I had an interesting phone call yesterday that got me thinking about people's understanding on the subject of PR-or should I say their misunderstanding. The caller was a prospective client-a very savvy businesswoman-who asked if my firm can send out a press release for a new product they're getting ready to launch.
Knowing how ineffective press releases are, I asked (a little bit tongue-in-cheek) what she expected would happen from sending out a press release, and to whom would she like it sent? She said she wasn't sure and just knew when companies launch a product - they're supposed to send out a press release!
After the call I realized this actually comes up quite often on sales calls - the idea that if a press release is written and sent somewhere, something "magical" will happen. I sure wish it was that simple!
With The New York Times receiving over 500 press releases a day and having just laid off more than 1,700 workers over the last 12 months, do you think anyone is actually reading them? The fact is that press releases are commodities today, with thousands each day passing through services like PR Newswire and BusinessWire like sausage through a grinder. The odd part is that once those releases hit and get distributed to all the article banks and PR news sites, they become so ubiquitous that they cease to be actual news. That means legitimate news organizations that represent the vanguard of third-party verification in the PR world are no longer interested in them.
So, how are you supposed to communicate with the media? It comes down to using the right tool for the right job. Depending on your specific needs, there are ways of communicating with the press that will get their attention and have a better chance of resulting in news coverage of your company. They include:
- The Calendar Listing. Local newspapers, weeklies and Web sites still have calendar sections that report on local events. Write up a simple blurb about your event, no more than a paragraph in length, and include who will be there and who should attend, along with all the pertinent information such as time and place, and send it to the calendar editors of the local print publications. In many cases, the email addresses for these editors are clearly listed on their publication's Web sites, or even in the calendar section where your notice would run. By sending this blurb and following up by phone, you have a much better chance of getting your event listed than if you send a general press release that will wind up in the recycle bin of an editor's desktop.
- The Media Alert. Local television news organizations like covering local events, but they need a little more detailed information than the calendar editor at your major daily or weekly newspaper. More importantly, they need to know what the "visuals" will be for their story. Provide these details and follow up by phone a few days before and again on the morning of, your event. You'll have a solid shot at getting some cameras at your event.
- The Expert Pitch Letter. If you want the media to put you on the air, or write about your company, you have to create a reason for them to be interested in you. You can send them a one or two paragraph pitch offering yourself or your spokesperson as an expert commentator on your topic. The first step is to ask yourself, "What is my company's area of expertise and how will my new product or service benefit an audience?"
How does this get your product launch mentioned? Getting press is a strategy. Using the expert pitch letter is a tactic that positions you and your company as smart and cutting edge. The result will be a plug for your company, product and Web site, where you can trumpet your product launch like a 100 piece orchestra. This is a much higher percentage shot than putting out a press release and hoping that someone in the press cares enough to write about it.
Remember, the media aren't fond of sales pitches for your company, but if your expertise on a topic can help lend clarity or focus to an existing news story, your company has the chance to be cast as the area expert, prompting potential customers to seek you out when they are in need of your related product or service.
So forget about issuing press releases every week. No one is reading them, and the few who are, have to wade through several hundred to get to yours. You're much better off helping the news media actually report on the news. This approach will make them more inclined to include your company in their coverage, and even come back to you from time to time.