The Press-Release Primer
Make sure it's news, stick to the point, and do your homework. Wayne Green's no-nonsense guide to getting coverage* * *
"Have you ever read a well-written press release?" asks Wayne Green. After 40 years as founder, editor, and publisher of 27 magazines, including Byte and CD Review, and both sending and receiving mail buckets full of releases, he'll tell you he's seen only a few good ones. But he'll also tell you that putting together an effective press release -- or public relations campaign, for that matter -- is not brain surgery.
"Editors are lazy just like everybody else," says Green, currently the president of Wayne Green Enterprises Inc. (WGE), an $8-million empire of magazines and music distributorships in Hancock, N.H. "The less work an editor has to do on a press release, the better its chances are of getting published." It's that straightforward.
Most press releases announce a new product or service and should therefore be thought of as the editorial equivalent of sales brochures. Nevertheless, says Green, traditional sales tactics fail when applied to public relations efforts. A huge, costly direct-mail sales campaign may bring in orders, but merely mailing thousands of releases won't have the same effect. Getting good press requires a relationship sell that "cannot be Fed-Exed or faxed," he says. You have to do your homework with the editors and writers you want to influence.
But even the best relationship won't overcome an unfocused, poorly targeted press release. Recently, a member of WGE's own staff began writing press releases for the company's blossoming line of product spin-offs. Despite her familiarity with the music industry, she made some classic mistakes. On the following pages, Green critiques one of her releases and offers some clear guidelines for doing it right.
Contact Grace Cohen at:
For Immediate Release:
Publisher Introduces Custom Music Magazine Rack for Retailers
CD REVIEW Magazine is introducing their new "Eight Pocket Rack" Program at SCES. The attractive, custom designed spinner is a new way for retailers to sell music and entertainment magazines. The rack creates maximum impact while using a minimal, 1 1/2 square feet of floor space, and is free to retailers participating in the program. Retail outlets will be able to choose from a wide variety of magazines, customizing the mix for their particular demographics. Some of the titles available include CD REVIEW, Details, Option, Musician, Electronic Musician, Ear, Country Music, Spin, and Jazziz.
Additional benefits, other than customizing product mix, include one-step billing, and an affidavit program to simplify credits. Billing for all 8 publications will be handled with a single statement, by CD REVIEW's parent company, WGE Publishing. Instead of returning unsold issues for credit, retailers will attest to the number of remaining copies by affidavit. Title allotment will be monitored to maintain highest possible sales for the retail outlet. This procedure will cut the time stores normally spend processing returns to almost nothing. Retailers will make a full 40% on each magazine sold, with an absolute minimum effort.
For additional information, please contact Retail Circulation Manager Phil Martus at 1-800-722-7785.
* "There's no date here. A press release should always be dated. Remember, this is supposed to be news. You want to give editors a sense of timeliness and urgency and also let them know when to call to do a follow-up.
* "A release should always be double-spaced, so the editor can easily make changes.
* "Keep releases to a maximum of two pages -- that should present enough information for a short article or generate enough curiosity to get your phone ringing."* * *
Make Sure It's News
"Mistake! This headline simply trumpets our company's achievement. It should read like a news item and give the editor a story hook. I would rewrite the headline this way: New Concept in Magazine and Music Distribution Introduced. It never hurts to use the word new. This way the editor has to read on to find out about 'the concept.' "
Keep to the Point
"Don't try to cover the world in a press release. It's a coup for WGE that these magazines have signed on, but it's not critical to the story. I'd just say, 'eight other magazines.' If editors want to know which magazines, they can call. As a rule, try to keep product and company names to a minimum. Don't worry, if an article gets written, your company will get mentioned by virtue of the fact that it's the source of the news."
Use Your Own Letterhead
"If you use a public relations agency, supply it with your company's letterhead. If editors have to call an agency first, they might not bother calling at all."
Make Sure Your Contact People Are Informed and Helpful
"The name at the top of the release should be the person you want contacted. This should be someone who is fully informed about every aspect of your product or service and who will drop everything to get the editors what they need for their story angle. Names mentioned within the body of the copy, like Phil Martus's at the bottom, are those of people you hope will be quoted or mentioned if your story gets into print -- they are not intended to be primary contacts. However, editors may decide to dial them directly, so make sure whoever is named in the release has a file of information at his or her fingertips and is authorized to answer questions."* * *
"Don't tell me about the features of a product or service, tell me about the benefits. This is the most common mistake in public relations. You want the copy to get right into how easy the new product is to use or what problem it solves for the magazine's or newspaper's audience. That is what's newsworthy. It's also more difficult to write than simply listing a product's features."
Make Sure It's Accurate
"This isn't even true. We aren't using affidavits, and WGE isn't doing the billing. We changed our strategy, but in the rush the writer wasn't informed. It sounds obvious, but never let a press release go out unless you're sure the facts are straight."
Don't Bury the Lead
"These points are big news, but they're in the last few sentences. That's known in journalism as 'burying the lead.' This gets right to how easy the product is to use and how profitable it is. That's the kind of important, useful information you should deliver right up front."* * *
Prep Work and Follow-Up
"Good public relations is about serving the editor's interest as much as your own. Build a rapport with editors. Become a key source of information about the industry -- not just about your company -- for editors. In turn, use them as sounding boards for things you're doing in product development and in your company in general. About a week before sending a release, tell the editors you are sending it and ask who should receive it. Follow-up is where rubber meets the road. Set dates for making phone calls."
Customizing the Release
"Customize your press releases to target different story angles and different media. A news magazine is looking for a different story than a trade or an entertainment magazine is. Don't rewrite the entire release, just the first paragraph. Above all, make sure your PR person reads all the magazines and newspapers on the mailing list to make sure there's a venue for your news item to begin with. In the case of the release shown here, there should have been three versions -- one each for the retail, music, and publishing industries. Remember, the more of the editor's job you can do, the higher your chances of getting an article into print."* * *