the editors associated with each newspaper section. Email your release to the proper editor.

If you have any trouble locating contact information online, make a phone call to the newspaper and ask who you should send to and how they would like to receive your release. Most want releases to be emailed.

On the subject release indicate, “Press release for immediate release.” You can also use, “Press release re: your subject”.

Wait a day or two and call the editor to inquire if he or she received the release. For large publications, most have a “don’t call” policy. Honor that. But for small to mid-sized newspapers and regional monthly publications, these calls are usually appreciated. Just be absolutely sure you are not calling when the publication is on deadline, which means they are scrambling to go to press.

The purpose of the call is just to make contact to be sure they saw and opened the release. You are not trying to “sell” it. Be short and polite.

When you have the editor on the phone, build your relationship with him or her by asking if it would be appropriate for you to send similar information in the future. They might suggest another writer or editor for you to communicate with.

Also make sure the email address you used is the best for reaching them. Some editors have another less public address they share with regular contributors. Note what you learn in your media database or in your media card file.

Lastly, publish all your press releases on a media center page of your web site. Interestingly, lots of visitors as well as media types will access these stories to learn more about your area.

Good luck! With the format outlined, writing and sending press releases to generate publicity for your small town events is easier than you think.

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