Friday, September 11, 2009

The Press Release - Another powerful marketing tool

You see company press releases every day. How do companies get access to this kind of free publicity? How can you get in on the action? How do you write a press release that will catch the attention of a publisher, and more importantly, the reader? How should you submit a press release? Well, I can't speak for all publishers, but I can tell you what I look I for in submissions to our monthly business paper, The South Side Business News.

The first thing to understand is that a press release is not an ad. When creating an ad, being bold, in your face, loud and blatantly self-promotional can be perfectly appropriate. But when you're presenting something as news, readers want news. It needs to be informative, accurate, entertaining, interesting and hopefully, memorable.

That doesn't mean your press release needs to announce a cure for cancer. It can still be as seemingly mundane as the purchase of a new piece of equipment or the introduction of a new product or service. You just have to make it interesting, and your connection to it needs to be much more subtle than an ad, almost incidental.

Let's suppose ABC Corp is announcing a new product offering. The headline, and perhaps the first sentence could be something like "ABC Corp adds cat toys to its product mix". Now the reader is asking him or herself "So what?". This is not the time to launch into a bunch of accolades about how great ABC Corp is. That wasn't the question. Why do I care about increased access to cat toys? Every solution needs a problem. You've told me about your solution. Now tell me about the problem. Maybe surveys show that happy cats live longer healthier lives. Maybe studies show that cats play with these particular toys more than other toys on the market. Maybe those same cats outlive cats who don't have those toys and have fewer health problems. Now I care about your cat toys.

Now you can go into blatant self promotion, right? Wrong. Again, you've presented this as a news story. If you slide into infomercial mode, you're going to lose the reader. The reader probably does want to know when these toys will be available, how much they're going to cost, where you're located and what your hours are. But you should present this information in a matter-of-fact manner, not a Crazy Eddie's Discount Cat Toys Emporium commercial manner.

The whole story can be just a paragraph or two, but you have provided the reader with a nugget of useful information they didn't have before. It's something they may pass along to others. They'll remember who provided it, even if you don't beat them over the head with it. If they don't, no worries. You'll catch them next time.

Creating urgency in the mind of the reader or viewer is a legitimate goal in display advertising. Displaying urgency in a press release smacks of desperation. To quote from "Bonfire of the Vanities", "A desperate salesman is a dead salesman.".

Now on to the submission. DO NOT send a pdf, jpg or fax. My favorite press releases are simply text in the body of an email. Why? Because it makes it very easy to cut and paste into whatever format I want. It also makes it easy to edit. The number one rule of press release submission: Make It Easy for the publisher. Sending a picture or graphic along as an attachment is a great idea too.

Don't get discouraged if your release isn't printed. Publications have limited space and lots of other people are submitting releases as well. It's okay to follow up and ask why your release wasn't printed, but if the answer is "there wasn't room" or "I didn't find it interesting" or "I didn't find it appropriate for my venue" or whatever it may be, do not get defensive. Ask for advice, pointers, deadlines, format preferences, but don't suggest the publisher did you wrong by not giving you free exposure just because you asked for it. If the venue was right and your timing was wrong, just keep submitting. Writing makes you think. Whether it gets published or not, that's a good thing.

Again I can only speak for myself, but I greatly appreciate even the submissions I don't run. More options makes my job much easier. This is one reason I've created several blogs to which I can post stories that don't make the paper. I want to spotlight the small business community to the greatest extent that I'm able. I'm a big fan of small business. I think there is a misguided perception among a lot of people that businesses are comprised of buildings and equipment and products and logos and paperwork. That's a perception I'd like to try to correct. As we all know, the best businesses are good people sharing their best ideas, and that's a story worth telling.