Press Releases 1: Press Here

"Whatever the publication, editors have to come up with new stories to fill their pages…" How can I get my business better known?” That’s a question we’re often asked. So we thought we’d answer it. In general, people trust editorial more than advertisements. That’s because they think journalists will be more honest and more independent than advertising salespeople, and they may well be right. In fact, though, journalists need a lot of help – they don’t know everything.

We don’t guarantee success: we do guarantee that the Toolkit has worked for other people.

Three provisos

First: you have to understand that marketing is not the same as sales. Marketing doesn’t automatically generate extra revenue – it just improves the chances of your selling more by making the target audience more likely to buy from you.  

Second, you have to know exactly who you’re trying to reach when you start a marketing project. You can’t define your target audience as “anyone who can afford the product”. The more precise your targeting, the better the results.If you’re promoting to young people, don’t bother selling datacards or in-car kits. If you want more business business, tone down the references to MP3.

And third, you have to think long-term. Some marketing activities have immediate benefits: scatter discount-offer postcards in the city’s pubs and you’ll probably get a surge in enquiries. But mostly you’re looking for the slow burn, the gradual increase in awareness, the almost indefinable feeling among the would-be buyer that your business ought to be their first port of call. So, with that in mind, let’s get stuck in to the press. This month, the basics: next time, how to write a press release.

Press releases for beginners

In general, people trust editorial more than advertisements. That’s because they think journalists will be more honest and more independent than advertising salespeople, and they may well be right. In fact, though, journalists need a lot of help – they don’t know everything (some don’t know very much at all) and even the best need some guidance about what to write, when, and how.

Lesson no 1: Virtually all publications are designed in advance with a certain amount of space dedicated to ads and the rest available for articles. This means the journalists always need something to fill the editorial allocation. This is where you come in: give them a hand. Whatever the publication, editors have to come up with new stories to fill their pages day after day, week after week, month after month… It isn’t always easy to fill all that  space. You can become their friend and ally simply by delivering a stream of usable ideas in the form of press releases.

News is anything that other people are interested in. And being newsworthy consists of letting editors and reporters know you’re doing or saying or just being something of interest to other people. The press release is the simplest tool for doing that – though you might want to follow it up with a polite phone call. And if you think advertising might be appropriate, try using a press release first – follow it up with an ad if you have the budget or if the subject warrants the investment, but try for editorial mentions before you commit too much money.

Incidentally, never ever try to trade off the fact that you’re advertising in the same publication as you’re sending the press release to. Editors and journalists often don’t talk to ad sales people as a matter of policy – indeed, they frequently work in separate buildings, maybe even for separate companies – and in general they are fiercely protective of their independence.

What’s in your press release?

Press releases don’t have to be long, or even very important. All publications need lots of short fillers as well as the major news stories. But what should your press release be about? Here are some of the classic subjects for releases:

  • Launch of a new product or service, or a revamp of the existing line.For dealers, this works particularly well with the local paper.Tell them if you have a particularly good new phone to show; get hold of the press releases from the networks (check their websites for press releases – in most cases you can sign up for email notifications when there’s a new release) and reword them to highlight your involvement.
  • Appointments,promotions,staff changes –  All local papers love local news of local people – you’ll need mugshots to offer the paper.

Editorial vs. ads

  • As a broad rule,‘editorial’ basically means ‘ anything that isn’t an advertisement’.So editorial isn’t something you should have to pay the publication for; ads are rarely free. And editorial is normally generated by journalists, while ads are sold to you by salespeople.
There’s a halfway house called ‘advertorial’ which is paid for like an advertisement but appears in the publication in much the same format as an editorial article. The cost to you will be much the same as placing an ad, but the typeface and general style will look like the rest of the articles in the publication. It may be flagged ‘advertorial’ or ‘advertiser promotion’ or something similar – indeed, it should be so as not to misdlead the reader – but the overall effect will be more like editorial than advertising.

