Kimberly McCall has a five-second rule: She gives any press release she receives by e-mail five to 10 seconds to intrigue her. If it fails, she hits Delete. "I'm probably generous," says McCall, president of McCall Media & Marketing, Inc., a business communications company in Durham, Maine. "One journalist I spoke with only gives them three seconds."
Not a very long time to impress someone with your news, is it? Whether you're hoping to have your event listed in a local newspaper, drum up some attention for a recent company expansion, or gain nationwide recognition of a new product, how you craft your press release will stand between getting your message out and having it hit the circular file.
How do you do it? First, saving your press release from instant extinction takes preparation. According to McCall, you need to ask yourself, "Why should anyone care?" "Is my announcement newsworthy?" If you're simply announcing a workshop, then there's not as much concern with newsworthiness as, say, announcing a new product that will improve the lives of thousands. Once you conclude that what you have to say is, in fact, worth saying, try tying your topic to a trend or other world events to make your news even more relevant to busy journalists. "If you're a nutritionist you might want to tie [your announcement] to a child obesity study," McCall says.
But even with a compelling topic, your press release can fizzle if the headline and subhead fall flat. "The only thing that gets someone to read a release is a headline and subhead," McCall says. Poorly written, or not written at all, in the case of subhead (that little blurb that provides further detail before the body of the release), can be the kiss of death. "I'd pay just as much attention to the head and subhead as I would the press release itself," she adds.
Once you nail the headline and subhead, the devil is in the details. Grammatical errors, misspellings, arbitrary capitalization -- all of these discredit your news. "Get the [Associated Press] style book and live with it," recommends McCall. "That's what reporters live by." She also warns against excessive accentuation -- using exclamation points, bolding and underlining words and sentences. "If you're going crazy with accentuation of something within a release, it really interrupts the reading," she says. Besides, if you're e-mailing your release, different programs interpret bold and underline differently, and your e-mail could come out a hodge-podge.
One of the biggest offenders in the grammatical area, according to McCall, is referring to your company in the third person throughout a release. A company should never use "they" or "we" within a press release, unless it is in a quote. "A company is an 'it,' " she asserts.
McCall also recommends avoiding the use of industry jargon. "I think that the biggest mistake I see is overzealous use of industry jargon that makes sentences like quicksand, you can't get through the release," she says.
Even if you do write a stellar press release, McCall warns that in many instances a press release is just one piece to a larger PR puzzle. "In the quiver of arrows, it's just one element of public relations," she says. "It's a nominal tool in getting national public relations."
If your goal is nationwide recognition, then you'll need to build some relationships with people in the media and make some phone calls to journalists who are specifically interested in your industry. "Just sending a reporter a press release hoping you'll get national exposure, that's pretty much folly," McCall says.
SIDEBAR: Press Releases That Work
Kimberly McCall shares two releases that recently passed her five-second test. Why did they pass? "It's like selling a house -- you gotta have curb appeal," she says. Both releases, according to McCall, had headlines that sparked her interest enough to read on. "I just had to know how I could start my own bail bonds business, in case this writing thing doesn't work out," she adds.
Kimberly L. McCall ("Marketing Angel") is president of McCall Media & Marketing, Inc., a business communications and writing company in Durham, Maine. She's the author of Sell it, Baby! Marketing Angel's 37 Down-to-Earth & Practical How-To's on Marketing, Branding & Sales. Contact McCall at www.MarketingAngel.com or 207-865-0055.