>PR, Part 2

>Whew, that last blog entry threw a lot of stuff out in a hurry, didn’t it? Sorry, but it gives you an example of how newspaper writing works sometimes. You write as fast as you can type and hope it comes out all right in print. There are definitely times when you look at the published newspaper and wish you could gather up every copy and throw it in the trash.

But we’re freelancers. We have more time, right? Well, sometimes.

Let’s get pack to PR. You’d be amazed at how many press releases arrive at a newspaper office every day. They come by fax, by e-mail, by snail mail and get dropped off in person. Watch the editor duck so that in-person deliverer doesn’t see her and ask for an unscheduled meeting.

Press releases may be well-written or incomprehensible. They may include photos. They may have contact information or not. They may come with all kinds of extras designed to woo the editor. For example, I have received CDs, books, a glittery costume-party mask, pages packed in a big red film canister and envelopes full of that little gold and silver confetti that people put on party tables. DON’T DO THAT. They’re probably still picking that stuff out of the carpet years later.

When you decide to send out press releases, whether you’re a staff PR person or a freelancer, first consider who will care about whatever you’re publicizing. Local newspapers cannot publish stories that have no local connection. So if I’m in Portland, OR and you’re pushing a new album by a singer from Dallas, don’t send me the CD and the press release unless that singer is coming to Portland. I’ll keep the CD, if it’s any good, but the story will never run. Every newspaper has a mission, whether it’s to publish what’s happening in a particular geographical area or covering a particular subject, such as a religion, an age group, or a hobby. Your press release must fit that mission or it goes straight into the recycle bin.

Assuming the release fits, let’s talk about writing the release. In some cases, you may need to vary the press release to fit the publication, so you may be writing several different press releases. The release needs to be short and full of information. Some newspapers fill their pages with press releases published as submitted, but better newspapers do not run press releases verbatim, so don’t expect your exact words to appear in the paper. Essentially they serve as notes for a reporter to use to write his own story. Remember that you’re serving your client, not your ego.

The ideal press release will have: a header that tells us who you are, whom to call for more information, whether this is for immediate release, what section of the paper you’d like it to be in (is this designated for the calendar section or are you hoping for a big feature in the business section?), an interesting lead, a second paragraph that makes clear exactly what the story is, and several more paragraphs providing additional information. AND, the ideal press release will include a good photo with all the people in it clearly identified.

With releases where the timing matters, find out what the newspaper’s deadlines are and make sure you get the release in on time, preferably early. If it’s too late, it’s too late. The space is filled, the paper has gone to press. Most papers publish their deadlines somewhere, but if they don’t, telephone and ask.

How to submit? I’d go with e-mail these days. Copy your release into the body of an e-mail. Don’t send stories as attachments to editors who don’t know you. You will have to send your photo as an attachment, preferably in JPEG format, but they won’t open it until they have decided the release is not spam. You can drop press releases off in person if you have time and you might even be able to meet the editor, but the chances of her being available are slim and she’d rather have it already in the computer. You can fax a release, but editors tell me they’d rather have e-mail. If you have something to publicize and no time to write a release, you could just call the editor, give her the basics and let her decide whether it’s worth a story. But that well-written press release gives her something to hold onto and remind her to find a space for it.

Sooner or later, someone will ask you to write a press release. Why? Because you’re a writer and they’re not. I hope these guidelines help.

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