  • Relocation,new branches,refurbishments and redesigns. Local papers also love the sense that their area is buzzing commercially.
  • Financial results(assuming they’re good), major inward investment, annual meetings if you’re a limited company. You don’t have to be enormous,and you don’t have to give away too much information that would be valuable to competitors – cherry pick to come up with the most interesting facts.
  • Significant orders. It’s good if they are valuable orders, but for a local audience there’s a lot of mileage in individual stories – celebrities or charities shopping with you, eight schoolgirls all buying exactly the same phone, the little old lady who came in to get change for the loo and left with a 3G mobile … Make sure your staff are clued up and watching for possible stories (and don’t forget that you’ll need the subjects’ approval). And you don’t have to stop there. Be creative: your press release program (and it should be a program, scheduling releases at regular intervals over a period of months) might also include …
  • Sponsorships. It doesn’t cost much to sponsor a local group or club, and you get the chance to press-release the initial announcement followed by a series of releases that that follow the progress of the sponsored party
  • Customer satisfaction survey results. If you don’t do customer satisfaction surveys, maybe you should – being able to produce a press release is one very good reason.
  • Business milestones. Highlight your 1,000th customer, your 100th sale of a 3G phone, your first sale of phones to three generations of the same family.
  • Additions to your web site. Yes, you may think they’re relatively trivial; but add a free online competition or a discount voucher, and that’s worth writing about.
  •  Awards and other recognition for key staff members. It could be anything, from a Duke of Edinburgh’s Award to Mobile Business’s Dealer Manager of the Month.Get a decent pic to go with the press releases.
  • Comments on news stories,especially legislative moves. We all have opinions about the legislation that might affect our business: let’s share them.
  • Charity donations,especially something other than simply handing over money–  you might organise a charity football match between staff and customers, for instance. Use your imagination. You only risk a stamp, and may gain exposure to thousands of people. But be realistic: don’t expect the press to drop everything and report on you. Remember their goals of reporting news and serving the community; you must fit in with that agenda. 

React to the News 

React to newspaper news items with a Letter to the Editor. This works best for local papers, which are always eager to connect with the community. Keep your letter fairly short and to the point: and be explicit – say precisely what you’re writing about (don’t expect that the audience will guess) and say what you think about it (don’t rely on the audience’s ability to penetrate your icy wit). One tactic: be controversial, because pushy soundbite-sized comments make good copy. Argue about proposed legislation, the actions or comments of any large competitor, anything any politician or industry body says or does. Use email for preference, if that’s an option, because the page make-up people can more easily drop your piece into the page. Otherwise type your letter (never handwritten); make life as easy as possible for everyone – use 1.5 line spacing, leave lots of white space at the edges and inbetween paragraphs to make the thing both readable and editable (yes, it’s likely that your carefully formulated missive will be trimmed by the letters editor).

A letter to the editor has several merits:

  • It gets your name in the paper – both your own name and your organisation’s (because obviously you sign yourself “Brenda Bluegrass, Bluegrass Mobile Phones”) establishes your credentials in the reader’s mind – you care about the subject,but you’re also both knowledgeable and opinionated.You know what you’re talking about.
  • It might have the same effect for the editor. Sometimes a news story will need a quote from a local expert;a letter to the paper indicates that you are that person,should a comment ever be needed in the future.
  • It’s good for staff morale to know that you read the local paper and that you care about local issues. Using the letters page for exposure is usually a slow process;it can take a while for name recognition to seep into the public consciousness by this route.So it’s a good idea to plan for at least one letter-to-the-editor per month,and to try to keep this up for several months (and ideally years).
Getting into the papers

  • Route one – usually involves one or more of vicars,small mammals,Jordan and the police.In general you steer clear of being caught with your pants down,metaphorically or actually.True,in some cases there may be an argument that it adds something to your image:“those kooky guys at Much Marcle Mobile have done it again!”But it’s uncontrollable,and you don’t where it might lead.
  • Advertising – costs money,more if you want to secure the best possible (ie the most visible) presence in the publication.But it’s a good way of putting non-news information in front of a lot of people:‘now in stock’,for instance,and special offers.Otherwise your ads should generally be used to support editorial mentions.
  • Press releases – easy,provided you do it right,and cheap.Tell the press something they should want to write about.
  • Phone calls – tricky,because most journalists are busy folk and don’t appreciate being interrupted for trivial or inappropriate reasons,but it is acceptable to call if you have a hot news story (“Brad Pitt just came into the shop and we have a snap of him phoning Angelina”).You can also call to make sure that a press release arrived ok,but don’t make a habit of this:save that call for your most important releases.
  • Letters to the editor – an easy and cheap method of telling the world you have an opinion and you know what you’re talking about.The benefits will only be seen over the long term,though.
  • Being available – the best and most difficult one.All journalists need a good contacts book,meaning a list of people they can phone or email to get a comment or some background on a story they’re writing.They want authoritative,brief,accurate and occasionally witty input;if you can provide that, and if they know about you,you’ll appear regularly in their articles.


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